• 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.

The Indigenous World 2023: Morocco

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 Amazigh-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 founded an organization called the “Amazigh Cultural Movement” (ACM) 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 established throughout Morocco.

The administrative and legal system of Morocco has been strongly Arabized, and the Amazigh culture and way of life are under constant pressure to assimilate. Morocco has for many years been a unitary state with centralized authority, a single religion, a single language and a systematic marginalization of all aspects of the Amazigh identity. The 2011 Constitution officially recognizes the Amazigh identity and language. This could be a very positive and encouraging step for the Amazigh people of Morocco. Parliament finally adopted an organic law for the implementation of Article 5 of the Constitution in 2019, after several years of waiting. Work to harmonize the legal arsenal with the new Constitution should now begin.

Morocco has not ratified ILO Convention 169 and has not adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.


Overview of the situation of Amazigh rights in 2022

The 2021 legislative elections were won by the RNI (Rassemblement National des Indépendants), a centre liberal party. During its electoral campaign, the RNI focused on Amazigh rights and the implementation of the official status of Tamazight (the language of the Indigenous Amazigh). Several activists from the Amazigh cultural movement have joined the campaign and are supporting this party’s proposal. The new government took office at the start of 2022.

In January 2022, the government announced a budget of 200 million dirhams (around 20 million euro) with which to implement the official status of the Amazigh language. It is a positive start but some consider this budget still insufficient to fulfil the many projects needed (education, justice, administration, culture, media, development catch-up plan for marginalized Amazigh territories, etc.) and they are demanding more funding and a special body within the government to take lead on the Amazigh language project.[1]

Unfortunately, by the end of 2022, teaching of the Amazigh language was still not properly up and running and, from an educational point of view, the budget allocated to recruiting teachers of Tamazight was only sufficient to recruit 400 posts for the 3,814,438 pupils in the primary cycle.[2] In the field of media, there is only one Amazigh television channel and Amazigh radio stations do not cover the entire Moroccan territory. Administrative documents are only in Arabic, even though Tamazight has been an official language since 2011. The Amazigh New Year is still not recognized as a holiday, although this was an electoral promise. On Friday 30 December 2022, the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH), the largest human rights organization in Morocco, called on the government to recognize the first day of the Amazigh New Year as an official holiday in the country, similar to the calendar year and the Muslim year, as a symbolic initiative by which to recognize the Amazigh cultural identity of the Moroccan people.[3]

The land problem also remains unresolved, despite demonstrations demanding a solution and protection from looting and destruction of the property and fields of Indigenous Peoples due to overgrazing by nomads from the desert. The increased overgrazing in the Souss-Massa region and the increased demarcation of forests all comes at the expense of collective lands. Civil associations held meetings with officials in the capital, Rabat, and obtained promises from them to “intervene to the extent possible” to urge the government to find a solution to the overgrazing dilemma. A number of actors do not have high hopes, however, that the political parties or even the Ministry of Agriculture will be able to solve this problem as they consider that the solution lies in the hands of the Ministry of the Interior.[4]


Protected areas: traditional knowledge linked to Indigenous rights

In Morocco, the Indigenous Amazigh have accumulated enormous experience in the management of protected areas, both in the mountains and plains. Some of these protected areas are still functioning well but others are being degraded by overgrazing and the impacts of climate change.

The Amazigh use the term “Agdal” (an Amazigh word that means protected) to designate their protected areas. It refers to collective lands managed by the “Jmaa” commune based on customary rights highly respected by the inhabitants. The Agdal cover a great diversity of uses, including pastoral activities, grazing and forestry. Agricultural Agdal, or Agdal n'targa, are particularly popular in areas where crops are grown, either permanent or seasonal depending on the dominant crop. There is a general practice among all tribes to protect their fields from theft of agricultural products and encroachment: in the mountain areas of the Atlas (walnut trees), in the oases (date palms) and in the plains, including in the argan groves (argan fruits). Where arboriculture is dominant, for example, the crucial period is during the ripening of the fruit. Early fruits must therefore be protected until it is time for the harvest. Forest Agdal, or Agdal n'o'azeddam (wood collection), can be found in the region of Ait Bouguemmez (Central High Atlas), and on the southern slopes, around Mgouna.[5]

In environmental conditions such as those of Morocco, where mountains and a dry climate predominate, fertile soils are scarce so people have invented systems of use for forests and fruit trees that are framed by a strong, original legislation. To manage scarcity, customary law has been used to ensure that everyone gains fair access. Customary law applies to all members of the “Taqbilt” tribe without exception, regardless of social category. In some cases, where cultivable land is scarce and fruit trees are unable to meet the needs of the entire community, several families may share the harvest from a single tree, such as an almond or argan tree. And to ensure that the harvest takes place under good conditions and avoids creating any kind of conflict, the Jmaa (Assembly) has established a special regulation in this regard. It is the Jmaa that sets the date of the harvest, and it is forbidden to start harvesting even privately-owned trees before that date. In general, the Agdal open their doors to their rightful owners twice a year, first for the harvesting of the crop, and then for grazing at the start of the summer once the crop has been brought in.

