الطرق التجارية في الصحراء الجزائرية في القرن 18 .."انجليزي"

Donald C. Holsinger
Trade routes of the Algerian Sahara in the XlXth Century.
In: Revue de l'Occident musulman et de la Méditerranée, N°30, 1980. pp. 57-70.

Après avoir présenté les difficultés concernant la documentation sur le commerce transsaharien au XIXe siècle, l'auteur, étudiant les migrations et le commerce dans le Sahara Algérien, montre comment, bien avant même le XIXe siècle, le commerce saharien appartenait à un vaste espace qui englobait à la fois le monde méditerranéen et le monde islamique, essentiellement dans le sens Nord-Sud mais où s'entrecroisaient également des voies commerciales Ouest-Est, qu'elles soient septentrionales ou méridionales. Puis, articulant son travail autour des années 1830 et 1850, il étudie quelles furent les conséquences de la conquête française de l'Algérie sur le commerce transsaharien, les ruptures et les réarticulations qu'elle entraîna. Il montre enfin la place qu'a occupé le M'zab dans la politique française de pénétration saharienne.
After describing the problems of documentation concerning the study of trans-Saharan trade in the nineteenth century, the author, while studying migration and trade in Algerian Sahara, shows how, even before the XlXth century, Saharan trade was part of a larger network spanning the Mediterranean and Islamic worlds. Then, focusing on the period from 1830 to 1850, he examines the impact of the French conquest of Algena on trans-Saharan trade. He concentrates on the role of the Mizab region and population in the French policy of Saharan penetration.
by Donald C. HOLSINGER
The outlines of nineteenth-century Saharan economic history are gradually taking shape. Detailed regional studies constitute the pieces which, once assembled, may permit a broad understanding of Saharan trade over time. Recent research has challenged some of the long-accepted assumptions about a general decline in trans-
Saharan commerce during the nineteenth centuryG). It appears that the second half of the century saw a significant increase in trans-Saharan exchange, at least on certain routes. However, much remains tentative. Only through continuing research will the history of the nineteenth-century Sahara be brought into focus.
A major obstacle to the formulation of a macro-history of the Sahara during the nineteenth century is the unevenness of the historical evidence. In some regions the documentation is rich; in others it is almost nonexistent. This presents serious problems for the construction of a general overview since a rise or fall in trade in one region may be the reflection of a Saharan- wide trend or it may be the compensating adjustment of a change elsewhere in the commercial network. Without reliable evidence, it is impossible to know which was the case, and hence, attempts to generalize become speculative. Nor can one assume that a lack of surviving documentation is necessarily an indication of commercial inactivity in a particular location.
This article focuses on the history of the north-central Algerian Sahara, a region at the center of which lay the Mizab confederation. Ghardaia, the capital and largest of the seven cities of the Mizab, had emerged in previous centuries as an important commercial center of the northern Sahara. A search through nineteenth-century French archives on northern Africa has revealed a relatively rich and unexplored body of data on trade in this region. A complete analysis of the evidence will require considerable time and effort. In the meantime, this study is a first step in the process of piecing together the history of commerce in the north-central Algerian Sahara .
Among the richest sources for the early nineteenth-century Algerian Sahara are several studies by Ernest Carette, a French army officer and member of the "Commission pour l'exploration scientifique de l'Algérie" . Carette's works are of special value because of the scarcity of information on the Sahara prior to European penetration and because of his careful attention to detail. For several years following 1839, Carette spent his time frequenting cafes, fonduks and markets where Maghribian merchants met to trade and converse. By comparing systematically his orallygathered accounts, Carette produced some remarkably detailed descriptions of the northern Sahara prior to the changes which accompanied the expansion of French influence in the decades after 1840. His quantitative estimates must be treated with caution and his belief in the potential for European exploitation of Saharan commerce appears naive from our vantage point. But overall, his works are invaluable sources for nineteenth-century Saharan history. They have been utilized extensively in what follows.
A history of trade in the Algerian Sahara is only one aspect of the economic history of the region. An in-depth understanding would require that trade be set within the broader system of production, distribution and consumption. Nevertheless, trade can be identified as an historical theme even if it cannot be isolated from its social and economic contexts. And no one can deny its importance in the history of the Sahara.
