A green transition for North Africa

Tan Emellel Sud-Ouest-2 (TESO-2) in Algeria. 

Dismantling Green Colonialism is topical and timely, with chapters emphasising the greenwashing of settler colonialism in Palestine.

The book advocates for the Global North to pay climate reparations and climate debts, to repay countries which have been crippled by colonial and post-colonial powers and to address the climate crisis.

Dismantling Green Colonialism brings together a collection of discussions and debates from authors across the Middle East and North Africa depicting the fundamental injustices of what is, and can only be described as, ‘green colonialism’. The authors ask critical questions around extractivism, food sovereignty, land and debts and what a sustainable transition to renewables would look like within the region and beyond. 

The book is edited by Hamza Hamouchene, a London-based Algerian researcher, activist and the North Africa programme coordinator at the Transnational Institute (TNI) and Katie Sandwell, a programme coordinator with the Transnational Institute. 

This article has been published through the Ecologist Writers' Fund. We ask readers for donations to pay some authors £200 for their work. Please make a donation now. You can learn more about the fund, and make an application, on our website

Each of its chapters is a case study for a different part of the region, all of which tie together with similar currents of oppression, extraction, and neo-colonial rule. The book is topical and timely, with chapters emphasising  the greenwashing of settler colonialism in Palestine and the Golan Heights (Jawlan) which in recent months has led to the death of more than 27,000 Palestinians to date, to the energy crisis in Sudan, which has been a war zone since April last year. The book sheds light on the need for solidarity, climate reparations, the cancellation of debts, dismantling neo-colonial trade and investment agreements, such as the Energy Charter Treaty. 


I cannot stress enough the importance of this book as a reference point for those who seek to redefine how we see the climate crisis and reparations from the perspective of the Global South. These countries are connected by the same neo-colonial impoverishment, crippled by debt by the same financial institutions which profit from the wealth of resources imported from such countries. 

The book advocates for the Global North to pay climate reparations and climate debts, to repay countries which have been crippled by colonial and post-colonial powers and to address the climate crisis. I would highly recommend this book to those who advocate for green policies and renewable energy projects, particularly environmental students and educators, activists and scholars. This collection of essays deserves a place in university bookshelves as a decolonial approach to green energy transition. 

For the sake of this review, I’m going to focus on the chapters that are specifically about Algeria, the largest country in Africa in terms of surface area, and one that is underreported in relation to  environmental issues despite being the world's fourth-largest gas exporter with the world's third-largest untapped shale gas resources.

The book advocates for the Global North to pay climate reparations and climate debts, to repay countries which have been crippled by colonial and post-colonial powers and to address the climate crisis.

The book kicks off with Hamza Hamouchene’s essay on The Energy Transition in North Africa: Neocolonialism Again! Hamouchene argues that without changing the current neo-colonial system that generates inequality, changing sources of energy will do nothing to liberate those who are already impoverished and dispossessed. This takes place in the form of ‘green-grabbing’, which is land grabbing for the purpose of renewable energy infrastructure. This point is well exemplified by the Ouarzazate Solar power plant in the Sahara Desert of Morocco, which began operating in 2016. 

I want to take this opportunity to briefly reflect on an article I had written on Ouarzazate solar power plant in the Positive Energy issue Resurgence & Ecologist magazine: I was perhaps a little too positive in my coverage of the project, in which I wrote that the initiative was “a milestone in the country's bid to decarbonise” without considering the Amazigh agro-pastoralists, whose lands were taken without consent. 

Social revolution

The renewables project was built at the town of Midelt in Morocco land without the permission or consent of those who have tribal rights to the land, according to Attac Maroc, an education movement involved in the struggle against capitalism and globalisation. The group has stated that the resistance of small farmers in defence of their land rights resulted in the verdict against the activist Saïd Ouba Mimoun. 

Saïd Ouba Mimoun, a member of the Union of Small Farmers and Forestry Workers, had previously served four months of a suspended sentence for his activism alongside the residents of his village in Midelt, in defence of their rights to their land, water, and mineral resources. I want to credit the author for shedding light on the communities of Sidi Ayad that have voiced concerns. 

Hamouchene also discusses the Soulaliyate women’s collective, which refers to the tribal women in Morocco who live on collective land. These women have also demanded their right to access the Drâa-Tafilalet region, on which the Midelt Solar plant has been built. 

