Accepted paper:

Outages, unequal access and torture: electrifying colonialism in Western Sahara


Joanna Allan (Northumbria University)
Hamza Lakhal (Durham University )

Paper short abstract:

We analyse Saharawi experiences of, and perspectives on, energy in order to establish the political work that the latter performs in occupied Western Sahara. We ask how electrical energy consolidates and produces political realities, both Moroccan colonialism and Saharawi demands for independence.

Paper long abstract:

Our working paper explores Saharawi experiences of, and attitudes towards, (green) energy infrastructure and electricity in the Moroccan-occupied part of Western Sahara in order to establish the political work that electricity performs there. We contribute to the growing body of research on how electricity consolidates societal politics by showing how it can further two opposing political agendas simultaneously. Our hypothesis, in this working paper, is that, for many Saharawis, Moroccan electrical infrastructural developments further colonialism on both material and discursive levels. However, these developments simultaneously, and perhaps unintentionally, nurture Saharawi nationalist identities and resistance to colonialism. Our methodology involves participant observation and interviews with Saharawis living in the occupied part of Western Sahara, including with those who also lived through electricity infrastructure development in the Spanish colonial epoch. We argue that unequal access to electrical infrastructure helps to produce socio-spatial differentiation between indigenous Saharawis and Moroccan settlers (and previously between Saharawis and Spaniards), endorsing settler supremacy and thereby further antagonizing the relationship between the Moroccan state and Saharawis: demands for access to electricity in Saharawi shanty towns in the outskirts of the capital El AaiĂșn are increasingly accompanied by demands for independence. Furthermore, we find that 'electrical oppressions,' in the form of electrocution as a form of torture used against Saharawi political prisoners, and state-orchestrated blackouts in Saharawi-dominated suburbs at times of particular or potential political unrest, enact colonialism but simultaneously power (metaphorically) resistance to the same.

panel Anth35
'We need electricity today': narratives and practices of electrical connections and outages in Africa