Posted on September 22, 2014
By A. Azergui
For three years, on top of Alebban Mount, two kilometers from Imider, a town about 200 miles northeast of Ouarzazate, exasperated citizens have started a sit-in to protest against the exploitation of a silver mine on their land by the Metallurgical Society Imider (SMI) since 1969. During these three years the Imider people, target of a repression campaign, organized marches and manifestations and have challenged the power abuse by Moroccan authorities, consumed with the arrest of activists and prison sentences . Three years of resistance to the powerful holding. Each part remains on its positions. People are always on the Albban Mount. No change on the horizon. The mine is still unsustainably exploited, producing environmental pollution and undermining the health of people with cyanide and mercury, two chemicals that SMI uses for the silver production. The flow of water in the wells and taps of the inhabitants, which were decreased by 60% triggering the protest movement, is still low. Little or nothing has changed.
But why this conflict is not resolved? Why the SMI gives no credit to the requests of the population?
1. A powerful company
The SMI is a subsidiary of mining group Managem, controlled by the National Investment Company (SNI), a property of the head of the Moroccan monarchy. The company in 2010 had a turnover of 74 million euro, turnover that make it one of the largest silver mines in Africa. The Imider population, however, live in misery and poverty. They have no roads, no hospitals, no schools, no Internet. The nearest hospital is at 200 km.
The fact that this metallurgical company belongs to the royal family, severely restricts the resolution of the problem. Countering the mining company leads to challenge the stranglehold of the king on the wealth of this region (as well as throughout the territory controlled by the monarchy). Political parties, parliamentarians, governors, state organs submissive and servile, they will never have the courage to fully face the problem because of the risk of incurring the royal palace wrath. Who and what can force a company belonging to the “king of the poor” to respect poor, powerless and whitout support people?
2. A mystified communication
In terms of communication to the media, the SMI can afford to buy entire pages of newspapers to praise its “projects for the people” of the region. Recently, in response to the publication on the influential New York Times of an article about Imider, unfavorable to the monarchy and to the company, the SMI has responded, investing hundreds of thousands of euro, by publishing suddenly several announcements, on Moroccan and French media, which praise the SMI (even on free daily Direct Matin, Paris edition). Even several Moroccan newspapers and websites have gone on the offensive to restore the company’s reputation and demonstrate its respect for the environment. The Imider inhabitants not have the resources to counter these attacks which cast discredit on them.
3. A systematic repression
While the mining company communicates at the international level to improve their degraded image, the repression forces of the monarchy lead a intimidation campaign against the Imider inhabitants. Since the sit-in beginning, the repression seems to be the only official response to the requests of the protesters. In February 2012, Mustapha Ouchtobane, activist of the Movement on the Road ’96, has been sentenced to four years in prison. Five months later, five activists were arrested and taken to court. Moha Bennaser, Karim Lahcen, Faska Laadad, Taieb Omar, and Moha Ouljihad which will then be released a few weeks later. In 2013, some activists were physically assaulted and arrested. Among these H. Mounas (7 and 17 July), Hamid Berki (December 28) et Ichou Hamdan (30 December). During this year, three activists – Omar Moujane, Brahim Hamdaoui and Abdessamad Madriont – were brutally attacked, arrested and sentenced to three years in prison each. A total of at least thirty militants have been arrested since the start of the sit-in organization. Mass arrests were also made in the population’s ranks in 1996 and 1986. One person was killed during an operation of the auxiliary forces to disperse a sit-in in 1996, in the same locality.
4. Absence of active solidarity
Faced with these arrests, intimidation and imprisonment, some associations of civil society and human rights NGO’s seem interested in what happens in Imider, but they close their eyes because this topic is not congenial to them. First, the fact that the company belongs to the king is a serious problem. Moreover, the fact that the victims of this company are Amazigh reinforces the indifference for protesters. Even in the region, few Amazigh associations have mobilized in support of the demonstrators: none of them, for example, manifested in their favor. As if what is going on Albban not interested them. Some of these associations have chosen to avoid the Imider inhabitants to benefit from the generosity of the authorities and get more funds. In this diaspora, the Imider and Tinerhir inhabitants living abroad seem to be anesthetized, inactive and fatalistic. No activity has been organized in their current country of residence to protest against what is happening to Albban, for fear of reprisals when they return home.
5. The distance from Rabat
The Imider distance from the power centers and its location in a region cursed by the monarchy complicates the task of the protesters. Their voices remain unheard, despite the dozens of articles devoted to their cause reported in the international media. This silence is simply a punishment that the regime inflicts on those who refuse to bow down to the authorities yoke and the “king of the poor” business.
6. A deaf system
The Moroccan monarchy is far from being a democracy. The few “rights” of its subjects are considered “gifts” dished out by Mohammed VI. The “subjects” must applaud and thank the monarch for his “great solicitude”. He can revoke the rights granted at any time. It’s for this reason that the monarchy will never respond positively to the needs of the Imider inhabitants. Dismissive and uninterested to the rights of “subjects”, don’t give them anything. It can’t bear to be denounced and challenged.
7. A tranquil company
Given that not seriously affect the company’s business that continues to plunder and thirsty the area, the fact that the protests have not spread to nearby cities and protesters have not blocked the road or damaged anything, for the monarchy will be as if nothing had happened. The Imider inhabitants are not dangerous, they can camp on Albban Mount when and how they want, nothing will be allowed them if not the crumbs. Only endangering the productivity and the future of the company will push the authorities to act. What is happening is a stalemate between Imider and a business. The action of the protesters is fragile and at present doesn’t pose a threat to the SMI.
Faced with the silence of the authorities and repression by the police, protesters should look for new ways to force the authorities to listen to their needs. The Imider people should not spend a fourth year on this mountain in extreme conditions. It’s time to force the hand of the authorities.