The Desert Slave (Oasis)


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Carl and his colleague must risk life and limb to stop the uprising. The struggles caused disruption of agriculture, industry and commerce as refugees fled from zones of conflict. Communications between the Tell and the Sahara were affected, and northbound trade from Laghouat and Bou Saada was diverted towards Tunis in the east. Around a turning point took place in the history of Algerian Saharan trade.

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An ordinance prohibiting the importation of goods into Algeria from Morocco, Tunisia and the Sahara, in conjunction with the instability just mentioned, served to divert trans-Saharan trade away from northern Algerian Saharan markets. At the same time, however, expanding French influence into the Algerian Sahara renewed some of the commercial exchange patterns in staple goods which had been disrupted earlier.

It was reported in that nomads from the northern Saharan fringe were travelling as far as Algiers to purchase grain, the first time in more than a decade that many of them had appeared on territory formerly controlled by Algiers. The large market at Msila in the eastern province was reportedly functioning for the first time since the fall of Constantine in Following the Biskra expedition, it was reported that merchants at Bou Saada, who had been supplying themselves from Tunis via Touggourt and Tebessa, were turning to French-controlled markets in large numbers Attempts to assure security of communications between the Tell and the Sahara were largely unsuccessful.

For example, following the 1 expedition to Laghouat, the French army constructed a fortified way-station south of Boghar, its purpose to serve as a sheltered stopping point for caravans travelling between the Mizab region and the Tell. Several soldiers were stationed there to provide protection.

But in January troops loyal to Abd al-Qadir partially destroyed it and it was eventually abandoned Some European analysts argued that if only Laghouat were brought under firm French control and if the submission of the Mizab and the Awlad Sidi Shaykh were obtained, then trans-Saharan commerce would naturally redirect itself towards Algiers and other northern Algerian markets. This unrealistic hope would continue to inspire efforts to exploit trans-Saharan commerce in the following decades 2 1.

It was believed, in vain as it turned out, that by making Laghouat into a military strong point and by investing a French-backed khalifa with territorial authority, the colonial regime would be able to dominate the Algerian Sahara and would succeed in tapping the currents of trans-Saharan trade. So as to encourage pastoralists of the northern Sahara to frequent French- controlled markets in the north, the Governor General at Algiers announced in the summer of that he was reducing the traditional taxes which the Turks had imposed on these movements However, this incentive was offset by other official actions which attempted to regulate strictly movements to and from French-controlled territory.

In an assessment of commercial trends in the northern Algerian Sahara, Daumas, a well-known specialist on the Sahara, articulated a widespread optimism about the possibilities of redirecting trans-Saharan commerce to northern Algerian markets. Referring to trade with the south, he wrote,. According to Daumas' sources, the commercial links between Algiers and the Touat had once been very active, especially in luxury goods of European origin, but.

Because of the instability created by the occupation, the English had succeeded in diverting this trade to the Moroccan cities of Mogador, Rabat, Tetouan and Tangiers. Thus, at the very moment that Daumas was predicting a revival of commercial links between the Algerian Tell and the Sahara, the opposite was taking place. In Mircher looked back on these shifts in Saharan commerce :. It was pointed out earlier that following the French military expeditions into the Algerian Sahara there appears to have been an increase in commercial activity between the northern Saharan zone and the Tell.

How can this be reconciled with the view just presented which holds that from around the middle of the decade Sudanese goods no longer found outlets in northern Algeria but were directed instead toward Morocco? There is no contradiction here if one is careful to distinguish between Saharan commerce per se, much of which consisted of staple goods traded between the Algerian Tell and the Algerian Saharan, and trans-Saharan trade, consisting largely of European products and those of Sudanese origin.

As already pointed out, commercial exchange along the northern Saharan zone consisted primarily of staple products such as dates, grain, wool and woven goods. The French occupation of Algiers and the subsequent military penetration southward temporarily disrupted or diverted some of this trade in staples. Beginning in the early 's, some of these trading patterns, associated mainly with nomad migration movements, were reestablished between the Tell and the Sahara. Trans-Saharan trade, although not unrelated to this trade in staples, must be regarded separately. This commerce, consisting largely of luxury goods and slaves, was diverted away from Algerian and Tunisian markets in the 1 's.

This is not to suggest that the north-central Algerian Saharan was no longer involved in trade with the Sudan.

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Lying beyond French control until and still partially independent during the following decades, the Mizab carried on an active trade with the Touat, at. Ghardaia continued to receive shipments of English goods via southern Morocco and Tunisia. In terms of staples trade, however, it remained closely related to northern Algeria.

Although there appears to have been a decline in the Mizab's importance as a market for products from the Sudan and from Morocco and Tunisia, it is difficult to draw quantitative dimensions of such a decline, for the evidence is mostly qualitative.