The nineteenth century witnessed the transformation of Algeria from a loosely centralized state paying nominal allegiance to the Ottoman Sultan into a settler colony dominated by France. Viewed within the perspective of the global economy, this change was one manifestation of a rapidly-expending Euro-centered capitalist system.
Saharan commerce had long been an important part of a larger economic network spanning the Mediterranean and Islamic worlds. But the nineteenth century saw some basic changes as Saharan populations were drawn increasingly into the capitalist world system. As Miège has pointed out, the impact of the expanding European industrial economy was felt in Saharan regions long before the imposition of political control by foreign powers .
In order to understand the mechanisms of northern Saharan trade, it is necessary to conceptualize the general outlines of nomad migration patterns. Along the northern rim of the Sahara, pastoralists lived in close enough proximity to the cultivated regions of the north (the Tell) to include them in their annual north-south migrations. An east-west line of oasis settlements, including the Mizab, was scattered along the northern fringe of the desert These market centers functioned as ports of exchange between the Sahara and the Tell and relied on the regular north-south movements of pastoralists for a range of vital goods and services.
Characteristic of the social and economic organization of the Algerian Sahara was the sharp distinction between nomadic and sedentary modes of existence. A network of basic services linked nomad and sedentary populations in a symbiotic relationship. The nature of the power relationship between the two groups varied from oasis to oasis depending on many factors. In some cases, a well-defined stratification separated a dominant nomad class from a subservient cultivator class. In the Mizab confederation, by contrast, the sedentary population was populous enough and strong enough to maintain control of the productive resources of the oases. That is not to say that nomads and sedentaries were not interdependent Pastoralists relied on the permanent residents for storage and market facilities, for banking services, and for a number of goods produced in the oases. In exchange, camel nomads served as transporters, as armed escorts, and as suppliers of meat, milk and other products.
The following proverb expressed the importance of market centers such as the Mizab for pastoralists : "Le Tell est le Tell, mais le Mizab est aussi le Tell" . If worse came to worse, and the annual migrations to the north could not be carried out, nomads could count on obtaining essential supplies in the Mizab. At the same time, both sedentary and nomadic populations depended on the Tell for grain and other key commodities. Trade links between Saharan oases and the Tell could not be interrupted for long without threatening the economic viability of northern Saharan societies. As one proverb among Sahara-dwellers put it, « Nous ne pouvons être ni musulmans, ni juifs, ni chrétiens; nous sommes forcément les amis de notre ventre ».
Annual migrations among pastoralists in the northern Algerian Sahara followed a typical pattern. There were many variations to it of course, depending on factors such as climatic conditions, abundance of pasture, insecurity of travel, market conditions and food reserves. In typical years nomads spent winter and spring spread out over the Saharan terrain as their flocks of camels, sheep and goats grazed on the vegetation from the winter rains. Toward the end of spring they congregated around their "home" oasis settlements, loaded their camels with dates, woolen woven goods and other products, and migrated to the north as families or clans. Arriving in the Tell at grain harvest time, they remained in the cultivated northern regions through the summer, exchanging their merchandise for grain, raw wool, sheep and manufactured items which they would consume or trade after their return to the Sahara. During the stay in the north, the flocks would graze on and help to fertilize the recently-harvested land. Traditionally, the ruling authorities in the Tell assessed the nomads a fee for the privilege of frequenting the large markets.
At the end of summer the nomads migrated southward, arriving at their "home" settlements just before date harvest time. If they owned palm gardens, they would oversee the date harvest and prepare the fruit for storage or exchange. During this season Saharan markets were extremely active as products from the Tell - wheat, barley, raw wool, hardware, luxury items - were exchanged for dates, woven goods, and other products. Once these operations were terminated, the pastoralists spread out again over the desert expanse to recommence the cycle.
This regular north-south movement of people and animals, in which staple commodities made up the bulk of commerce, served as the basic avenue of commercial exchange in the northern Algerian Sahara. Ernest Carette noted four principal routes linking the Algerian Tell with the Sahara in this way. The westernmost one extended from Mascara to El Abiod, the easternmost one from Constantine to Touggourt. The two middle routes, extending south from Medea and Bou Saada respectively, converged on Ghardaia, the principal market of the region.
