How a radical shift in paradigm, under the Protectorate, sow the seeds for new water management practices

The French Protectorate: definition and impacts on water policies

From 1912 until 1956, Morocco experienced a particular type of colonization under the French Protectorate. A Protectorate is defined as a specific political regime, put into place via a Treaty, which specifies that a protecting State controls another, protected, State. Although Morocco signed the Treaty, its sultan, Moulay Abelhafid did so very reluctantly. He was forced to abdicate by Lyautey, first general resident of the French Protectorate in 1912, who replaced him with his son, Moulay Hassan - himself very badly accepted by most regions in Morocco - against financial compensation that allowed him to live very comfortably in Tangiers.

In total, the “colonial conquest” lasted for 25 years, with Moroccan people firmly showing their animosity against the French army through some famous battles (such as the Rif War 1921-1926, and the uprisings of Boufekrane in 1937). The names of true heroes (such as Mohamed

Modernizing water management 53 ben Abdelkrim Et-Khattabi) remain engraved in the history of the country. In an attempt to calm the situation, the institutions of the Protectorate focused on three strategies:

  • 1 First, gain the trust of powerful local regional personalities, as the Makhzen had previously done, in order to help maintain a certain order. The objective was for the Protectorate to be able to focus their efforts on regions they considered as more interesting economically.
  • 2 Second, maintain what they thought constituted the traditional structure of society: that is, a division between Arab and Berber communities. French people were interested in the fact that Berbers had a non-Islamic legal system and were attached to the land in a way that could make them good allies for French settlers. Incorporating them within the French Protectorate’s agenda would take them away from nationalist Islamist and Arab ideals. The French institutions therefore put into place a legal system that could deal with the Berber customary laws by creating a Dahir (treaty), in 1914.
  • 3 Third, put strong emphasis on the fact that the Sultan remained the sovereign of his country, that new laws would be promulgated in his name, and that the structure of the Makhzen was to be kept in place, with the Great Vizir leading it, and the Moroccan flag as a national emblem.

As for the protective characteristic of the Protectorate, it remains debatable. Montligeon (1932: 299) explains that Article 5 of the Protectorate Treaty focused on the exclusive right of France to talk to Foreign powers on behalf of the sultan and his government. However, whilst the sultan prescribed legal matters, it was down to the resident general to have the exclusive power to make them applicable. Article 1 expressed France’s commitment to maintain the internal sovereignty of the sultan, the maintenance of the religious situation and the respect and prestige of the sultan. France, however, had the right to control each act of sovereignty of the sultan. The concept of “protection” was therefore mainly translated through strong recommendations as to how to manage internal affairs, as well as how to structure the action of various types of stakeholders, throughout a territory whose geographical and ethnic specificities were never taken into consideration by the colonial authorities. By the time Mohamed V took power in 1927, recommendations made by the colonial authorities were considered in a much less “docile” way. That period, described as the “revolution of the King and his people”, led to the exile of S.M. Mohamed V in 1953 and was disturbed by numerous Resistance attacks, strikes, and military interventions by the Moroccan Liberation Army. Ultimately, this led to the independence of the country, in 1956.

For now, what is of interest to us is the impact that this way of managing a country had in the area of water resources. With regard to these, the Protectorate is characterized by quite radical actions in terms of economic strategies, major changes in agricultural modes of production, administrative divisions of the land and of communities and, more generally, by the introduction of a new economic paradigm, entirely foreign to Moroccan people and authorities, and badly understood nor integrated, from the very start.

The complexity of changes generated in water management under the Protectorate are closely linked to changes observed in land management.

Prior to the Protectorate, rural communities were used to making decisions and managing changes locally and independently from Higher Authority. As Mohammed Naciri from the Agronomy and Veterinary Institute Hassan II of Rabat explains, at the time:

all initiatives related to land management were out of the central power’s reach: the intervention of the State in local economic life was extremely reduced if not totally absent. The relationship with local regions was merely based on political allegiance. The central authority, the Makhzen, was therefore never equipped to make decisions related to local communities; its level of intervention was the whole territory of Morocco.

(Naciri, 1985: 228)

Consequently, local communities resisted against the central management of their resources. Any new initiative would lead to the mobilization and involvement of the local population as well as strategic negotiations with the central power.

Clearly, things changed when rural communities were, for the first time in the history of their country, submitted to centralized ruling under the Protectorate, in 1934. The French administration chose to impose itself on the rural world by managing conflicts between tribes. Its objective was to transform the mountain communities into allies against nationalist movements that were growing in cities, and that were threatening to expand into the plains and the rich agricultural areas that it needed. However:

the consequences of these changes were numerous. Pastoral nomadic movements, ecological foundation of tribal autonomy, were upset, and the whole organisation of the terroir was disturbed.

The arbitrage set in terms of land, pasture and water, sealed the inbalances created amongst communities.

(Naciri, 1985: 228)

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