Throughout history, North Africa’s native Berber-speaking populations have been central to the mix of political, social, cultural, and linguistic attributes that rendered the region distinct. At the dawn of the 20th century, Berbers still constituted a substantial majority of sharifian Morocco’s population, and a significant minority of French Algeria’s Muslim populace; their numbers were smaller in Ottoman Libya and smaller still in France’s Tunisian protectorate. Nationalism began to spread in North Africa during the first decades of the 20th century. Each nationalist movement was shaped by a particular combination of factors; all of them, however, foregrounded the Arab and Islamic components of their collective identities, downplaying or ignoring the Berber ones. Berbers actively participated in the struggles for independence in both Algeria and Morocco, often in leadership roles. This pattern would continue during the decades after independence, even as both the Algerian and Moroccan states placed supreme value on the Arabization of the educational system, and of public life in general. The state’s overall view of Berber identity was that it should be consigned to the realm of folklore. However, even as the number of Berber speakers continued to decline, there arose a modern Berber (Amazigh) identity movement that demanded a reexamination of the underlying premises of their countries’ collective identities, one that would bring the Berber language and culture to center stage. It also demanded genuine amelioration of the dire conditions of poverty that characterized much of the rural Berber world. As ruling regimes struggled to maintain their legitimacy after a half century of independence, the Berber “question” now took on a new salience in North Africa’s increasingly contested political space.
Berbers and the Nation-State in North Africa
The Islamic State in the Maghreb
Zacharias P. Pieri
On June 29, 2014, The Islamic State (IS), also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), Islamic State of Iraq and the Islamic Levant (ISIL), and Daesh, proclaimed the establishment of a caliphate in areas straddling Iraq and Syria. IS is a Sunni Muslim extremist movement that was under the leadership of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi until his killing in 2019, and it is driven by a vision to unite all extremist Muslims under its caliphate, which was grounded in Syria. IS was, for a period, the most robust and adept insurgent force in Syria and Iraq, and by 2015, it controlled a landmass and population larger than that of many existing states. At the height of its power, it included a vast coastline in Libya, a portion of Nigeria’s northeast where affiliated Boko Haram declared an Islamic territory, and a city in the Philippines. Beyond this, IS was able to establish franchises in different parts of the world including North Africa and the Sahel. Leaders of IS called on extremist Muslims from across the world to leave their homes, and to travel to the so-called caliphate to take up residency there as jihadists and citizens of a proto-state. Those that could not physically join were encouraged to participate online, and others were instructed by Sheikh Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, the IS’s chief spokesman, to find an infidel and smash his head with a rock. IS, from its inception, has looked to the Maghreb and the Sahel as strategic geographic areas for the expansion of its ideology, incorporation of territory into its caliphate, and operational purposes. It is clear that the notion of an Islamic state was popular for a segment of the population in the Maghreb, with many leaving the countries of Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, and beyond to join, train, and fight with IS in Syria and Iraq. Tunisia had the highest number of IS foreign fighters, estimated at approximately 6,000; Morocco had 1,200; Libya and Egypt had 600; and Algeria had 170. Returning fighters are destabilizing North Africa. Libya was an early focus of IS due in part to the fall of the Gadhafi regime in 2011, and the ensuing political chaos, which caused a weak and fragile state. Libya served as the first addition to the territories of IS’s caliphate outside Syria and Iraq. Tunisia faced several large-scale attacks linked to IS activities in the country. In 2015 a number of terrorist attacks were carried out, including the massacre of 38 tourists at a beach resort in Sousse, the bombing of a bus containing presidential guards in Tunis, and an attack on the Bardo museum in Tunis. Algeria has had to monitor the country’s borders to prevent the entry of jihadists affiliated with IS who operate in neighboring countries. At the time of writing, concerns were being raised about different franchises of IS that are seeking to better integrate and to take advantage of insecurity in the Sahel, especially around the borders of Mali, Burkina Faso, and into Niger and Nigeria.
Jean Ping (born November 24, 1942) was a leading figure in Gabonese politics from the late 1980s well into the 21st century. His mother belonged to the Nkomi ethnic group and his father was a rare Chinese resident of Gabon. Like most other young Gabonese intellectuals, he studied abroad in France and then became a supporter of the ruling Parti Démocratique Gabonais (PDG) party. After working as the Gabonese representative to UNESCO, Ping returned to Gabon in 1984. He became a close associate of dictator Omar Bongo, had two children with Bongo’s daughter Pascaline, and held a series of top ministerial posts from 1990 to 2014. Ping became Gabon’s most prominent diplomat. African Union delegates voted for Ping to become the president of the African Union in 2008. He held this position until 2012. Perhaps his greatest disappointment was the failure of the African Union to successfully mediate between Libyan president Muammar Qaddafi, Libyan rebels, and Western countries who chose military intervention to overthrow Qaddafi. Although Ping had become a member of Omar Bongo’s inner circle, he pulled away from the PDG party after Omar’s son Ali Bongo Ondimba won the 2009 presidential elections. Ping quit the PDG in 2014 and ran for president in the 2016 elections. Many Gabonese and outside observers believed Ping triumphed in this contest. The official results that proclaimed Ali Bongo as the winner stated Bongo had won 95% of the vote in Haut-Ogooué province, where supposedly 99% of all eligible voters actually cast their ballot. Ping rejected the findings and declared he was the true president of Gabon. Ping’s career, starting as a young Gabonese intellectual and becoming a member of the PDG elite and finally the leader of the Gabonese opposition, is a crucial part of the political history of Gabon after the end of French colonization.
Italian Colonial Architecture and City Planning in North and East Africa
Italian colonial architecture began with styles directly transplanted from Italy to Eritrea—Italy’s first African colonial territory—in the 1890s. By the late 1920s, when Italy also held Libya and Italian Somalia, it had already created a substantial set of buildings (cathedrals and banks, for instance) in any number of unmodified Italian styles ranging from the classical to the neo-medieval and neo-Renaissance. Moorish (or “Oriental”) effects were also abundant, in another transplant from Europe, where they were extremely popular. Following the rise of design innovations after World War I, though, at the end of the 1920s, Italian Modernist architects—particularly the theoretically inclined Rationalists—began to protest. In conjunction with the fascist regime’s heavy investment in farming settlements, prestigious city centers, and new housing, architecture proliferated further, increasingly incorporating Rationalist design, which was the most thoughtfully syncretistic, aiming as it did to reflect particular sites while remaining Modernist. After Ethiopia was occupied in 1936, designers’ emphasis gravitated from the particulars of design theory to the wider canvas of city planning, which was driven by new ideas of racial segregation for colonial prestige and control.