The Amazigh (Berber) peoples are the Indigenous Peoples of North Africa. The last census in Morocco (2016) estimated the number of Tamazight speakers at 28% of the population. However, Amazigh associations strongly contest this and instead claim a rate of 65 to 70%. This means that the Tamazight-speaking population could well number around 20 million in Morocco and around 30 million throughout North Africa and the Sahel as a whole.
The Amazigh people have founded an organisation called the “Amazigh Cultural Movement” (MCA) to defend their rights. It is a civil society movement based on the universal values of human rights. Today, there are more than 800 Amazigh associations throughout Morocco within the MCA.
The administrative and legal system of Morocco has been strongly Arabised, and the Amazigh culture and way of life are under constant pressure to assimilate. Morocco has, for many years, been a unitary state with a centralised authority, single religion, single language and systematic marginalisation of all aspects of the Amazigh identity. The 2011 Constitution, however, officially recognises the Amazigh identity and language. This could be a very positive and encouraging step for the Amazigh people of Morocco. After several years of waiting, Parliament finally adopted the Organic Law for the Implementation of Article 5 of the Constitution in 2019. Work to harmonise the legal arsenal with the new Constitution should now begin.
Morocco has not ratified ILO Convention 169 nor adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Organic law implementing Tamazight adopted
fter several years of blockage and discussion in Parliament, the Organic Law implementing Tamazight as an official language of Morocco was finally passed on 25 July 2019. This law is an important step towards gaining official status of the Amazigh identity in Morocco. This law now provides a legal framework for the Amazighs’ linguistic and cultural rights. The next step is for these legal texts to be enforced and this will represent a great challenge both for the Moroccan government and for the Amazigh Cultural Movement.
The land problem and climate change
With the growing mobility of Morocco’s nomadic Saharan tribes due to desertification and climate change, land-related conflicts have become more acute in recent years. These tribes are now competing with the Amazigh populations of the south of Morocco for use of their lands, water and argan trees for their herds. This very often results in the destruction of, or at least damage to, these resources by the herds. This is not a new phenomenon but 20 years of drought has exacerbated the problem.
The government has taken no action to remedy this situation, protect the local Amazigh population or provide compensation for the damage done by the herds. Meetings held in 2018 with the Head of Government and Minister of Agriculture came to nothing.
Faced with this situation, the Amazigh population in question decided to join the Amazigh Cultural Movement (MCA) and, during 2019, organised large demonstrations in Rabat, Agadir and Casablanca to protest at the plundering of their assets and the government’s inaction. On 17 February 2019, the AKAL (Land) Collective for Defence of the Rights to Land and Wealth organised a national march to Rabat, Taroudant, Casablanca and Souss.
The group issued a press statement1 listing four grievances that would require legal action from the government:
- “The dispossession of lands in the context of agricultural projects”;
- Overgrazing, which is affecting large parts of the Souss This is due particularly to the “mass” displacements of camel herds belonging to influential families from the Sahara. In this regard, the AKAL Collective has rejected the law on pasturing, which was not “produced in a participatory manner taking into account the region’s customs”;
- The Coordination denounced “the enclosure of lands by the High Commission for Water and Forests”. According to protestors, this will likely result in an uncontrolled proliferation of wild boar and venomous reptiles “aimed at promoting the forested nature of the region through the spread of these animals”; and
- Finally “to ensure the people of the region benefit from its wealth, in accordance with a plan that will provide viable infrastructure and create jobs, at a time when the failure of the development model has been noted by the highest authority in the country”.
In addition to these four demands, the AKAL Collective is also calling for action to protect the biodiversity from climate change, and for the preservation of the ancestral systems of the Indigenous populations. As no action was forthcoming following the February march, a second march was organised for 25 November 2019 through the streets of Casablanca to denounce the state’s handling of pastoralism and its planning of pastoral and woodland grazing areas. The march was organised by the AKAL Collective with the involvement, in addition to activists from the Amazigh movement, of dozens of human rights and civil society organisations from the Souss region.
Immigration, rights and climate change
“(…) Morocco, like other countries, is suffering the effects of climate change, with specific consequences due to its geographic position and the diversity of its ecosystems.”2 The effects of climate change are more visible in the south of Morocco and in the mountains where the traditional Amazigh population lives. The population density in these areas has fallen considerably since the 1980s. Climate change has pushed people to emigrate to the cities or overseas. This migration has had a rapid and negative impact on the linguistic and cultural rights of the immigrants. By settling in other regions, the Amazigh have been forced to communicate in other languages and, over time, lose their own Amazigh language and culture.
Protecting traditional knowledge and climate change
The Amazigh hold an enormous wealth of traditional knowledge that may be useful for combatting the effects of climate change. Several ancestral systems can be distinguished by which to adapt to climate change, including:
- Agadir: a collective granary built and managed by the Amazigh to adapt to scarcity due to climate change, with crops being stored in abundant years and distributed in years of scarcity. The agadir is managed by the Jmaâ3 on the basis of a very strict customary law supervised by a trusted person known as the “Andaf”. The agadir system enables tribes to store their harvests during good years and distribute the surplus during years of famine or
- Agdal is a system for preserving communal natural resource spaces. It is a collective woodland grazing area managed by customary institutions active at different levels of the territory.4 The agdal was a space for protecting the balance of biodiversity in which a religious aspect was sometimes used to impose respect for nature (argan trees considered holy).
- Tanast is a system of water management that enables the timing of irrigation. With the help of this tool, the Amazigh community were able to adapt to water scarcity. Each family would have the right to a All disputes between people using the system were resolved by “amghar n uwaman” or a “water manager” who would refer to current customary law.
- Pastoralism is also clearly aimed at adapting to drought and the impacts of climate change. In vast arid and semi-arid areas, traditional knowledge of where there is vegetation is vital for climate adaptation. Climate change and advancing desertification, however, has meant that the rules of this system are no longer Tribes from the south of Morocco now plunder at will.
Notes and references
- The “AKAL” Collective is an unstructured movement that coordinates local, regional and national bodies, supported by the Amazigh Cultural Movement, which itself comprises more than 800
- Royal speech on climate change policy in Morocco. Ministry delegated to the Minister of Energy, Mines, Water and the Environment, responsible for the Environment. 2014 p.4.
- Jmaâ: Arabic word meaning the village committee elected each year by the tribal chiefs of the confederation of tribes in the region
- Auclair and Alifriqui, (2008), (village, tribal group)
Dr. Mohamed Handaine is the President of the Confederation of Amazigh Associations of South Morocco (Tamunt n Iffus), Agadir, Morocco. He is a university graduate, historian and writer, and board member of the Coordination Autochtone Francophone (CAF). He is a founder member of the Amazigh World Congress and has published a number of works on Amazigh history and culture. He is the President of the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordination Committee (IPACC), the IPACC North African Regional Representative and a member of the steering committee of the ICCA Consortium in Geneva. He is Director of the Centre for Historical and Environmental Amazigh Studies.
This article is part of the 34th edition of the The Indigenous World, a yearly overview produced by IWGIA that serves to document and report on the developments Indigenous Peoples have experienced. Find The Indigenous World 2020 in full here