Les déracinés de Cherchell

[The uprooted people of Cherchell: regroupment camps during the Algerian War (1954-1962)]

The outcome of asymmetrical wars (in contradistinction to the classic variety between two states) depends to a large degree on population control. The Algerian War (1952-1962) was no exception. In response to the marked dispersion of rural populations across mountainous zones, the French military authorities undertook as early as 1955 to group these people together elsewhere. Their goal was to thwart insurrectionary movement, which they assumed would receive support from the local communities. The “regroupments” were at first limited to combat zones, but later became systematic across Algerian territory, affecting over one-fourth of the indigenous population. Poor peasants and farmers especially were painfully uprooted from their lands.

A survey conducted in 2015-2016 in the country’s Cherchell region focuses on the individual trajectories of some of the “regrouped”; it is based on interviews with individuals moved to the camps by the French authorities. The survey attaches particular importance to the experiences of “regrouped” persons, especially their living and working conditions, as well as the experiences of French officers involved in controlling their activities and movements. How were the individual and collective lives of poor Algerian peasants and farmers affected by being uprooted and moved and by the years spent in “regroupment” centres? And later, what were their relations with the new independent state? Did they return to their former situations? Did individual trajectories supersede collective fates and fortunes? Moreover, what ultimately became of the camps after independence, that were supposed to be renamed “new villages” in compliance with the “Constantine plan”[1] and integrated into ten-year French rural renewal project?

[1] The Constantine plan (1959-1963) was developed by the French upon De Gaulle’s return to power in 1958 for the purpose of accelerating Algerian economic and social development and thereby reducing popular discontent and weakening the Algerian National Liberation Front independence army. The plan followed in the wake of a ten-year programme developed in 1956 with similar objectives. It promised the construction of 200,000 housing units, creation of 400,000 industrial jobs, distribution of 250,000 hectares of farmland to poor peasants, and a vast school construction programme with a view to establishing universal schooling for the country’s children.

Source: Kamel Kateb, Nacer Melhani et M’hamed Rebah, 2018, Les déracinés de Cherchell.

Contact: Kamel Kateb, Nacer Melhani et M’hamed Rebah

Online: March 2018