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Five years of anti-mining-protests in Southern Morocco

Villagers stand out on Alebban mountain-top demanding basic human and environmental rights from the silver mining company in their land. A young girl marching with a big crowd of protesters, telling the audience about the community’s unheard protests that had been going on for five years. “300 km from COP22” is the title of a video produced by local community protesters to communicate their issue to the world. As no one gave them attention after years of protest, they made a very creative video, highlighting the negative impact of the biggest silver mine of its kind in Africa using the opportunity of international attention to Morocco in the framework of the UN climate summit, taking place in Marrakech from 7th to 18th of November.

Imider is a small commune with a total population 3936 inhabitants in Tinghir province, in south-eastern Morocco. The residents of the Amazigh local community of Imider have been speaking out for the past five years about the health and environmental damage by a silver mining company called “Société Métallurgique d’Imider”, a subsidiary of Managem, known as SMI. The company owns one of Africa’s most important silver mines producing approximately 240 tons of silver annually. The largest share holder is the Moroccan royal family according to the local community protesters.

Alebban is the top mountain located 300km east of Marrakech, a rough place where strong wind blows, freezing in the winter and burning in the summer. People of the community came over all these conditions and built a camp on the top of the mountain to stop or at least complain about the damages the silver mine is causing to their land. The protest started after some local youths based on different stories - were turned down for temporary jobs because they couldn’t meet the job requirements or were basically not skilled enough for the development in the eyes of the company leading the project.  Through street protests in front of several authorities, local commune and government institutes besides to various meetings with mining company representatives, the protesters wanted to shed light on several issues, that - although the mine is working on public ground -local community is not getting any benefits or profits from including lack of enough job opportunities and absence of investments in public health and education.

In August 2011, the protesters then decided to take their own action by shutting off the water flow from the principal reservoir that supplies the mine. Many groups of protesters in the region of Tinghir have been gathering on the mountain since then bringing up water and food to stay for the sake of their human and environmental rights.

The painful thing in the story the world should know about this protest is that the local community withdrew from all other life concerns to stand for their rights and for the protection of the environment. Women in all ages were participating in the protest hand in hand with their kids. Kids left behind their childhood joyful and drop out of school to protest in Alebban camp for years. Youth quitted their jobs to manage and lead the protest. Old men provided food and water for the living groups in the camp. The protesters used all kind of peaceful protest to make their voice heard but unfortunately the surrounding mountains were the only ones giving feedback.

After years of unrecognized protest, local people started using more creative ways to reach other parts of Morocco. Youth produced pieces of music tackling the issue such as this guitarist group who insisted to tell their story through an amazing peaceful song saying that:

I am suffering in the top of Alebban

I screamed but nobody heard me 

I am not stranger, I am from this land

I have roots among people

They take the land; they take water and food...

Furthermore, kids living in the camp started talking about their situation and dropping out of school expressing their willing to go back to school after they returned their rights. 

Bader, a young child in the age of 12 gave an impressing speech. On a first glance you might think that he complains and cries as most children would do in his age. But then he says, that dropping out of school and attending the Alebban School as he stated made him stronger, educated and aware about the surrounding issues his people suffer from. “We will stop going to school and if any family worried about their kids’ education they should send them to Alebban School. We need to fight together and avoid personal interests. It is like when you walk in darkness alone and you can only see the front but being together the front and the back are lighted” Bader says in a video

 Last but not least, people of the community produced a very creative video to raise their voice and show the impact of the silver mine on the environment. This time the video spoken person is a young girl in the age of 13 speaking her language to show the world no matter where they live, how they live and under what conditions they live they still can raise their voice. It is a huge message to the world that the community gives the right for women to speak. The world has no more excuse not to hear them. 

 by Abderrahim Boualy, intern at North Africa desk, RLS Berlin.