Goods flowing east and west followed three main routes. Luxury goods arriving from Europe via Morocco or Tunisia and transported in merchant caravans made up the bulk of this commerce. The Mizab region lay on the southernmost of these routes and merchants from the Mizab were very active in this trade. In addition, there were two diagonal currents of trade, one extending from El Oued through Biskra to Algiers and the other from the Mizab through Laghouat to Constantine and Tunis. Caravans taking these routes specialized in woven goods, slaves, and gold-dust heading north, with European cottons, olive oil, Kabyle woven goods, and silks and perfumes flowing south.
Carette stressed the importance of Ghardaia and Bou Saada in Algerian commerce. Bou Saada was situated in the center of a circle of trade on whose circumference Ghardaia lay. Ghardaia, in turn, was the center of a larger commercial circle ; it was in communication with Tunis via eastern Algerian Saharan oases, with Algiers via Bou Saada and Laghouat, with Morocco via Tafilalt and Figuig, and with sub-Saharan Africa via Metlili and El Golea. As described by Carette, Les négociants et les voyageurs arabes sont unanimes sur l'importance commerciale de Ghardaia. Qu'une caravane, disent-ils, aussi nombreuse, aussi chargée, aussi inattendue qu'on la suppose, arrive à Ghardaia; en quelques heures elle a fait le placement de ses marchandises et son chargement pour le retour.
Bou Saada est le rond-point commercial de l'Algérie; Ghardaia occupe l'extrémité de la principale avenue; Metlili est la porte de sortie au Sud .
As for trans-Saharan trade in the early 18 40 's, Carette pictured it as a gigantic hourglass-shaped network, spreading out at both the northern and southern ends and converging in the middle on the Touat, a veritable archipelago of oases situated about 700 kilometers southwest of the Mizab and linked to the latter by El Golea. Ghadames served as a similar focal point for trade further east. The principal northern ports for trans-Saharan commerce were Gabès in the east and Metlili in the west. Chaamba transporters from Metlili often contracted with Mizabi dealers in commercial ventures, Ghardaia being less than a day's journey from Metlili. Imported to the Mizab from the Touat via El Golea were slaves, gold-dust, henna, alum, saltpeter and camels. Exports to the south included wheat, olive oil, lard and dried beans.
From his inquiries Carette concluded that there were few direct links between Ouargla, once the great port of the Algerian Sahara, and the Touat. Rather, the bulk of commerce between the north-central Algerian Sahara and the Touat followed the route from El Golea to the Mizab, a route which Carette called one of the most frequently travelled routes of the Algerian Sahara.
To what extent this portrait of Algerian Saharan trade can be projected back in time is difficult to say. Information on the Algerian Sahara prior to 1830 is extremely rare. It has been assumed generally that Algeria's trade with the Sudan prior to 1830 was insignificant, especially in relation to the major trade routes to the east and west.
It is true that Ouargla had lost its commercial prominence long before the French conquest of Algiers . However, much of that prominence had been taken over by the Mizab. Whatever the relative or absolute dimensions of trans-Saharan trade, there was constant commercial activity between the Mizab region and northern Algerian markets in the century preceding 1830. This trade, much of which probably consisted of staple goods, may have been linked to the continuous movement of Mizabi emigrants between the Mizab and the Tell dating from at least as early as the seventeenth century.
In the early eighteenth century an English observer at Algiers noted two waystations utilized by the Mizabis in their travels to Algiers (10). A half-century later in 1788, Venture de Paradis recorded that ostrich plumes had been an important branch of commerce in the Regency of Algiers for the previous quarter-century. The Mizab region furnished the bulk of this product, much of which was exported to Leghorn and France . The second half of the eighteenth century, despite the picture of commercial decadence which has sometimes been painted for the Regency, appears to have witnessed considerable commercial activity in the Algerian Sahara, related perhaps to the period of stability and prosperity under Dey Baba Muhammad ibn 'Uthman who ruled at Algiers from 1766 to 1791.
William Shaler's 1826 description of Algiers reveals that trade between the Algerian Tell and Saharan markets had declined over the preceding decades. In contrast to Venture de Paradis, who had described the Mizabis as maintaining direct links with Timbuktu, Shaler found that the Mizab's links with sub-Saharan Africa took place only via Ghadames and Tafilalt(12). At the same time, however, Shaler noted that the Mizabis were active in what trade there was between their homeland and northern Algeria . Shaler's bleak assessment of the economic health of the Regency, where he saw the state suffering from a severe foreign trade deficit and oppressive taxation, has been used without justification to characterize Turkish Algeria in general. In fact, considerable decline had occurred since the rule of Baba Muhammad in the second half of the eighteenth century.
