• Indigenous peoples in Morocco

    Indigenous peoples in Morocco

    The Amazigh peoples are the indigenous peoples of Morocco. Morocco has not adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples nor ratified ILO Convention 169.

Indigenous World 2019: Morocco

The Amazigh (Berber) peoples are the indigenous peoples of North Africa, and primarily speak Tamazight. The most recent census in Morocco (2016) estimated the number of Tamazight speakers to be 28% of the population or roughly ten million speakers. Amazigh associations, however, strongly challenge this and instead claim a rate of 65% to 70%. 

They estimate that the Tamazight-speaking population may 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 advocate for their rights. It is a civil society movement based on universal values of human rights. There are now more than 800 Amazigh associations established throughout Morocco.

The administrative and legal system of Morocco has been highly Arabised, and the Amazigh culture and way of life is under constant pressure to assimilate. Morocco has for many years been a unitary state with a centralised authority, a single religion, a single language and systematic marginalisation of all aspects of the Amazigh identity. The Constitution of 2011 officially recognises the Amazigh identity and language. This has the potential to be a very positive and encouraging step forward for the Amazigh people of Morocco. Unfortunately, its official implementation is still pending enactment of the organic law that would establish rules as to how Tamazight is to be officially implemented, along with methods for incorporating it into teaching and into life generally as an official language. Work to harmonise the legal instruments with the new Constitution has not yet commenced and no steps have been taken to implement the Constitution.

Morocco has not ratified ILO Convention 169 and did not vote in favour of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

Implementing official recognition of the Amazigh language

Little changed throughout 2018 in terms of the use of Tamazight as an official language. The organic law that will establish rules on how the Amazigh language is to be officially implemented is still being obstructed by Parliament’s Teaching, Culture and Communications Committee, even though its review is complete. Substantive amendments are expected to this piece of legislation but a consensus within the Committee is difficult to find. Given the enormous differences between committee members, it has even been reported on several occasions that the law has actually been adopted. Members of the ruling Islamic Party remain hostile to the widespread use of Tamazight throughout public life. According to Ahmed Boukous, Vice-Chancellor of the Royal Institute for Amazigh Culture (IRCAM): “There are several possible reasons for this failure to enact the legislation. The most plausible is a lack of political will on the part of both government and legislature. The widespread use of Tamazight would not, indeed, be viewed favourably by their current members, who do not agree with this approach.”1

The President of the Chamber of Representatives, Habib El Malki, believes it will be necessary to reach a consensus on this important legislation before it can be ratified.2 The draft bill of law anticipates the use of Tamazight in several areas of public life (teaching, legislation, Parliament, media and communication, culture, art, administration, public services and justice).

Given the situation as it stands, no promotion of the Amazigh language is currently possible. Another major problem is that any other laws adopted before this organic law is enacted will not be compatible with it as they will not take into consideration the implementation of this new organic law. They will therefore not be harmonised and this will create even more difficulties in terms of implementing Tamazight as an official language of Morocco.

Teaching the Amazigh language: small steps and huge dedication

Without the organic law implementing the official status of the Amazigh language, its teaching remains at the mercy of head teachers’ interpretations, in line with their opinions and personal convictions. Although the competitive entry examinations for the preparatory cycle of primary and secondary school teaching include a Tamazight option, some schools subsequently require Tamazight-speaking teachers to teach languages other than their specialisation, giving pupils the impression that it is not an important priority within the education system.

The example of a teacher in the Dakhla region of southern Morocco – who had to teach a language in which he was not specifically trained is noteworthy. The Amazigh organisations denounced this discriminatory behaviour.3 This led Prime Minister Saadeddine Othmani to express his disagreement with this practice in Parliament and reassure school teachers that schools must respect their teachers’ specialisations.4 According to an article on the new school year 2018:

There will clearly be no change in the teaching of this language during this school year. Amazigh activists and the Royal Institute for Amazigh Culture should raise the alarm, calling for implementation of the constitutional provisions; until the organic law on implementing the official status of the Amazigh language has been ratified by the legislature, however, the situation will not change. The text anticipates a gradual roll-out of Tamazight teaching to all levels over 15 years (…) The vice-chancellor of the IRCAM, Ahmed Boukous, argues for the promotion of foreign language teaching in the same way as national, namely Arabic and Tamazight.5

