Climate and the Political Economy of the French Protectorate of Morocco during “Pacification,” 1927-1934

By Guillaume Wadia
Submitted to Session P4903 (Colonial Regimes and Anti-Colonial Revolts between Maghrib and Mashriq, 1920-1950, 2017 Annual Meeting
19th-21st Centuries;
There were four global climate events (El Niño and La Niña) between 1925 and 1934. This period of time encompasses the Rif War, “Pacification,” the protests against the Berber Dahir, and the anti-French riots that occurred in Fez in 1934. This talk will examine the overlooked impact of climate on the development of French modes of imperial governance and Moroccan responses to them.
The “Pacification” of Morocco, generally understood as the murderous campaign to put down tribes that refused to bow to French authority, is less well studied for being the result of consecutive years of crop failures and livestock deaths. That social and political upheaval follows drought and famine was borne throughout Morocco (and North Africa in general) in the interwar years. There could be no lasting “peace” so long as Moroccans died of starvation or disease. This was a reality that French intelligence officers confronted when they realized they needed to shift from being an occupying force to an administrative one.
There were thus efforts to limit the use of military force by building a pastoral society in the hinterlands. Violence always suffused interactions between French and Moroccans during these efforts, but the efforts of the military to build new markets and encourage new agricultural techniques that limited the economic effects of climate on the livelihood of tribes also offered spaces of negotiation for Moroccans to influence the terms under which they accepted French rule.
Nevertheless, while the French encountered some success, consecutive climate events compounded by the devastation of “Pacification” did not end the trend of pauperization of Moroccans who found themselves leaving the countryside to struggle in cities, where their discontent was harnessed by nationalists.