The immediate effect of the French conquest of Algiers in 18-30 was the disruption of commercial relations between Algiers and its hinterland. A letter signed by seventeen prominent Algerian leaders in 1831 described the first year of occupation:
Les relations de commerce se sont établies et ont duré quelque temps. Ensuite les Bédouins se sont insurgés, ont intercepté les routes et se sont livré entre eux des combats, dont la cause était que les uns veulent commercer avec les français et les autres ne veulent pas. Ces derniers sont les plus nombreux... Nous avons ouvert de nouveau les communications avec beaucoup de peine. Ils se sont insurgés une autre fois... disant que les Français leur ôtent les moyens de vivre et ruinent le pays...
Le résultat de ces troubles a été d'anéantir les moyens de  subsistance et l'industrie. La plaine de Métidja n'a point été cultivée... Toutes les industries languissent. Les habitants souffrent extrêmement... et le prix de toutes les denrées est devenu excessif .
This letter provides a penetrating view into the dynamics of expanding French domination. Whether it involved a small beach-head around Algiers as it did in 1831, or all of northern Algeria as it did later in the century, the territory under direct European control was surrounded by a zone of acute instability and devastation, resulting in large measure from the factionalism which erupted among competing groups in proximity to the occupied territory. Frequently one party favored some sort of accommodation with the European presence and another opposed it. The results were those listed in the letter - destruction of industry, agriculture and trade, rampant inflation and misery. Whether or not to cooperate with the occupiers hinged on numerous factors; thus, it is difficult to generalize. The conclusions which Ross Dunn reached regarding the responses to French military intrusion in southeastern Morocco in the late nineteenth century apply in large measure to Algeria during an earlier period. Dunn found that the French threat added to the extreme caprices of nature a whole new set of economic uncertainties Consequently, every tribe and qsar, indeed every group, large or small, with shared interests in resources, was obliged to weigh its response to the French army against the effects, for better or worse, on its economic well-being.
The crisis produced not an adjournment, but an intensification of the struggle to outwit the environment, as cooperating groups and individuals sought simultaneously to protect their vital resources and to avoid unconditional submission to the advancing army .
Cut off from their commercial outlets or sources of supplies, many groups found themselves facing a narrow range of options in the years after 1830. Some sought markets elsewhere, setting up supply lines to Tunis for example. Some Saharan pastoralists elected to forgo their annual migrations as they tried to eke out an existence based on local resources. For example, two groups of the north-central Algerian Sahara, the Makhadma and the Chaamba Bou Rouba, were cut off from their traditional grain supply points in the Tell for many years. The poorest families were forced to subsist on the dates that they could find at Touggourt and in the Mizab. Only the wealthier families were able to purchase expensive grain in these oases .
As French military expansion met with violent resistance in the decades following 1830, communications were hampered or cut periodically between Bou Saada and Algiers, between Figuig and Laghouat, between Medea and Laghouat, and between Constantine and Tunis. The struggle between Abd al-Qadir and the French army in western Algeria interrupted trade between the north-central Algerian Sahara and Morocco.
Following 1840 General Bugeaud set out to suppress all overt resistance to French domination in the northern plains of Algeria. The massive military campaigns which he waged accomplished some of his objectives. They also left desolation and misery in their wake. The struggles caused disruption of agriculture, industry and commerce as refugees fled from zones of conflict. Communications between the Tell and the Sahara were affected, and northbound trade from Laghouat and Bou Saada was diverted towards Tunis in the east.
Around 1843 a turning point took place in the history of Algerian Saharan trade. An 1843 ordinance prohibiting the importation of goods into Algeria from Morocco, Tunisia and the Sahara, in conjunction with the instability just mentioned, served to divert trans-Saharan trade away from northern Algerian Saharan markets towards Tafilalt in the west and Ghadames in the east . At the same time, however, expanding French influence into the Algerian Sahara renewed some of the commercial exchange patterns in staple goods which had been disrupted earlier. It was reported in 1843 that nomads from the northern Saharan fringe were travelling as far as Algiers to purchase grain, the first time in more than a decade that many of them had appeared on territory formerly controlled by Algiers. The large market at Msila in the eastern province was reportedly functioning for the first time since the fall of Constantine in 1837.