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In , for example, Mizabi merchants complained about the difficulty of getting English hardware through Morocco, claiming that under the Deys their access to English goods had been easier Whatever the precise role of the Mizab in trans-Saharan commerce during the 's, relative to other markets of northern Africa or relative to its own role at other points in time, there were many who believed that once the French sphere of influence encompassed the Mizab, there would be little difficulty in organizing European exploitation of a potentially lucrative Saharan trade.

Beginning in the 's European capitalists repeatedly witnessed a frustrating sequence of events. The French regime at Algiers always seemed to be on the verge of attracting a commerce which appeared just out of reach. But, upon capturing another line of oases or gaining the submission of another nomad confederation, the authorities discovered that commercial routes had also shifted, remaining always beyond control.

It is true that in this process opportunities were opened or reopened for northern Saharan populations to trade staple products in northern Algerian markets, but restrictive customs regulations aimed at keeping out English goods and at controlling migration movements tended to discourage the establishment of commercial relations. He called for the placement of commercial agents, some European and some Algerian, in strategic market centers all along the northern fringe of the desert so as to monitor and encourage trade between the Sahara and the Tell.

Various explanations were sought for the failure of French markets to cash in on Saharan trade. Sometimes the English were the culprits. This is not to suggest that there are no elements of truth in these explanations. But what was often overlooked was the role of the colonial occupation itself in causing the failure of trans-Saharan commerce to live up to the promises of its advocates. Slaves from the Sudan had long been an important component of trans-Saharan trade. In his tentative census of the Saharan slave trade, Ralph Austen suggests that Algeria was only marginally involved in the trans-Saharan slave trade.

His evidence indicates that slave imports in the Algerian Sahara remained fairly constant up until the 's when they tapered off Further research is needed on this important. The evidence has been sketchy. According to an 1 report, importations of slaves into Algeria at that time were decreasing in frequency and a further decline was predicted.

Although the population of slaves from the Sudan was stationary in most Algerian cities at the time, the slave population at Algiers was reportedly shrinking because of the gradual impoverishment of the Muslim population and the emigration of leading families. The same source estimated the total Sudanese slave population of Algeria at about 1 0 plus at least that number of freed slaves The steps taken by Ahmad Bey at Tunis beginning in the early 's and culminating in the decree abolishing slavery in Tunisia no doubt reduced further the demand for slaves from the Sudan.

The French government followed suit shortly thereafter by abolishing slavery in Algeria. This would make sense if, as Ross Dunn argues, the demand for slaves from the Sudan remained high in Morocco throughout the nineteenth century The decline in the slave trade to Algeria posed a dilemma for French entrepreneurs who desired to revive trans-Saharan trade and direct it to French ports. If, as some analysts argued, slaves were essential to a continuation of trans-Saharan trade, what hope was there for such a revival if slavery was abolished?

These proposals were never implemented. The colonial offensive after Historians have viewed the installation of Randon as Governor General of Algeria in as a landmark event in the history of the Algerian Sahara From the beginning of his appointment, Randon was preoccupied with the extension of French influence in the Sahara and the establishment of commercial relations with the Sudan. He was less concerned about direct political control, which he knew had its disadvantages as well as its advantages, than with the exploitation of distant markets.

Concerning the question of whether or not to force the political submission of the Mizab confederation, Randon wrote to the French Minister of War in :. Randon saw the Mizab as instrumental in his designs to create a French- controlled commercial network spanning the Sahara. One of his first steps was to occupy Laghouat. Although an expedition had reached it in , the organization which had been set up under a French-backed khalifa crumbled in 1 as Saharan groups aligned themselves with a new leader, Muhammad b. In December of , colonial forces virtually wiped out the population of Laghouat as punishment for having supported the Sharif and for having refused to surrender.

Soon after, a military garrison was established there. The fall of Laghouat marked the beginning of serious expansion of French influence into the Algerian Sahara. Within a few months of the massacre, the Mizab had capitulated to demands for its political submission and other oasis cities soon did likewise. The government turned its attention to ways of profiting from its expansion of influence. A number of investigative missions, some official, others private, explored the possibilities of Saharan trade and tried to persuade Saharan populations to frequent Algerian markets.

The initial enthusiasm of these missions was usually matched by their lack of success. A Mizabi from Guerrara caused a short-lived sensation at Algiers in by bringing back several camel-loads of Sudanese products and some encouraging letters from Tuareg leaders at Ghadames Hopes were temporarily revived again five years later when a caravan from Ghadames arrived at Algiers causing speculation about the long-awaited renaissance of trans- Saharan trade The Randon regime and its successors took other steps to facilitate commercial relations with the Sahara. Wells, roads, reservoirs, and way-stations were constructed on the route between the Mizab and Algiers.

