Michele Tenzon (Ph.D. Candidate, Université libre de Bruxelles) presents a his work at the Annual Conference of the College of Art Association of America. The conference will take place in Los Angeles, California on February 21-24.

Rural space and the country’s pacification in the French protectorate in Morocco

The presentation is part of a panel titled “French North Africa and the Architecture of Counterinsurgency”, chaired by Ralph Ghoche, Barnard College and Samia Henni, Princeton University


This work explores the spatial logics of French use of rural landscape transformation as counterinsurgency device. Since the Rif War (1920-1926), French administration in the Moroccan Protectorate implemented rural resettlement schemes aimed at sedentarizing nomadic populations and creating security buffers against Berber rebels. To “fix nomads to the ground” (Durand, 1929) was part of a strategy initiated by Lyautey for pacifying the country and building political consensus. Since the 1920s, the French adopted the “wells of security” strategy that consisted in drilling water wells in areas that had been conquered militarily to establish friendly tribes and to offer protection from the incursions of hostile groups (Swearingen 1988). Morover, the construction of dams and the excavation canals in several irrigation perimeters of Morocco served as basis for the installation of French colons and for making new land available to be distributed to local tribes. This ensured a stable European presence in rural areas and induced the transition to permanent housing of nomads that settled the land, mostly as tenants. A focus is given to the case of the Gharb plain where large scale infrastructural works and a series of ambitious resettlement schemes were implemented, such as the ones elaborated by Michel Ècochard, head of the Service de l’urbanisme. This work is part of an ongoing PhD project; it is based on literature review and unpublished archival material and it uses maps as a privileged tool of analysis.