1844 marked the first major French military expeditions into the Sahara as forces reached as far south as Laghouat and Biskra. Following the Biskra expedition, it was reported that merchants at Bou Saada, who had been supplying themselves from Tunis via Touggourt and Tebessa, were turning to French-controlled markets in large numbers . However,* these Saharan expeditions failed to guaranteee a permanent French sphere of influence. Attempts to assure security of communications between the Tell and the Sahara were largely unsuccessful. For example, following the 1844 expedition to Laghouat, the French army constructed a fortified way-station south of Boghar, its purpose to serve as a sheltered stopping point for caravans travelling between the Mizab region and the Tell. Several soldiers were stationed there to provide protection. But in January 1846 troops loyal to Abd al-Qadir partially destroyed it and it was eventually abandoned .
Some European analysts argued that if only Laghouat were brought under firm French control and if the submission of the Mizab and the Awlad Sidi Shaykh were obtained, then trans-Saharan commerce would naturally redirect itself towards Algiers and other northern Algerian markets. This unrealistic hope would continue to inspire efforts to exploit trans-Saharan commerce in the following decades . It was believed, in vain as it turned out, that by making Laghouat into a military strong point and by investing a French-backed khalifa with territorial authority, the colonial regime would be able to dominate the Algerian Sahara and would succeed in tapping the currents of trans-Saharan trade.
So as to encourage pastoralists of the northern Sahara to frequent French controlled markets in the north, the Governor General at Algiers announced in the summer of 1845 that he was reducing the traditional taxes which the Turks had imposed on these movements . However, this incentive was offset by other official actions which attempted to regulate strictly movements to and from French-controlled territory.
In an 1845 assessment of commercial trends in the northern Algerian Sahara, Daumas, a well-known specialist on the Sahara, articulated a widespread optimism about the possibilities of redirecting trans-Saharan commerce to northern Algerian markets. Referring to trade with the south, he wrote, II y a peu de temps encore que la plupart de ces marchandises étaient apportées de Tunis. Elles commencent à venir d'Alger; et il est probable que plus nos rapports deviendront directs avec la première zone du désert, nos routes étant d'ailleurs plus sûres que celles de Tunis, plus nous accaparerons tout le commerce des Béni Mzab .
According to Daumas sources, the commercial links between Algiers and the Touat had once been very active, especially in luxury goods of European origin, but commerce had declined following the conquest of Algiers. Because of the instability created by the occupation, the English had succeeded in diverting this trade to the Moroccan cities of Mogador, Rabat, Tetouan and Tangiers.
Having studied this question from the Moroccan angle, Jean-Louis Miège found that an increase in trade between Morocco and the Sudan took place between 1845 and 1866, corresponding to a decrease in trade between Algeria and the Sudan during the same period (24). Thus, at the very moment that Daumas was predicting a revival of commercial links between the Algerian Tell and the Sahara, the opposite was taking place. In the second half of the decade, according to Miège, Algerian Saharan commerce declined sharply as northbound caravans turned away from  French controlled markets; those at Touat headed for Tafilalt in southeast Morocco at the expense of El Golea; those at Ghadames were diverted away from Ouargla and the Souf in the eastern Algerian Sahara. In 1862 Mircher looked back on these shifts in Saharan commerce :
Après l'abandon d'Ouargla, abandon qui paraît, du reste, ne remonter qu'à un siècle, le courant commercial s'est porté vers l'est, allant aboutir, par Ghadamès, d'abord à Gabès et à Tunis, puis, il y a une quinzaine d'années seulement, par Mourzouk et Ghadamès à Tripoli, quand l'insécurité des caravanes dans le sud de la Régence de Tunis les a conduites à appuyer plus à l'est encore.
C'est donc aujourd'hui exclusivement, par les ports du Maroc et de Tripoli que pénètrent en Afrique les marchandises européennes à destination du Soudan. Des entrepositaires ou des commissionnaires européens reçoivent ces marchandises des pays de production et les remettent aux négociants indigènes en leur accordant souvent crédit jusqu'au retour des caravanes qui doivent porter ces marchandises au Soudan .
