Are North African Arabs ethnically African

Lumped together: Racism in North Africa

Descendants of slaves, local ethnic minorities, students and migrants from sub-Saharan Africa: the black population of the Maghreb countries is shaped by the diversity of their origins and local social position. It is united by the confrontation with increasing racism. All blacks are discriminated against indiscriminately. The problem is addressed - both at national level and through measures by the UN refugee agency UNHCR - with a view to the precarious situation of black migrants in the Maghreb. Images of slave markets in Libya published in 2017 sparked an international outcry. But reports of the mistreatment of refugees also come regularly from Morocco and Algeria. However, racism runs through the life experience of all blacks in the Maghreb states. Tunisia and Morocco are trying to find ways to combat this.
 

Criminalized but ignored

According to unofficial estimates, 10 to 15 percent of the Tunisian population identify as black. There are also migrants and students, especially from West Africa, for whom Tunisia's francophone universities are attractive. As part of the worldwide demonstrations in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement in the USA, people took to the streets in Tunisia in June. Their protests were directed against everyday verbal insults, not being served in shops or by taxis and difficulties in the labor and housing market. Physical attacks are also increasingly taking place.

Social and economic marginalization are - among other things - after-effects of slavery in Tunisia and its lack of reappraisal. In the south of the country in particular, many former slaves returned to their previous owners because they could not find an independent livelihood for themselves. This so-called wala system is still present today and an expression of the lack of access to education and economic advancement for the black population in Tunisia.

From 2002 to 2014, the African Development Bank relocated its headquarters from the conflict-ridden Ivory Coast to Tunisia - at the invitation of long-time ruling President Ben Ali. After the initial racist hostility of the bank employees and their families, Ben Ali warned the Tunisian population not to attack "his guests". The prejudice that Ben Ali privileged black white Tunisians after his fall in 2011, combined with the growing number of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, turned into open and rapidly increasing discrimination against all blacks in Tunisia.

In 2018, Tunisia passed a law to criminalize racism - a civil society success. In 2011 she was rejected with the demand that the protection of black Tunisians be enshrined in the constitution. The reason at the time: it was creating a problem that did not exist. Racially motivated attacks and threats can now be punished with up to three years in prison and fines of up to US $ 1,000. So far, only one judgment has been made on the basis of this law. A similar bill was tabled in the Moroccan parliament in 2018, but was postponed indefinitely in favor of "more important issues".
 

In Morocco, the fight for human rights is more important than anti-racism

Morocco's constitution proudly declares that the Moroccan population is characterized by ethnic and religious diversity. To emphasize that blacks are part of Morocco is important for the territorial claim to the Western Sahara: The Sahrawi living there see themselves as an independent people, but from a Moroccan perspective they are black Moroccans. The Moroccan Amazigh people (also known as Berbers) also report being victims of racist attacks.

In 2013, the racially motivated murder of two migrants from the Congo and Senegal sparked protests. In response, the Moroccan government adopted a new migration guideline in which it gave legal status to around 2,000 migrants from sub-Saharan Africa living in Morocco. Racism as a factor was not addressed in this guideline.

After her visit to Morocco in December 2018, Tendayi Achiume, UN Special Rapporteur on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, praised Morocco's commitment to the monitoring and observance of human rights. Protection against racist attacks - including by state security forces - is not sufficiently included. She criticized the fact that Morocco, although a signatory to the International Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, had not implemented a legal framework to protect against racism. Morocco's efforts for equality among its citizens should not be limited to gender equality.
 

The fight against racism must be approached holistically

In the final report of her visit to Morocco, Tendayi Achiume emphasized that the protection of refugees, especially in the north of the country, had to be secured more strongly by UNHCR and IOM as long as the Moroccan security forces do not provide this.

However, approaches to combating racism need to be thought more broadly. Black people who have been living in the Maghreb for generations, students from sub-Saharan Africa and minorities perceived as black are also in need of protection. The international community can make a contribution to this: agreements in international cooperation regularly contain conditions to strengthen social equality for women in the areas of education, health, economic emancipation and political participation. Similarly, projects to promote the black population in the Maghreb should be promoted in all areas of political, social and economic life in order to break through structures of dependency and marginalization. To this end, the UN agencies can work together with existing local civil society structures in order to do justice to the diversity of the black population and their needs.


Tonja Klausmann