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Extractivism and resistance in North Africa

Extractivism1 as a mode of accumulation and appropriation in North Africa2 was structured through colonialism in the 19th century to respond to the demands of the metropolitan centres. This accumulation and appropriation pattern is based on commodification of nature and privatisation of natural resources, which resulted in serious environmental depredation. Accumulation by dispossession has reaffirmed the role of Northern African countries as exporters of nature and suppliers of natural resources – such as oil and gas- and primary commodities heavily dependent on water and land, such as agricultural commodities. This role entrenches North Africa’s subordinate insertion into the global capitalist economy, maintaining relations of imperialist domination and neo-colonial hierarchies.3

The neo-colonial character of North African extractivism reflects the international division of labour and the international division of nature. It is revealed in large-scale oil and gas extraction in Algeria and Tunisia; phosphate mining in Tunisia and Morocco; precious ore mining – silver, gold, and manganese – in Morocco; and water-intensive agribusiness farming paired with tourism in Morocco and Tunisia. This plays an important role in the ecological crisis in North Africa, which finds its clear expression in acute environmental degradation, land exhaustion and loss of soil fertility, water poverty, over-exploitation of natural resources, pollution and disease, as well as effects of global warming such as desertification, recurrent heat waves, droughts and rising sea levels.4

Concurrent with this dynamic of dispossession of land and resources, new forms of dependency and domination are created. The (re)-primarisation of the economy (the deepened reliance on the export of primary commodities) is often accompanied by a loss of food sovereignty as a rentier system reinforces food dependency by relying on food imports, as in the case of Algeria; and/or as land, wa­ter and other resources are increasingly mobilised in the service of export-led cash crop agribusiness, as in Tuni­sia and Morocco. Extractivism finds itself mired in serious tensions, which generates protests and resistance. This paper documents some of these tensions and struggles by analysing activist grassroots work, including the participa­tion in alternative regional conferences and ‘International Solidarity Caravans’ where representative of grassroots or­ganisations, social movements and peasant communities met and travelled together to sites of socio-environmental injustices, providing a space to strategise together and offer effective solidarity to their respective struggles. The rural working poor and the unemployed in Northern Africa are the most impacted by the multidimensional crisis. Comprising small-scale farmers, near-landless rural workers, fisherfolks and the unemployed, the movements emerging in the five case studies presented here are resisting the looting of their subsoil resources, the despoliation of their lands, pervasive environmental destruction and the loss of livelihoods. The paper asks the following questions: should we see these protests, uprisings and movements as mainly environmental, or are these fundamentally anti-systemic – anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, decolonial and counter-hegemonic protests? Are these circumstantial episodes of resistance, or do they rather represent the latest development in the historical trajectory of class struggle against the latest capitalist offensive in North Africa? The paper presents an assessment of the nature of these movements which grapple with tensions and contradictions that face them

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