It was pointed out earlier that following the 1844 French military expeditions into the Algerian Sahara there appears to have been an increase in commercial activity between the northern Saharan zone and the Tell. How can this be reconciled with the view just presented which holds that from around the middle of the decade Sudanese goods no longer found outlets in northern Algeria but were directed instead toward Morocco ? There is no contradiction here if one is careful to distinguish between Saharan commerce per se, much of which consisted of staple goods traded between the Algerian Tell and the Algerian Saharan, and trans-Saharan trade, consisting largely of European products and those of Sudanese origin. As already pointed out, commercial exchange along the northern Saharan zone consisted primarily of staple products such as dates, grain, wool and woven goods. The French occupation of Algiers and the subsequent military penetration southward temporarily disrupted or diverted some of this trade in staples. Beginning in the early 1840's, some of these trading patterns, associated mainly with nomad migration movements, were reestablished between the Tell and the Sahara.
Trans-Saharan trade, although not unrelated to this trade in staples, must be regarded separately. This commerce, consisting largely of luxury goods and slaves, was diverted away from Algerian and Tunisian markets in the 1840's. This is not to suggest that the north-central Algerian Saharan was no longer involved in trade with the Sudan. Lying beyond French control until 1853 and still partially independent during the following decades, the Mizab carried on an active trade with the Touat, at least until the insurrection of 1864. Ghardaia continued to receive shipments of English goods via southern Morocco and Tunisia. In terms of staples trade, however, it remained closely related to northern Algeria. Although there appears to have been a decline in the Mizab's importance as a market for products from the Sudan and from Morocco and Tunisia, it is difficult to draw quantitative dimensions of such a decline, for the evidence is mostly qualitative. In 1860, for example, Mizabi merchants complained about the difficulty of getting English hardware through Morocco, claiming that under the Deys their access to English goods had been easier .
Whatever the precise role of the Mizab in trans-Saharan commerce during the 1840's, relative to other markets of northern Africa or relative to its own role at other points in time, there were many who believed that once the French sphere of influence encompassed the Mizab, there would be little difficulty in organizing European exploitation of a potentially lucrative Saharan trade.
Beginning in the 1840's European capitalists repeatedly witnessed a frustrating sequence of events. The French regime at Algiers always seemed to be on the verge of attracting a commerce which appeared just out of reach. But, upon capturing another line of oases or gaining the submission of another nomad confederation, the authorities discovered that commercial routes had also shifted, remaining always beyond control. It is true that in this process opportunities were opened or reopened for northern Saharan populations to trade staple products in northern Algerian markets, but restrictive customs regulations aimed at keeping out English goods and at controlling migration movements tended to discourage the establishment of commercials relations.
Illustrative of this « blind spot » concerning the real limitations of French exploitation of Saharan commerce was a report which Ernest Carette submitted to the French Minister of War in 1844 . Assuming that the « natural » course of trans-Saharan commerce was a direct north-south route between the Touat and the Algerian Tell, Carette contended that only a lack of proper inducements prevented the realization of this flow of trade. He called for the placement of commercial agents, some European and some Algerian, in strategic market centers all along the northern fringe of the desert so as to monitor and encourage trade between the Sahara and the Tell. The naivité of Carette's plan, evident with the benefit of hindsight, was not obvious at the time. Various explanations were sought for the failure of French markets to cash in on Saharan trade. Sometimes the English were the culprits. Other times the Mizabis « conspired » to keep French entrepreneurs out of a trade on which they, the Mizabis, possessed a monopoly. The Sanussi « insurrectionists » also shared the blame as did the campaign against the slave trade. This is not to suggest that there are no elements of truth in these explanations. But what was often overlooked was the role of the colonial occupation itself in causing the failure of trans-Saharan commerce to live up to the promises of its advocates.
Slaves from the Sudan had long been an important component of trans-Saharan trade. In his tentative census of the Saharan slave trade, Ralph Austen suggests that Algeria was only marginally involved in the trans-Saharan slave trade. His evidence indicates that slave imports in the Algerian Sahara remained fairly constant up until the 1890's when they tapered off . Further research is needed on this important topic. The evidence has been sketchy. According to an 1 845 report, importations of slaves into Algeria at that time were decreasing in frequency and a further decline was predicted. Although the population of slaves from the Sudan was stationary in most Algerian cities at the time, the slave population at Algiers was reportedly shrinking because of the gradual impoverishment of the Muslim population and the emigration of leading families. The same source estimated the total Sudanese slave population of Algeria at about 1 0 000 plus at least that number of freed slaves .
