Sep 04, 2018

UNPO Releases Briefing Note on the Current Situation in Kabylia


UNPO has published a briefing note focusing on the Kabyle region of Algeria. One of the most densely populated parts of the North Africa, it is home to the Kabyle people who, unlike the majority of Algeria, are Berber/Amazigh speakers. Kabyle has been under repression for many a year due its development of autonomy and separate institution. In the wake of the decolonisation process, and the Algerian War of Independence, many Kabyles were told that their language and culture would be suppressed in favour of the Arabisation, then Islamisation, of Algerian cultural identity. With this publication, UNPO hopes to also examine the role of international decision-makers in their bilateral relations with Algeria. Indeed, Algeria’s trade with the EU does not benefit all of its vast land equally, and Kabylia is especially subject to corruption and discrimination when funds are distributed.

Kabylia has a unique political tradition that goes back thousands of years, with historians calling it a series of “mini-republics” that contained traces of early civilization. Self-rule by then was already an important concept in Kabyle society, so the Roman invasion and subsequent subjugation under the province of Numidia was fiercely resisted by the proto-Kabylian inhabitants. With the later Arab invasion, came an influx of Arab culture and language, somewhat less resisted, but nonetheless Kabylia was not affected.

It is the legacy of French colonisation and subsequent decolonisation that has really tested Modern Kabyle identity. Initially a fellow resistant to the European power in the Algerian War of Independence, the main Kabyle and Berber nationalists were then marginalised and often assassinated by the main Algerian independence movement –  the Front de Libération National – once independence was declared in 1962.

This started a process where independent Algeria slowly assimilated and marginalised Kabyle people as part of first the Arabisation, and then in the context of the Algerian Civil War, the political Islamisation of Algerian national identity, shunning its diverse population. This culminated in the Black Spring, when mass demonstrations in favour of Kabyle emancipation and against police violence against young Berbers lead to severe clashes between Algerian security forces and Kabyle youth.

Today, the legacy of the Black Spring means Kabyle activists feel a certain coercive pressure when advocating for Kabyle autonomy and fundamental rights. Although Algeria has made efforts to soften its position on Berber speakers’ rights, enforced disappearances are still commonplace and the levels of pressure on Kabyle activists has maintained itself across the decade.  SENTENCE FRAGMENT.

What can the EU and its Member-States do in this context? EU-Algerian relations are defined by the EU Neighbourhood Policy in the Mediterranean, which allows for Association Agreements such as the one signed with Algeria in 2002. These agreements have a larger foreign policy scope than mere trade. The EU has set out that it seeks to improve the rule of law and institutions of the Algerian government, and crucially, “the human dimension”, composed of cultural and inter-religious dialogue. In exchange, the EU is investing massively in renewable energy projects.

Although the EU has engaged enthusiastically with these financial investments, it has not followed up with promotion of intercultural dialogue that would aid in Frederica Mogherini’s call for a North Africa more resilient to global and regional shocks. Indeed, if Algeria is to be resilient to crises, UNPO believes it must at the very least stop its coercion of Kabyle activists, including through enforced disappearances, and allow autonomy in light of Kabyle’s separate political culture. It is to this end that the following concept note has been published.