The movement became popular in the early 2000s and a historic victory that took place on 10 October 2013, when the administrative court in Rabat, the capital of Morocco, ruled in favour of the Soulaliyate women and granted them access to collective land, dismissing the arguments of the defence which asserted that the decision of the tribal representatives and the traditions of the Soulaliayte community cannot be challenged. Women from Kesbat Mehdia became landowners for the first time, in a moment considered a social revolution in Morocco, according to the Global Atlas of Environmental Justice. 


As a dual British and Algerian citizen who marched alongside the Hirak protestors in 2019 I could feel the hunger for political, social and economic justice. 

At the start of 2015 the  government announced Total's plan to drill the first shale gas well near the town of  Ain Salah. Many of the residents in Ain Salah gathered at 'Resistance Square' to passionately advocate for an urgent moratorium on the ongoing drilling activities in Ain Salah and the proposed drilling projects in various regions of Algeria. 

Their call resonated beyond Ain Salah, uniting with movements in Tamenrrasset, Timimoune,  Metlili, Adrar, Touggourt, Ghardaia, Ouargla, Tizi Ouzou, Bejaia, and Algiers, despite a prohibition on assembly in the capital, according to openDemocracy. By 27 January 2015, the Algerian government declared a pause on shale gas exploitation until at least 2022, potentially scrapping the plans altogether. 

However, during the oil and gas shortages that came after the  West placed sanctions on Moscow during its invasion of Ukraine, UK oil giant Chevron began talks to sign a deal with Algeria in order to undertake gas exploration, according to the Wall Street Journal

On January 9, 2024, executives from ExxonMobil, a prominent US oil major, visited Algeria to engage in discussions with industry leaders in the North African country. Sources in Algeria have reported that both Occidental Petroleum (Oxy) and Chevron have also initiated talks with Sonatrach, the state-owned oil firm of Algeria. While the precise outcomes of these discussions remain uncertain, insiders from the trade mission have suggested that the two US companies may have made initial agreements, potentially setting the stage for their involvement in gas exploration in Algeria. 


Discussing a green transition requires acknowledging the challenges faced by movements striving to bring it about. These initiatives often encounter suppression, with those in authority actively silencing the majority. The Algerian military dictatorship serves as a ghost of its dark colonial history, casting a shadow over the population by imposing prison sentences on those who dare to speak out.

Algeria holds a 'not free' rating in terms of political rights and civil liberties, according to the Freedom House 2023 report. Amnesty International has called for the immediate release of all individuals detained arbitrarily and a halt to all and any criminal investigations targeting individuals solely for peacefully exercising their fundamental human rights, including freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.

An often overlooked aspect in Dismantling Green Colonialism is the pervasive, high-level corruption that cascades from Algeria's reliance on shortsighted fossil fuels. Addressing Algeria's ecological and climate challenges involves confronting this deep-seated corruption, which is not an easy task for the majority of citizens who are afraid to speak. 

While some advocate solutions like Ecological and Climate Debt to offset the preservation of oil reserves, it's evident that funnelling funds into such initiatives risks being squandered by the rich elite rather than truly keeping oil in the ground. What works for one nation might not be applicable to another, a vital distinction often overlooked in this discourse generally, but well considered within this book. 

I delved into additional literature in order to seek clearer distinctions, as Hamouchene’s broad conclusions in this chapter felt unsatisfactory and left me no closer to understanding the necessary steps needed for Algeria to break away from its reliance on fossil fuels. 

Just like recovery from any addiction, discernible and achievable pathways are required. In Algeria, achieving a genuine and just transition requires a focus on procedural fairness within the country's decision-making processes. This is particularly crucial given the historical dominance of a closed elite, primarily rooted in the military and the ruling party, the National Liberation Front (FLN), in Algeria's political landscape. 


Recognising the equal importance of involvement in decision-making, while considering potential limitations like financial or physical access, is a key aspect towards a just transition that perhaps could have been explored further by Hamouchene in his chapter. 

I believe shared decision making power is required in order to ensure no single entity holds ultimate power and can therefore dismiss others' concerns or recommendations unilaterally. Lastly, decision making must involve valuing and implementing participants' recommendations as final, acknowledging their significance without the option to disregard them. This would mean a drastic shift in Algeria’s political landscape.

Although the book primarily focuses on the question of energy, I believe that Algeria’s Green Dam initiative, a project initiated in the 1960s to plant millions of trees to prevent the advancement of the Sahara Desert, is perhaps one of the country's most telling tales of green colonialism in relation to land use. 