The steps taken by Ahmad Bey at Tunis beginning in the early 1840's and culminating in the 1846 decree abolishing slavery in Tunisia no doubt reduced further the demand for slaves from the Sudan. The French government followed suit shortly thereafter by abolishing slavery in Algeria. The abolition of slavery in Algeria and Tunisia may have been an influence in the sudden shift in trans-Saharan trade toward Morocco which Miège noted. This would make sense if, as Ross Dunn argues, the demand for slaves from the Sudan remained high in Morocco throughout the nineteenth century .
The decline in the slave trade to Algeria posed a dilemma for French entrepreneurs who desired to revive trans-Saharan trade and direct it to French ports. If, as some analysts argued, slaves were essential to a continuation of trans-Saharan trade, what hope was there for such a revival if slavery was abolished ? In response, various projects were formulated to continue or reactivate the importation of people from the Sudan under the pretense that these would be « free » laborers or at least have the option of working for their freedom (31). These proposals were never implemented.
AFTER 1850
Historians have viewed the installation of Randon as Governor General of Algeria in 1851 as a landmark event in the history of the Algerian Sahara . From the beginning of his appointment, Randon was preoccupied with the extension of French influence in the Sahara and the establishment of commercial relations with the Sudan. He was less concerned about direct political control, which he knew had its disadvantages as well as its advantages, than with the exploitation of distant markets.
Concerning the question of whether or not to force the political submission of the Mizab confederation, Randon wrote to the French Minister of War in 1853 :
Cette question est délicate et demande à n'être conclue qu'en vue des avantages que nous pouvons en retirer pour notre commerce, et nullement dans celui d'un agrandissement de notre domination et de notre territoire .
Randon saw the Mizab as instrumental in his designs to create a Frenchcontrolled commercial network spanning the Sahara. One of his first steps was to occupy Laghouat. Although an expedition had reached it in 1844, the organization which had been set up under a French-backed khalifa crumbled in 1852 as Saharan groups aligned themselves with a new leader, Muhammad b. Abdallah or the « Sharif » as he was known, who was preaching the violent overthrow of European domination. In December of 1852, colonial forces virtually wiped out the population of Laghouat as punishment for having supported the Sharif and for having refused to surrender. Soon after, a military garrison was established there.
The fall of Laghouat marked the beginning of serious expansion of French influence into the Algerian Sahara. Within a few months of the massacre, the Mizab had capitulated to demands for its political submission and other oasis cities soon did likewise. The government turned its attention to ways of profiting from its expansion of influence. A number of investigative missions, some official, others private, explored the possibilities of Saharan trade and tried to persuade Saharan populations to frequent Algerian markets. The initial enthusiasm of these missions was usually matched by their lack of success. A Mizabi from Guerrara caused a short-lived sensation at Algiers in 1856 by bringing back several camel-loads of Sudanese products and some encouraging letters from Tuareg leaders at Ghadames. Hopes were temporarily revived again five years later when a caravan from Ghadames arrived at Algiers causing speculation about the long-awaited renaissance of trans-Saharan trade .
The Randon regime and its successors took other steps to facilitate commercial relations with the Sahara. Wells, roads, reservoirs, and way-stations were constructed on the route between the Mizab and Algiers. Two motivations were behind this ; one was to improve the efficiency of travel for military columns so as to improve control of distant populations; the other was to facilitate the movement of commercial caravans. Local populations were generally expected to provide labor for these projects free of charge. Such measures met with ambivalent reactions from residents of the Mizab and other Saharan groups. On the one hand, the difficult journeys to the Tell were eased, but on the other hand, vulnerability to European intervention was increased.
Although improvements in communication facilitated commerce, other government actions produced the opposite effect. For example, in the decades following 1853 the regime attempted to regulate trade between the Tell and the north-central Algerian Sahara by requiring that all caravans stop to register at Laghouat. This measure simply discouraged commerce and, in addition, was impossible to enforce effectively with the limited means available. Moreover, since there were no government officials stationed south of Laghouat, the Mizab retained a free hand in trading what it pleased with whom it pleased.
European entrepreneurs desiring to exploit the regional wool trade of the northern Sahara or trans-Saharan trade were frustrated by what they regarded as Mizabi monopolization of northern Saharan commerce. In some cases, nomads preferred to sell their wool to Mizabi dealers when Europeans were offering much higher prices . This evoked European accusations about unfair business practices among Mizabi merchants. In fact, European wool dealers were being outcompeted.
