An activist with an Amazigh flag (EJAtlas)
In the midst of continued political struggles, local communities feel the impact of national and transnational decisions on a very intimate level. One such example is the community of Imider. Located in the southeast of Morocco the inhabitants belong to the tribal confederation of Aït Atta and are scattered over 140 square km in seven villages. A farming community with ancient water use techniques (terraced irrigation and water locating) the people live in coexistence with what many would consider the harshest of landscapes. A site of huge silver deposits, Imider has long been a place where silver is mined (since the 7th century), but only since 1969 has intensive mining activity occurred at the Imider mine (SMI). This mining has led to observed decreases in biodiversity, water scarcity, soil, air and water pollution, negative impacts to crops and the overall health of the community. In 1986, fed up with the social and environmental damage of the industries extraction, the community resisted the digging of a well by BRPM (Bureau of Mineral Research and Participations) with a series of demonstrations, they were repressed. In 1996 the mine switched from state-owned (BRPM) to private (Managem a subsidiary of SNI, ie. royal family), insert world order context of neoliberal Bretton woods organization policies. In 1996 community members staged a 45-day sit on National Road #10 that ended in violent repression and gave the current struggle its name, Movement on the Road ’96 Imider. Set up in 2011 the movement continues to “denounce the policies of marginalization and discrimination implemented by the Imider Metallurgical Society (SMI) under the protection of the authorities.”
- Watch IMIDER has a speech.
- This was produced in response to #COP22 which was held in Morocco and which Managem (the company that owns the Imider mine) was a sponsor of. #300kmSouth
- Imider’s letter of solidarity to the Rif.
- Read an Al Jazeera article on the movement here.
- Check-out the movements website.
Industrial tourism propaganda from the company, they were watering the lawns when we drove up. (Aujourd’hui le Maroc)
Ben Smim, a small rural farming village tucked away in the Atlas Mountains has like Imider been thrust into the world of water privatization with the siting of the AinIfrane bottling plant. Bordered by the larger towns of Azrou and Ifrane, Ben Smim is mostly Amazigh. Fortunately, we were able to not only stay in the beautiful town of Ben Smim for the week but also to both visit the plant and talk to a woman from the community who had fought against the plant and then worked there for a time.
The woman from the community (who I won’t name here), explained that one day a French company showed up in the community saying they had the authorization from Rabat (the capital) for the plant. The community organized and resisted the bottling plant, planning demonstrations and protests that stalled the project for years. Eventually though, with the help of the state, the project continued forward in 2010. In one of the companies moves to appease the community they hired local workers, at the peak only ever around 40 of the promised 300.
The woman who spoke with us was one of those hired. She worked there for four years, cooking and cleaning from 6 am to 6 pm for the mostly male staff. She said if you complained about something you were fired and that as time passed and the resistance in the community settled local people were laid off and external workers hired. One day she was electrocuted while at work and was taken to the hospital. Not only did they never alert her family of what happened but they refused to allow for more treatment of her lingering symptoms. Though she received no compensation, she said she had to endure it for her kids. She eventually chose to sue and is still in the court of appeals (30 min taxi ride away), fighting a giant (with ties to, you guessed it, the King). The towns water quality continues to be degraded and water scarcity threatens livelihoods as people sell their land and move to cities for wage labor work.
A small intake tube was located at one end of the building. It looked so inconspicuous among the big conveyor belts and machines. This small stainless steel pipe had a meter on it. A question was asked later about what determined the amount they pull from the source and the answer was that it depended on demand, not re-charge rate or level of sustainable shared use. We learned that there was a contract established some years ago of a 5% use rate, but that if they needed more they would just “renegotiate.”
I wonder who holds them accountable to their allocated amount? The 5% rate sure doesn’t align with what the woman told us. There is no transparency. Who was in these negotiations in the first place? Select representatives from the basin governing board. The community member said there are no women and that when one tried to join remarking that the men had lost the battle and a woman could potentially help, she was excluded. Who serves on the rural commune that benefits from the tax on the water used? Our speaker made it clear she had felt no benefits, there was certainly no elusive trickle down occurring. Why is water something we even buy and sell in the first place? Why/how did the plant have the audacity to tell us there had been no local resistance?
- Here is an article about the community resistance (French).
- Read an article on water privatization that mentions Ben Smim.
*there isn’t much news on this, which says something in and of itself*
Read more on water scarcity in Morocco.
See upcoming web series on environment struggles in Morocco and Tunisia.
++ Read about how these political events interact with global events such as climate change and neoliberal policy, in a catastrophic convergence.
A photo I took driving into Ben Smim.
Though I had hours (many more than I had intended to spend) reading and researching this all to get it into some semblance of organized and comprehensive information I still don’t have answers to what solidarity looks like.
When I send these blogs off I will close my computer and head to bed. I will have the option to disengage. I get to make decisions about what things matter to me, not because I have to care but because I want to. So does choosing to care make me a good ally or just not a shitty human being? Does “spreading awareness” count as solidarity? The answer, as always, is probably grey. A yes and a no, a maybe and sometimes.
I extend a deep gratitude to all those who have taken the time to share and educate me, whether that be not letting me pay 50DH for a kg of mandarins or opening up and sharing their deeply personal story.