I will be giving a paper titled 'A Concessionary Archipelago: North African Phosphate Mining, Colonial Capitalism and the Making of Modern Agriculture'
A Concessionary Archipelago: North African Phosphate Mining, Colonial Capitalism and the Making of Modern Agriculture.
This paper sheds historical light on the role of the concession in transforming and shaping the environment between North Africa and Europe, through an examination of the political economy of phosphate mining. In the course of the twentieth century, phosphate from French North Africa became a key element in the production of chemical fertilizers, which in turn remade the agricultural productivity of European and global agriculture. This process depended on the elaboration of concessions for the mining, distribution and refining of phosphate rock, first in Tunisia from the 1890s and then in Algeria and especially Morocco from the 1920s.
This paper will focus on the phosphatvilles of Gafsa in the south of French Protectorate Tunisia, and Khouribga in French Protectorate Morocco, respectively the genesis point and the culmination of French imperial phosphate extraction in the region. The paper initially sketches the wider context, placing North African concessions into comparison with infamous Pacific phosphate islands such as Nauru. This enables a methodological reflection on how to reconcile global histories of concessionary extraction with colonial and local scales of analysis, and on how to attribute agency to a wide cast of human and non-human protagonists.
The analytical core of the paper, meanwhile, examines the ways in which concessions were constructed in relationship to one another, as pre-existing concessionary arrangements became both an inspiration and a source of critique and rivalry for later projects. Thus, Khouribga, inaugurated in 1921 under the direction of the French colonial soldier and ideologue Hubert Lyautey, emerged both through the imitation of the legal, extractive and social techniques developed at Gafsa, but also via a critique of those techniques. In particular Khouribga was developed as a concession of the Office Cherifien des Phosphates through criticism of the domination of the concessionary norms at Gafsa by private capital and by its accompanying local and imperial jurisprudential scaffolding.
The paper also pays attention to the circulation of social dynamics between the islands of the concessionary archipelago, examining the racialization of labor, sovereignty and space in the mining towns, and documenting forms of resistance and mining technologies as they both circulated between discreet concessions in what I argue we should see as a concessionary network.
The paper draws on a wide range of published and archival primary sources, and seeks to problematize the national and colonial frameworks of analysis so common in business or imperial historiography. Instead I emphasize the regional spaces across which the archipelago of phosphate concessions spread, and the influential properties of the minerals that concessions sought to govern.