Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia
Regional Representatives :
Regional Representative : Mohamed HANDAINE, Amazigh, Morocco
Deputy Representative : Amouzay Lahoucine, Amazigh, Morocco
Women's Representative : Bachir Zahia, Amazigh, Algeria
Background and ethnic overview
The indigenous peoples of North Africa are the Amazigh (or Imazighn), commonly know as the Berbers. The Amazigh include the nomadic and oasis dwelling Tuareg in the southern part of the region.
The Amazigh claim their indigenous identity in the face of pressures from the states of North Africa to assimilate culturally, linguistically and politically into an Arab and Arabic language identity. This ‘Arabism’ dates from the 1950s liberation movement and is a source of conflict in the region.
The Amazigh dialects and languages, which include Tamashek, Tamazight and Tashlheut, share the same origin as well as the ancient Tifinagh alphabet. The Amazigh of the Canary Islands are active members of the indigenous peoples movement, celebrating their cultural roots. The diverse Amazigh cultural movement is united under the umbrella organization, the World Amazigh Congress.
The situation in Algeria remains sensitive. In Kabylie, Northern Algeria, protests and actions of the Amazigh movement have led to the recognition of the region's Amazigh identity and the free use of the language in public and in schools. Despite this, Amazigh identity is still being challenged in other parts of the country, notably the south where the government appears to be implementing a deliberate campaign of resettlement and Arabisation of Tuareg territories, particularly the important city of Tamanrasset.
Morocco has seen impressive changes in favour of democratisation since His Majestry Mohammed VI came into power. Even though the Amazigh people make up more than half of the population of Morocco, their language and identity was suffocated during years of Arabisation policies of the preceding regime from 1956 to 2001. The young king has lifted the ban on the use of Berber language (Tamazigh) in schools. A Royal Commission on Amazigh Culture and Language has been established, with leading cultural activists helping to define policies, standards and curriculum. Moroccan activists have now shifted their attention from language and cultural issues to concerns about land rights, development of the rural economy and the role of National Parks. Political reforms are anticipated in Morocco, notably the constitutional reforms, which could lead to the advancement of the Amazigh people. This may only be the recognition the Amazigh people and their linguistic and cultural identity, but such an acknowledgement would mean the solidification and validation by supreme law of the political willingness that was expressed by the King of Morocco in 2001. This willingness has thus far permitted, for the first time in the history of Morocco, a recognition of the marginalistion inflicted upon the Amazigh and has placed in the limelight a certain number of measures for addressing injustices with regard to the language and culture of the Amazigh.
Tourism in North Africa is mostly controlled by European companies without effective partnerships with local communities. Indigenous people are rich in knowledge about their territories and about biodiversity, but are generally not employed as guides, trackers, hosts or in anti-poaching. Tourism could be used to bring much needed income generation opportunities to the indigenous peoples in North Africa.
Tamaynut, the national Amazigh cultural network in Morocco, has more than 30 affiliated members in urban and rural areas. This indigenous civil society network is the largest in Africa. Tamaynut has struggled to promote the use of Tamazight and the recognition of Amazigh culture. Its members are also involved in the promotion of literacy, craft and cottage industries, especially for women in rural areas. Tamaynut has received a special accreditation for indigenous issues from the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations (ECOSOC). In cooperation with the International Labour Office (ILO), Tamaynut has engaged in a study on customary law of indigenous peoples.
Deforestation and climate change continue to be urgent issues for indigenous peoples in North Africa. The destruction of grazing lands, deforestation, drought, access to safe water, destruction of plants and animals, and the displacement of indigenous peoples are all ongoing problems. Another major concern is how to help protect and promote the ways that indigenous peoples pass knowledge from one generation to the next.
For the Amazigh people of Morocco, 2008 is a benchmark year in the evolution of the case for reclaiming the constitutionalisation of Amazigh language and culture. The actions of the Amazigh networks in this effort are of considerable importance given that the current constitution is a major hindrance for the promotion and legal recognition of Tamazight.
