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SCI in North Africa

Origin of the text
Olivier Bertrand: Breaking down barriers 1945-1975, 30 years of voluntary service for peace with Service Civil International.
Paris (2008)

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SCI in North Africa

Morocco and Tunisia were French protectorates, and got their independence in 1956. Algeria was in a different position as it was administratively, legally part of France at that time. The gaining of independence for Algeria was a much longer and more painful process than for its neighbours. Independence was finally obtained only in 1962, at the end of a brutal war which had been initiated by an uprising in 1954. This bloody war of independence had wreaked large-scale death and destruction on the country, and 280,000 Algerians had fled the country taking refuge over the borders in Morocco and Tunisia.

Although the Algerian branch of SCI was only small, and didn’t last very long, Algeria has been important for SCI as a whole and for the French branch in particular. The relationship was close and there were many immigrant workers from Algeria and Morocco living in France. The War of Independence soon became a burning issue and the brutal suppression was opposed by many French people, especially by a number of conscientious objectors, members of SCI. Their fight for recognition played an important role in the adoption of a statute for conscientious objectors at the end of the Algerian War of Independence. SCI organized a long-term workcamp in a large shantytown in Nanterre, near Paris. Most of the inhabitants were Algerian and Moroccan workers and their families. Life there was affected by the tense social climate. Above all, in Algeria itself, several volunteers were persecuted by the French authorities, and some were even assassinated by one side or the other.

The Algerian group, created in 1948, and established as an independent branch in 1952, included both European and Algerian (‘Muslim’) volunteers. At that time in Algeria, according to the French branch, “Fear prevails among both the Europeans and the indigenous population. There is on the one hand colonialism, implying inequality and lack of justice, and on the other an increasingly radical nationalism. This shows how difficult it is to work in Algeria and how our spirit of understanding, tolerance, and complete racial equality is sorely needed.

After a very short but active period the work of SCI in pre-Independence Algeria came to a tragic end, as will be seen from the following story by Nelly . An entirely new situation was created after March 1962. In the aftermath of the War of Independence there was a dire need for relief and construction work.”

So, a very big workcamp was organized by SCI near Tlemcen in Western Algeria; it is described by Jean-Pierre, then R.L. and, more in detail, by David, who had experience of other workcamps in Europe and in Iran.

The story of Paulette refers to a similar workcamp with Algerian refugees on the other side of the border, in Tunisia. Jean-Pierre, who was later in charge of SCI activities in North Africa, gives an overview of the developments in the three North African countries. Strong nationalistic feelings which prevailed after independence have been a major obstacle to creating or maintaining national and local branches in North Africa.

Nevertheless, since then SCI has continued cooperating with local organizations, including exchanging volunteers.

Memories of volunteers in North Africa

Algeria before Independence

North Africa after Independence

Footnotes

  1. Bulletin de la Branche francaise du SCI, ete 1948.50 ans au service de la paix, SCI 1980
  2. In 2007 Mohamed Sahnoun published a novel entitled: “La mémoire blessée” (‘The Wounded Memory) – Algerie 1957’ (Presses de la renaissance). A largely autobiographical work, it recounts how the hero, Salem, is arrested, tortured and convicted in ‘The Trial of the Progressive Christians’. He evokes SCI, its work and his French friends, amongst whom one can recognize some of the people mentioned in this anthology.



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