The project failed because of the inaccurate and colonially misled scientific knowledge about how to restore Algeria’s ‘degraded’ landscapes. The narrative of environmental degradation and decline was concocted in the early years of French rule in Algeria and was later applied to Tunisia and Morocco during their occupations. 

This was written about by Diana K Davis in her Desert 'wastes' of the Maghreb: desertification narratives in French colonial environmental history of North Africa.  Her paper contends that during the French colonial era, an environmental history of the Maghreb was crafted, placing blame on local North Africans, particularly pastoralists, for the deforestation and desertification of a landscape that was inaccurately perceived as fertile and forested in ancient times. 


This narrative is rooted in historical and scientific inaccuracies and misconceptions about the environment and has served as a justification for various colonial actions, including land expropriation, alterations in land ownership, forest appropriation, and the criminalisation of traditional land practices. 

Perhaps one of the most defining parts of Hamouchene’s chapter is the focus on Hydrogen as the ‘New Energy Frontier in Africa’. Hydrogen is often presented as a ‘clean’ energy alternative, and in recent years, the EU has embraced the hydrogen transition as a prominent part of its climate response, having been introduced to the 2020 hydrogen strategy within the Green New Deal. 

The initiative plans to create a portion of green hydrogen in the deserts of Algeria and use existing natural gas pipelines that already connect Algeria to Euruope. He rightly emphasises the distinction between the production of ‘grey’ and ‘blue’ hydrogen, which result in the extraction of fossil fuels, and ‘green’ or ‘clean’ hydrogen. It is particularly crucial when considering the ecological impacts of hydrogen production in water-stressed regions, such as North Africa.

Hydrogen projects have gained large amounts of support from European oil and gas companies, as emphasised in the book. In much the same way as the pipeline infrastructure remains the same in the transition from natural gas to hydrogen, so does the political, economic and social framework of the oil and gas industry which allows them to “engage in labour exploitation, environmental degradation and violence against local communities with impunity”, writes Hamouchene. Hydrogen is yet another way for Western superpowers to become major players, this time in the green high-tech economy, at the expense of the Global South.

Debunking the myths and hype around ‘green projects’ is a necessary step towards understanding what a just transition would look like from a decolonial, grassroots perspective. Without taking a decolonial approach, decarbonising will not only be ineffective, but renewable energy will come at the expense of the very countries that are already facing the most extreme consequences of climate breakdown. “A just transition means a transition from an economic system that is built around the excessive extraction of resources and the exploitation of people, to one that is structured around regeneration of territories and people’s rights and dignity”, writes Hamouchene. 


The book sets itself out as a toolkit for activists and is available in Arabic and French. All the chapters are available in online on TNI’s website in four different languages including Spanish. For me, a point maybe not stressed enough is the desperate need for environmental education and, for Algeria specifically, the need to understand the impacts of colonialism and empower students to find sustainable solutions in order to not become infiltrated by false solutions that don’t benefit the local needs of the region.

In addition, human rights issues, particularly the treatment of refugees, need attention, necessitating a commitment to upholding rights and ensuring well-being. Land rights for indigenous populations are crucial for cultural preservation and sustainable land use. 

To tackle these issues, Algeria must invest in education, focusing on funding and curriculum development to instil environmental awareness, human rights values, and respect for land rights. Collaboration between the government, NGOs, and the international community is vital for implementing comprehensive strategies, addressing past injustices, and building a more sustainable and equitable future.

The colonial divide and rule tactics continue to plague the African continent and tarnish its ability to act as the power that it could become. The profit extracted from the land is the same profit that leaves rivers dry, mouths unfed, and a tumultuous future ahead. Deep ecological understanding is required in order to appreciate what is at stake. Despite common misconceptions, Algeria is one of the most biodiverse countries in North Africa because of its unique biogeography with a transition between tropical and temperate climates. 

The potential to be a leading renewable energy producer is there, but without local participation at the heart of this transition, it will be just a facade. I’d like to conclude by echoing the final words of Hamouche’s chapter on North Africa, and those of the popular Arab uprising: popular sovereignty, bread, freedom, social justice. I would add only: and environmental justice.

This Author 

Yasmin Dahnoun is a freelance environmental journalist. Her porfolio is available online. This article has been published through the Ecologist Writers' Fund. We ask readers for donations to pay some authors £200 for their work. Please make a donation now. You can learn more about the fund, and make an application, on our website.

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