Indigenous peoples in Morocco are facing many challenges. Language issues include teaching difficulties of Amazigh languages in primary schools, a curbed integration of the Amazigh language and culture in the media, and cultural and linguistic globalisation which progressively threatens the identity of the Amazigh. The lack of land rights of the Amazigh allows the state to monopolise Amazigh community lands and redistribute to them to wealthy individuals and potential investors. This results in uncertainty and impoverishment for Amazigh communities. Political challenges faced by the Amazigh include an unfavourable juridical environment that can be openly hostile to the promotion of Amazigh rights, a regional political environment which preaches assimilation based on heritage, but counters the same, and the precarious nature and poverty of the Amazigh communities, which is accentuated by the State’s policies of disengagement.
However, there are some positive aspects of the situation. Amazigh society is more and more active, and has succeeded with large, sustainable development projects for Amazigh communities, thanks to active development organizations that operate in regions neglected by the government. An in-depth project was undertaken by the Tamaynut organisation and the Tamunt n Iffus confederation, focused on rewriting the history and valorising the cultural and juridical heritage of the Amazigh. Great work on Amazigh customary law was carried out by Tamaynut in collaboration with the International Labour Organisation.
Members of the IPACC Executive Committee met in Bujumbura, Burundi from April 16th-19th, 2007 to discuss how environmental issues affecting indigenous peoples can be addressed through the inclusion of indigenous peoples and knowledge in national environmental policies. North African delegates at the meeting were concerned about climate changes and increasing drought. They felt that old knowledge of water management in pastoralism and arid area agriculture needed more attention and recognition, and that the rush to modernisation in agriculture has put aquifers at risk now that the climate is changing. For full details of the IPACC Executive Committee meeting in Bujumbura see this IPACC article.
The unfolding of the question of the Sahara, notably the Moroccan proposal of extended autonomy as a solution permitting self-determination, may have huge consequences for the future of the Amazigh people of Morocco. The Moroccan proposition was presented to the General Assembly of the United Nations in April 2007, and the negotiations between the different parties implicated commenced in June under the auspices of the Secretary-General of the United Nations.
Tuareg delegates from Djanet and Tamanrasset participated in the 2006 Congress of Indigenous Peoples of the Sahara and Sahel, held in Agadez, Niger. The activists expressed their concerns over serious environmental problems in the area, and their frustration that opportunities for income generation arising from European tourism and National Parks were not addressing the needs of indigenous peoples or providing much revenue to these poor territories.
In November 2006, Association Tamunt n Iffus (a confederation of Amazigh associations of the South) held an international colloquium on Indigenous Peoples in the Francophone world. The event was supported by the Francophone Co-ordination of Indigenous Peoples (CAF) with funding from IWGIA France and the European Union. Indigenous peoples attended from Africa, the Pacific, Canada and French Guyana. The conference dealt with issues of legal heritage in the French speaking world, media, tourism, and equitable access to the United Nations system.
In 2005, Tunisia hosted the follow up meeting of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). There was major indigenous participation, in part sponsored by Canada. Indigenous peoples from the region attended the event.
The Indigenous Francophone Coordination (CAF) was created in Agadir on 4 November 2006, regrouping indigenous NGOs whose common denominator is the French language. The network is based in Canada and is presided over by the Vice-President of the Tamaynut organisation.
The King of Morocco, his Majestry Mohammed VI, lifted the ban on the use of Berber language (Tamazigh) in schools.
In 1996, Tamaynut participated in the creation of L’Espace association, a Moroccan NGO which has as its objective the institutional backing of the associative action which pursues democratic development. The Espace associative network is composed of twenty associations and physical individuals. During the course of its ten years of existence, Tamaynut activists have been part of Espace‘s top management.
In 1995, the World Amazigh Congress (CMA) was created, with the Tamaynut organisation as a founding member. CMA is an NGO of Amazigh activists from the four corners of the globe. It regroups Amazigh activists of Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Mali, Niger, the Canary Islands and the diaspora. This organisation is an assembly of Amazigh activists across the world, presenting themselves as a trans-national lobby group in favour of Amazigh rights, mainly linguistic and cultural rights.