The problem of Amazigh names

The issue of registry offices refusing to recognise Amazigh first names remains an ongoing one, albeit with fewer cases now being noted. There are still individual examples of poor behaviour, however. Yet again, the Casablanca civil registry refused to register a new born baby with the first name of “Amnay” (“Horseman” in English). This happened in the district of Sidi Moumen, under the Prefecture of Sidi Bernoussi, according to the Thursday 11 January issue of the daily newspaper Assabah. The refusal to register this name incurred the wrath of numerous civil society actors, particularly human rights activists. The latter spoke of “racial discrimination against the Amazigh” noted Assabah. And, in a letter sent to the Head of Government and to the Minister of the Interior, the National Federation of Amazigh Associations (Fédération nationale des associations amazighes) denounced the “persistence of racial discrimination in Morocco”, emphasising that this ban is an “abusive and unjustified” act.6

The Ministry of the Interior rapidly issued a press release explaining that investigations conducted:

Showed that the first names chosen by citizens are not a reason for refusing to register births but that refusals are instead due either to a lack of necessary documents or to a request for a delay to enable consultation, in accordance with current legal and procedural provisions.7

Indeed, this problem seems to have been resolved by the government in comparison to the previous year; there are now only a few civil registry staff who are failing to follow Ministry of the Interior guidelines in this regard.

The land issue, an ever more serious problem

The land problem goes back to the time of the French Protectorate when the Amazigh people were dispossessed of their lands. After Morocco became independent, the Amazigh people did not recover their lands and the problem still remains unsolved.

Despite King Mohamed VI’s instructions to review this problematic issue in Morocco, particularly that of the communal lands, it is becoming increasingly serious given the attitude of the High Commissioner for Water and Forests, who has commenced a procedure for demarcating land without any prior direct consultation with the population. This has resulted in anger among the indigenous population, above all in the Souss region of southern Morocco. Once demarcated, the population will no longer have the right to access pastureland and, in addition, the introduction of wild boar into these spaces is threatening the population. The population of the Souss region mobilised to protest against this situation, with several newspapers covering the demonstration. The newspaper Albayane wrote:

A huge crowd built up on the streets of Casablanca on Sunday 25 November to denounce the State policy on pastoral transhumance and management of pastoral and silvo-pastoral spaces. The march, organised by the AKAL (land) coordination for defence of the population’s right to land and wealth, included activists from the Amazigh movement as well as dozens of human rights associations and civil society organisations from the Souss region.8

This is the first time that a protest demanding the right to land has taken place, with protestors calling on the state to repeal all legislative texts dating back to the time of the Protectorate that authorise expropriation on grounds of public interest. Protestors were also demanding the cancellation of Law 113.13 on pastureland management, drawn up without any consultation.

The Head of Government was not indifferent to this serious demand and he agreed to receive the AKAL movement’s leaders. The meeting took place in the Amazigh language, the first time an official government meeting has ever done so. Instructions were given to all regional governors to make contact with representatives of the AKAL movement to find a solution to this problem.

Notes and references

  1. GATTIOUI, Jihane. 2018. «Officialisation De L’Amazigh: À Quand La Fin Du Blocage?» leseco.ma | L’actualité en continu. See http://bit.ly/2Injpug
  2. Ibidem
  3. World, Amazigh. 2018. “Morocco: Amazigh Associations and Coordination Statement on Current School Entry”. Amazighworld.Or See http://bit.ly/2IlMSow
  4. See Telexpresse, “Ottoman: We Will Promote the Teaching of Amazigh Language within Six Years”. See http://bit.ly/2ImeB8l
  5. Gattioui, Jihane. 2018. «Enseignement De L’Amazigh: Aucune Nouveauté Pour Cette Rentrée». www.leseco.ma | L’actualité en continu. See http://bit.ly/2IwQeFk
  6. Asmlal, Amyne. 2018. «L’interdiction D’un Prénom Amazigh Indigne Les ONG». Le360.ma. See http://bit.ly/2IlxoAI
  7. «Interdiction Des Prénoms Amazighs: Les Précisions De L’intérieur». Fr. Le360.ma. See http://bit.ly/2ImfPAt
  8. Darfaf, 2018. «Casablanca: La Politique Du Pâturage Suscite La Colère Des Soussi». Al Bayane. See http://bit.ly/2IoNYj4

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 Co-ordination Committee (IPACC), the IPACC North African Regional Representative as well as a member of the steering committee of the ICCA Consortium in Geneva. He is Director of the Centre for Historical and Environmental Amazigh Studies.



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