The role of these Agdal is crucial in the preservation of biodiversity, especially in the mountains, which remain a treasure trove of ecosystems and biodiversity in Morocco and in the Mediterranean area as a whole.


Indigenous protected areas and Moroccan legislation

The Moroccan Constitution recognizes the Amazigh identity of the Moroccan people but there are no laws that recognize or refer to the term Indigenous, apart for an implicit recognition in the dahir (law) of April 1919 concerning collective lands. The term “local community” in Morocco refers to a de facto situation and does not imply any legal or formal connotation. However, in international legal texts, local communities are understood to be “traditional” groups that, like Indigenous Peoples, have customs, beliefs and traditional knowledge of natural resources.[6]

Morocco has ratified the Paris Agreement (UNFCCC) and the Nagoya Protocol (CBD), both of which clearly mention the term “Indigenous Peoples”, but the Moroccan government prefers to use the term “local community”.

According to a study conducted by the Global Support Initiative for Indigenous and Local Community Conserved Areas and Territories: “field studies demonstrate that there are many territories that meet the requirements of the Africa Protected Areas Congress (APAC) as defined at international level, especially in the High Atlas, which is also a Biodiversity Hotspot”[7].

An analysis of the national reality and the legal framework of Morocco shows that much remains to be done to address the issue of protected areas as defined by APAC. Nevertheless, significant progress has been made since there are now territories and local communities that recognize themselves as covered by APAC; further, ever more institutional actors have a grasp and understanding of the APAC phenomenon and ever more NGOs and researchers are joining the process.

In addition, Morocco's political openness and flexibility in managing social conflicts, as well as recent developments in the design of protected areas nationally and active participation in UNFCCC and CBD COP meetings, have all helped advance the legislative side of protected areas. The Moroccan law on protected areas (2008) “allows associations, in conjunction with national institutions, to endow Agdal with the status of ‘community protected area’”[8].



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 Director of the Centre for Historical and Environmental Amazigh Studies. 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-ordinating Committee (IPACC), the IPACC North African Regional Representative and a member of the steering committee of the ICCA Consortium in Geneva & Member of the Steering Committee of UNESCO’s International Decade of Indigenous Languages (2022-2032).


This article is part of the 37th edition of 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 2023 in full here.


Notes and references

[1] “La politique anti-amazighe se poursuit au Maroc.” Kabyle, 5 August 2022, https://kabyle.com/communiques/la-politique-anti-amazighe-se-poursuit-au-maroc

[2] “Performance, nombre d´élèves, effectifs…Bilan chiffré de l´année scolaire 2020-2021.” Media 24, 14 February 2022, https://medias24.com/2022/02/14/enseignement-lannee-scolaire-2020-2021-en-chiffres/

[3] Mejdoup, Khalid. “Maroc: l´Association marocaine des droits appelle à reconnaitre le Nouvel An amazigh comme jour férié officiel.” 7 January 2022, https://www.aa.com.tr/fr/monde/maroc-lassociation-marocaine-des-droits-humains-appelle-%C3%A0-reconnaitre-le-nouvel-an-amazigh-comme-jour-f%C3%A9ri%C3%A9-officiel/2468316#

[4] Al-Raji, Muhammad. “Civil activities request the intervention of the Ministry of the Interior to confront the "overgrazing" of Sous”. 27 May 2022, https://www.hespress.com/%D9%81%D8%B9%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%8A%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D9%85%D8%AF%D9%86%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%AA%D8%B7%D9%84%D8%A8-%D8%AA%D8%AF%D8%AE%D9%84-%D9%88%D8%B2%D8%A7%D8%B1%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%AE%D9%84%D9%8A-994764.html

[5] “Aires conservées autochtones et communautaires au Maroc: les agdals.” APAC, 29 February 2016, https://www.iccaconsortium.org/index.php/fr/2016/02/29/aires-conservees-autochtones-et-communautaires-au-maroc-les-agdals-2/

[6] Initiative d’appui mondial aux Aires et Territoires conservés par les Peuples Autochtones et les Communautés locales [Global Support Initiative for Indigenous and Local Community Conserved Areas and Territories] (ICCA-GSI) Strategic Support Project for Community Heritage Areas and Territories (CHPA) in Morocco. Prepared by Najwa Es-siari, Consultant.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Auclair, Laurent., and Mohamed Alifriqui. Agdal patrimoine socio-écologique de l’Atlas marocain. Rabat, IRCAM and IRD, 2012, 81.

Tags: Global governance



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