Since the dawn of time, people have survived everywhere thanks to the barter of goods during the commercial exchanges they carried out among themselves, by road, before the discovery of the sea routes. “The salt road”, one of the oldest in Africa, is today revisited to join the very other old trade route in Asia, the “silk road” rehabilitated by China.
Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune on a state visit to China and Chinese President Xi Jinping ‘shared salt’, popularly expressed as symbolizing friendship and brotherhood, after sharing a meal and a moment of conviviality.
“The Salt Road”
In the Maghreb, “the salt road”, called “ Ayri” in Berber, is among the oldest roads in the Sahara, connecting the great desert of Ténéré to the west (in the extension of Tassili n’Ajjer) and the great erg of Bilma (Niger) to the east, where the salt deposits were located. The salt caravans on the backs of Tuareg camels have enabled the Berbers and other populations of the Sahara to live since antiquity in harmony and peace, thanks to the barter of salt, dates, against cereal seeds such as millet and sorghum, widespread in southern Africa.
The great crossing lasted nine months for the caravaneers, who, loaded with millet and products from Aïr (Niger) on the backs of camels traveled between 1,200 and 1,500 km, to reach the salt deposits of Bilma (Niger). They crossed the Ténéré round trip in about 35 days. The salt caravan, also called “Tarlam” or “the line of camels”, also crossed Mali, which had become an important crossroads on the salt route, making Timbuktu and Bamako flourishing cities.
During this long journey, the caravaneers had to face the highwaymen who wanted to seize their goods. With the arrival of the French colonizers, insecurity became even more threatening and the caravaneers had to call on meharists to serve as their escort. Then the French demanded ever more damage in kind (livestock) from the Tuareg and they requisitioned camels for all kinds of transport operations.
Targui society was thus attacked in the foundations of its economic and social structures, which would lead to revolts of the populations, such as that of the Senoussists, led by Kaocen against the French occupation in December 1916 in Agadez. This will temporarily put an end to these caravans which will not resume until 1920 but their importance will increase. “In 1988, 5,000 dromedaries reached Bilma”, according to a study published by the research site Persée in an article on “The revolts of the Tuaregs of Niger (1916-17). There were also other salt routes such as the Siwa route in Egypt linking “Theghaza-Taoudeni” to Timbuktu (Mali).
The mines of Taoudéni are famous for their rock salt containing iodine. “Azalaï, the name given by the Tuareg to these camel caravans that have been crossing the desert for centuries, still support many families. Despite all the dangers of the desert, the wars, the miners continue to go, as before, to the mines of Taoudéni, to dig up what is called there white gold”.
“The road to gold”: A measure of salt for a measure of yellow metal
The Sahara has also experienced “the route of gold ” from Sudan. “From Bilad es-Sudan, it flowed towards the cities, destined for the minting of coins and for pageantry. He came by caravan tracks and camel drivers avoided highway robbers, wild beasts, large stretches of sand, thirst and certain death. This precious metal was the object of covetousness and served as a war chest” recounts the writer and journalist Mohamed Balhi in “La route de l’or”, trans-Saharan trade, kingdoms and civilizations”. Algeria, Mali and Ghana were part of this mythical route of gold, which was also that of salt and slaves and which made the wealth and power of many kingdoms and dynasties of the Maghreb and Europe. ‘Africa. They will disappear with the decline of the gold route from the 16th century after the arrival of Spanish and Portuguese navigators who will mark the birth of maritime trade. Just as with salt, there were also several routes for gold. According to historians, quoted by Mr. Balhi, it was the relations between the Ibadi Berber state of Tahert (current Tiaret, former capital of the Rostemides dynasty – 8th – 9th centuries) and the kingdoms of western Sudan that made it possible to develop the gold trade. (P.18).
Touat has become a real crossroads for trade between North Africa and South Africa. From the oases of Touat, a direct route descended, through the desert of Tanezrouft (the land of thirst). Historians also report another trans-Saharan route, starting from Touggourt and leading to Timbuktu. This trail was still used at the beginning of the 20th century by caravanners who headed for Sudan, “the land of blacks and gold”, conveying on camels the salt they bartered for gold, “one part salt to one part precious metal”. As long as the African people lived from the fair exchange of their products, equality and peace reigned. But colonization will change everything with the birth of the first Portuguese and Spanish colonial empires thanks to their discoveries of the sea routes linking Europe to Africa, Asia and America. The Portuguese counters were installed as far as China, where Macau was a Portuguese colonial territory until 1999, as was the island of Hong Kong occupied by the United Kingdom in 1841 and which will be returned to China in 1997.
With the imperialist division of the world concluded at the end of the 1st World War, the colonial armies will take control of the gold mines, the raw materials and the natural resources. The peoples who freed themselves from this occupation after struggles and bloody wars are now redesigning the new salt routes.
The Trans-Saharan or the new salt road
The trans-Saharan road, which connects North Africa to West Africa, from Algiers to Lagos, also called the “road of African Unity” 9,400 kilometers long, bringing together six countries (Algeria, Tunisia, Mali , Niger, Nigeria and Chad) is 90% complete). This trans-African trade corridor, supported by Algeria and the African Union, will serve the African Continental Free Trade Area (ZLECAf) which aims for economic integration of a continent of more than 1.3 billion people.
The trans-Saharan road also called “salt road” is an old project launched in 1970 by Algeria under Houari Boumediene, but which fell into oblivion before being unearthed. It will make it possible to open up more than 400 million Africans by facilitating trade and the economic integration of the six African countries joining this mega project, According to the Algerian Minister of Public Works and Basic Infrastructure, Lakhdar Rekhroukh, the State Algerian attaches great importance to “this project considered as one of the most structuring of the continent that the African Union has adopted”. Like their ancestors who traveled “the salt road” and “the gold road”, Africans today want to revive direct exchanges between them, without going through European capitals. After political independence, the continent must complete its economic independence, without which it cannot conduct a sovereign policy. But does not this sovereignist policy also involve exchanges carried out in the local currencies of African countries by shedding those of their former occupants (CFA Franc, Euro, Dollar, Pound sterling) or even by adopting an African currency? as President Maamar El Guedafi, assassinated by the old and new colonizers, planned to do to prevent it ? This question cannot be dismissed because it conditions the success of common African policy projects. The ongoing de-dollarization by the countries of the BRICS group, which is preparing a new international currency to replace the dollar, should serve as an example for African countries. To circumvent the Western sanctions imposed on Russia, victim of a NATO war by Ukraine, the BRICS countries had to resort to payment in their respective currencies and even sometimes by using barter.
This article is originally published on lnr-dz.com