To what extent Mizabis consciously attempted to discourage European competitors from establishing commercial operations in the Sahara is difficult to say. This may have been the case in 1860 when some French entrepreneurs complained of being treated rudely during a visit to the Mizab . By comparison, an Englishman visited the Mizab at this same time and by his own account was treated royally. His Mizabi hosts praised English manufactures and complained of no longer being able to obtain English cutlery and cloth .
The chronic political instability in the decades after 1850 was undoubtedly the single most significant factor affecting commerce in the Algerian Sahara. Periodic violent resistance movements erupted during this period with diverse and sometimes paradoxical effects on commerce. The largest insurrection broke out in 1864 and effectively ended French hopes of establishing regular commercial relations with the central Sahara. The causes of this insurrection were complex. In late 1862 it was reported that the state of political anarchy in the Mizab, itself the result of the ambiguities of partial French immersion in Mizabi politics, was harming trade between sedentaries and nomads. Increasingly restrictive regulations on nomad migration movements to the Tell further heightened tensions. Although the role of the Mizab in this insurrection was complex and is hard to pinpoint, sources closest to the Mizab insisted that it played not only an important role but a key role in the outbreak and continuation of the violent resistance (39). The colonial government imposed a commercial blockade on the Mizab and, as had happened several times before, quickly forced the confederation into submission.
Although such movements of resistance threatened regular patterns of exchange at times, they also created new demands. In 1871 it was reported that Mizabi merchants were making handsome profits from their trade with the forces of Bou Choucha, a resistance leader. The report continued, Les M'zabites disent qu'ils aiment mieux payer une amende de guerre que de cesser leur commerce avec les insurges; commerce excessivement lucratif, et qui déduction faite de la contribution qui pourrait leur être imposée, leur assurait encore de beaux bénéfices .
Among the most actively traded commodities during the second half of the century were weapons and gunpowder for which there was a permanent demand.
The Mizabis had long been engaged in the manufacture of gunpowder. In 1866 some spokesmen for the Mizab declared that they could no longer manufacture the large amounts of gunpowder which they had produced in the years prior to the 1864 insurrection. The interruptions in commerce between the Touat and the Mizab had cut off their traditional source of saltpeter. When raw materials had been plentiful and the caravan routes safe, the Mizab was reported to have exported ninety to one hundred quintals of gunpowder annually .
Despite predictions of the demise of this branch of commerce, the demand for gunpowder remained high in the Algerian Sahara, and the Mizab continued to engage in its manufacture and exportation up to its annexation by the French regime in 1882.
In 1880 a French military commander counseled against the abolition of the gunpowder trade of the Mizab arguing that had the Mizab not produced this commodity, Sahara-dwellers would have been forced to import English powder which, not only would have been superior in quality, but would have served as an avenue for trade in other English goods. The officer predicted that commercial relations between the Mizab region and the extreme south via Touat would fall off sharply once slaves, gunpowder and firearms were no longer traded in the Mizab . And, in fact, the annexation of the Mizab in 1882 did lead to a general decline in commercial relations between that region and markets further south.
To summarize, long-established commercial patterns in the north-central Algerian Sahara were disrupted during the period between 1830 and 1850 as the instability surrounding the European-controlled zone played havoc with migration patterns, uprooted populations, and destroyed economic livelihoods. As French occupation spread southward from the coast, trans-Saharan currents of trade shifted away from Algerian Saharan markets towards Morocco and Libya. The shift in trade towards' Morocco sharpened in the mid-1 840's, at about the same time that commerce in staples between the Algerian Tell and the northern Sahara revived. The Mizab remained active in both regional trade and trans-Saharan commerce during the decades following 1850. Nevertheless, the chronic unrest in the Algerian Sahara during the second half of the century caused fluctuations in both kinds of commerce.
The markets of the Mizab functioned as key sources of supplies for periodic movements of violent resistance to colonial domination.
Mid-century had seen the attention of the colonial regime turn to the south with the aim of exploiting trans-Saharan commerce for the benefit of French markets. This plan, in which the Mizab was viewed as an instrumental link, failed to fulfill the promises of its advocates. The fall of Laghouat in 1852, and the submission of the Mizab which followed, signaled the beginning not only of serious colonial penetration into the Sahara but of a torturous period of economic uncertainty and political instability among Saharan societies as well.