Two motivations were behind this ; one was to improve the efficiency of travel for military columns so as to improve control of distant populations; the other was to facilitate the movement of commercial caravans. Local populations were generally expected to provide labor for these projects free of charge. Such measures met with ambivalent reactions from residents of the Mizab and other Saharan groups. On the one hand, the difficult journeys to the Tell were eased, but on the other hand, vulnerability to European intervention was increased. Although improvements in communication facilitated commerce, other government actions produced the opposite effect.

For example, in the decades following the regime attempted to regulate trade between the Tell and the north-central Algerian Sahara by requiring that all caravans stop to register at Laghouat. This measure simply discouraged commerce and, in addition, was impossible to enforce effectively with the limited means available. Moreover, since there were no government officials stationed south of Laghouat, the Mizab retained a free hand in trading what it pleased with whom it pleased.

European entrepreneurs desiring to exploit the regional wool trade of the northern Sahara or trans-Saharan trade were frustrated by what they regarded as Mizabi monopolization of northern Saharan commerce. In some cases, nomads preferred to sell their wool to Mizabi dealers when Europeans were offering much higher prices This evoked European accusations about unfair business practices among Mizabi merchants. In fact, European wool dealers were being outcompeted.

To what extent Mizabis consciously attempted to discourage European competitors from establishing commercial operations in the Sahara is difficult to say. This may have been the case in when some French entrepreneurs complained of being treated rudely during a visit to the Mizab By comparison, an Englishman visited the Mizab at this same time and by his own account was treated royally. His Mizabi. The chronic political instability in the decades after was undoubtedly the single most significant factor affecting commerce in the Algerian Sahara.

Periodic violent resistance movements erupted during this period with diverse and sometimes paradoxical effects on commerce. The largest insurrection broke out in and effectively ended French hopes of establishing regular commercial relations with the central Sahara.


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The causes of this insurrection were complex. In late it was reported that the state of political anarchy in the Mizab, itself the result of the ambiguities of partial French immersion in Mizabi politics, was harming trade between sedentaries and nomads. Increasingly restrictive regulations on nomad migration movements to the Tell further heightened tensions. Although the role of the Mizab in this insurrection was complex and is hard to pinpoint, sources closest to the Mizab insisted that it played not only an important role but a key role in the outbreak and continuation of the violent resistance The colonial government imposed a commercial blockade on the Mizab and, as had happened several times before, quickly forced the confederation into submission.

Although such movements of resistance threatened regular patterns of exchange at times, they also created new demands. In it was reported that Mizabi merchants were making handsome profits from their trade with the forces of Bou Choucha, a resistance leader. The report continued,.

Among the most actively traded commodities during the second half of the century were weapons and gunpowder for which there was a permanent demand. The Mizabis had long been engaged in the manufacture of gunpowder. In some spokesmen for the Mizab declared that they could no longer manufacture the large amounts of gunpowder which they had produced in the years prior to the insurrection. The interruptions in commerce between the Touat and the Mizab had cut off their traditional source of saltpeter. When raw materials had been plentiful and the caravan routes safe, the Mizab was reported to have exported ninety to one hundred quintals of gunpowder annually 4 1.

Despite predictions of the demise of this branch of commerce, the demand for gunpowder remained high in the Algerian Sahara, and the Mizab continued to engage in its manufacture and exportation up to its annexation by the French regime in 1 In a French military commander counseled against the abolition of the gunpowder trade of the Mizab arguing that had the Mizab not produced this commodity, Sahara-dwellers would have been forced to import English powder which, not only would have been superior in quality, but would have served as an avenue for trade in other English goods.

The officer predicted that commercial relations between the Mizab region and the extreme south via Touat would fall off sharply once slaves, gunpowder and firearms were no longer traded in the Mizab And, in fact, the annexation of the Mizab in did lead to a general decline in commercial relations between that region and markets further south. Dissertation, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, Dunn, Resistance in the Desert Madison, Wisconsin, , p. Tristam, The Great Sahara London, , p.

Dunn, Resistance in the Desert, p. Lacroix, La Penetration Saharienne Algiers, , pp. Tnstam, The Great Sahara London, , p. C Holsinger. Plan Migration and trade in the northern Algerian Sahara [link] Effects of French conquest [link] The colonial offensive after [link]. Among the richest sources for the early nineteenth-century Algerian Sahara are several studies by Ernest Carette, a French army officer and member of the "Commis- 1 Migration and trade in the northern Algerian Sahara A history of trade in the Algerian Sahara is only one aspect of the economic history of the region.

Effects of French conquest The immediate effect of the French conquest of Algiers in was the disruption of commercial relations between Algiers and its hinterland. Whether it involved a small beach-head around Algiers as it did in , 62 D.


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HOLSINGER or all of northern Algeria as it did later in the century, the territory under direct European control was surrounded by a zone of acute instability and devastation, resulting in large measure from the factionalism which erupted among competing groups in proximity to the occupied territory.

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