Imider is located between Tinghir and Boumalne Dades in the south-east of Morocco. It’s a small village with rustic charm. Those who dwell there are marked by their simplicity and hospitality. “Tamazgha” is the word for land inhabited by residents who speak Tamazight, commonly known in the west as “Berber.” It is a dry, remote region in the mountains, still maintaining traditional religious values and not yet tarnished by massive globalization. What is more striking is that if you read about the popular understanding of Imider, one is surprised to find out that people know the area as one of the most famous silver mines in North Africa and the 7th largest in the world. Major profits are generated by it on a daily basis. However, a certain irony lies in the fact that these same people were ignored, despite the life that they had been living there long before the mine — human beings who suffer daily because of that mine. The great majority ignores both the mine and residents primarily because the owners are reluctant to make the the commercial affair a widely-known fact. They want it remain under cover permanently, and for that very reason, have kept the media from discovering the facts. It’s been nearly three years of discomfort and struggles that the Imidri people have endured through their peaceful sit-in. They are condemned to all forms of humiliation in their ‘occupied land.’ They are, roughly speaking, subject to acts of ‘looting’ and dramatic disruptions in their daily lives. All these impositions can be attributed to human cupidity to possess. It is, simply speaking, pure greed.
This place is endowed with a God-given natural blessing, silver. This silver is akin to a magnet that brought in the Intruder. And that Intruder’s presence has been a serious detriment to the dignity and humane existence of Imidri inhabitants: a silver mine built and exploited at the expense of Nature in Imider. People living next to the silver mine earn nothing from it; nothing is given them except leftovers. The very act of building this mine has no positive echo for them. It is merely an ominous presence, imposed on them however it was possible to do so. There was no respect of their position as residents, and no democracy in the process of exploiting the mine. They aspire to getting back their legitimate rights in relation to the mine, such as employment of their children. The history of this region was marked by its deep sense of militancy — a militancy that was incarnated in successful opposition to the ‘Colonizer’. This was brought to light in a well-known piece of Moroccan history, the Bougaffr Battle. Some of the iconic figures who demonstrated that sprit of resistance are still alive today. But now, it is another generation who resists and screams out against the postmodern form of colonization — colonization the their ancestors opposed as Imazighen or “free people.” Youth of Imider are bound and determined to sacrifice everything for their freedom. This being the case, echoes of their voice has spread throughout the country. Ironically the onus is on the State, that oppressive machine, to listen to the voice of these young people who aspire to nothing but dignity and their human rights.
The story began precisely in 1962. From that time, they started using silver merely to increase their own wealth. In 1969, the company rented 25 hectares of the land from the locals. But their exploitation of the silver was the equivalent of raping the land and nature. A water crisis developed as a result, with masses of the population intent on an exodus but no State representative heard their calls. They were, for the most part, despised and spurned. They were turned into objects of mockery and laughed at for not speaking Moroccan Arabic, Darija, which they had not mastered. They speak it in a broken pattern since it is not their mother tongue. To put in a nutshell, they are discriminated against and they have to go through hell to achieve the slightest thing. The state is shrewd: it figured out that the people could be called rebels in order to alter public perception, and then impose arbitrary jail terms unjustly. It is a breach of law in broad daylight. In 1986, the authorities in charge came off as a hail-fellow-well-met to the resident population in order to be permitted to dig a well. Imidri opposed that idea, as they were well-aware of the aftermath. As a reaction to their opposition, they were subjected to further arrests. They were set free as soon as the act of digging the well was completed. This well transformed the entire region into a parched, arid zone with agriculture having been wiped out for the most part. A myriad of people started leaving their land, as a result of the State’s injustice and oppression. In 1996, Imidri engaged in a sit-in in order to gain back their rights, but it was in vain. That is to say, the company steadfastly refused to enter into any dialogue with the residents, so the residents went out to protest. People from all walks of life joined the event. At that time, security forces and the army intervened to oppress and silence individuals, as was their custom. Many of them were once again arrested; even old women were mistreated. In 2011, people were allocated only 30 minutes to use their own water. What added bitterness to their overflowing cup is that the company stopped hiring any young people from the area. This being the case, old people, unemployed graduates, and students all met on the Albban mountain for an open sit-in to last as long as necessary, until their goals were met. All they wanted was a serious engagement with this company, whereby it would assume its responsibility for the destroyed land, stopp oppressing the inhabitants, create an independent study of the area and the concrete results of having exploited the mine that was on it, respect agreements between the Company and the inhabitants, employ the young people in the mine (75%), the neutrality of authorities with regard to the Imidri people and freeing those individuals in prison.
Two moments of epiphany came about in the solidarity shown to the Palestinians and Syrians by Moroccans. Millions of Moroccans demonstrated that they sympathized with Syrians and Palestinians. For humanitarian reasons, no one could be against that, I assume. However, the Imidri question is ignored in their minds…why? Should we be so humane with some and so indifferent to others? Are they people who deserve not any sympathy? Why this social hypocrisy? Nobody showed up to demonstrate their sympathy or solidarity. It goes without saying that to have silver in the region and not to take advantage of its presence seems absurd. The process of benefiting and exploiting silver, should not be put into place to the detriment of the region’s impoverished inhabitants. There should be a well-structured economic agenda which would guarantee the rights of resident populations, at the very least. Then, afterwards the people should be able to equally benefit, in one way or another, from the presence of the silver mine on their land. By Abdellatif Talibi.