Camel herding in Western Sahara a passion with pedigree

A camel herder provides his animals with water, in the desert near Dakhla in Morocco-administered Western Sahara on October 13, 2019. (AFP / FADEL SENNA)
Updated 22 November 2019

Camel herding in Western Sahara a passion with pedigree

  • In the Western Sahara, a local adage holds that he who has no camel, has nothing
  • "Camels can endure everything: sun, wind, sand and lack of water, and if they could talk, you’d easily hear how intelligent they are,” says herder

DAKHLA, Western Sahara: In the Oued Eddahab desert in Western Sahara, Habiboullah Dlimi raises dairy and racing camels just like his ancestors used to — but with a little help from modern technology.
His animals roam free in the desert and are milked as camels always have been, by hand, at dawn and dusk.
When camels “feed on wild plants and walk all day, the milk is much better,” said the 59-year-old herder, rhapsodizing about the benefits of the nutrient-rich drink, known as the “source of life” for nomads.
But Dlimi no longer lives with his flock.
He lives in town with his family. His camels are watched over by hired herders and Dlimi follows GPS coordinates across the desert in a 4X4 vehicle to reach them.
He is reticent when asked about the size of his herd. “That would bring bad luck,” he said.
He prefers to speak of the gentleness and friendliness of the animals he knows like his own children.
“Camels can endure everything: sun, wind, sand and lack of water, and if they could talk, you’d easily hear how intelligent they are,” he said.




A camel is silhouetted against the sunset in the desert near Dakhla in Morocco-administered Western Sahara, on Oct. 13, 2019. (AFP / FADEL SENNA)


"The desert knows me"
Dlimi comes from a long line of desert dwellers from the Ouled Dlimi tribe.
As tradition dictates, he lists his ancestors going back five generations when introducing himself.
“I know the desert and the desert knows me,” he said.
Like elsewhere, the nomads of Western Sahara are settling, following a shift from rural to urban living.
“Young people prefer to stay in town,” Dlimi said, and herders now mostly come from neighboring Mauritania, whose desert north is traversed by caravans of up to a thousand camels.
Even they “often demand to work in areas covered by (mobile phone) network signal,” he added.
The population of the nearby town of Dakhla has tripled to 100,000 in 20 years, with growth driven by fishing, tourism and greenhouse farming encouraged by Morocco.
In this part of Western Sahara, development projects depend entirely on Rabat.
Morocco has controlled 80 percent of the former Spanish colony since the 1970s and wants to maintain it as an autonomous territory under its sovereignty.
The Polisario Front movement fought a war for independence from 1975 to 1991 and wants a referendum in which the people of Western Sahara choose between independence and integration with Morocco.
The United Nations has been trying to negotiate a political compromise for decades.
Like many in his tribe, Dlimi has family members on the other side of the Western Sahara Wall separating the Moroccan controlled areas from the Polisario controlled areas.
He favors loyalty to Morocco while others back independence, he said.
Tribal affiliation trumps politics, though.
“Tribes are tribes, it’s a social organization,” he said. “There are very strong links between us.”
To “preserve the past for the future,” Dlimi started a cultural association to conserve traditions from a time when there were no borders and “families followed the herds and the clouds.”




A camel herder guides his flock in the desert near Dakhla in Morocco-administered Western Sahara on Oct. 13, 2019. (AFP / FADEL SENNA)


The irony
While Dlimi loves the desert, he does have one complaint: “The camel dairy industry is valued everywhere in the world except here.”
Camel milk is trendy with health-conscious consumers and the lean meat is excellent, Dlimi claims.
Today though, it is small livestock farming that is the main agricultural focus, in response to what non-nomadic Moroccans tend to eat.
The 266,000 square kilometers (106,400 square miles) of Western Sahara under Moroccan control hosts some 6,000 herders, 105,000 camels, and 560,000 sheep and goats, according to figures from Rabat.
In other arid countries, including Saudi Arabia, intensive farming of camels has taken off.
But, while Moroccan authorities have undertaken several studies into developing Western Sahara’s camel industry, these have not so far been acted upon.
Regardless, a local adage holds that he who has no camel, has nothing.
“Some say that Saharans are crazy because when they have money they spend it on four feet,” Dlimi jokes.
For him, 20,000 dirhams ($2,000) spent on a camel is a safe investment.
But it is also a consuming passion.
His Facebook page and WhatsApp messages are filled with talk of camel husbandry techniques, research and racing.
Racing “is a pleasure and it pays,” Dlimi said.
Since the United Arab Emirates funded construction of a camel racing track at Tantan, 900 kilometers (560 miles) to the north, racing animals have appreciated in value and can sell for up to 120,000 dirhams, according to Dlimi.
To train his racing camels, Dlimi chases the young animals across the desert in his 4X4.
The technique has made him an eight-time champion in national competitions, he said.
But camels can be stubborn, Dlimi stressed, telling of how he once sold his best champion for a “very good price,” but the animal refused to race once it had changed hands.


Meghan Markle makes first public appearance since shock announcement

Updated 16 January 2020

Meghan Markle makes first public appearance since shock announcement

  • Harry and Meghan are in the middle of a storm after making their bombshell announcement last week
  • A crisis summit at Queen Elizabeth’s Sandringham country residence on Monday was missed by Meghan, who was in Canada

VANCOUVER: Meghan Markle has made her first public appearance since she and Prince Harry sensationally decided to quit as full-time royals, visiting two women’s charities in Vancouver as British media reported she could face her father in court.
Harry and Meghan are in the middle of a storm after making their bombshell announcement last week — before they had discussed the plans with Queen Elizabeth II.
That followed Meghan launching legal action against The Mail on Sunday’s publishers in October after the tabloid printed a handwritten letter it had been shown by Thomas Markle.
The weekly newspaper has now issued its defense, leading to the possibility that Meghan and her father could be called to testify against each another.
A crisis summit at Queen Elizabeth’s Sandringham country residence on Monday was missed by Meghan, who was in Canada — where she and Harry plan to live part-time.
The Duchess of Sussex on Tuesday visited the Downtown Eastside Women’s Center, a non-profit organization that provides support to women who are fleeing violence, dealing with homelessness or living in poverty.
Meghan met with the director and a handful of frontline staff to discuss the challenges women in the neighborhood are facing.
“She was very interested in what goes on for women in this community, who we all know are marginalized women who’ve faced many challenges and barriers to their wellbeing,” said Kate Gibson, the acting executive director of the center.
The Vancouver-based non-profit Justice for Girls also said Meghan had stopped by, tweeting photos on Wednesday of the duchess during her visit.
“Yesterday, The Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle visited to discuss climate justice for girls and the rights of Indigenous peoples,” said the group, which helps teenage girls who live in poverty.
Final details on how Harry and Meghan’s new roles might work are due in the coming days.
The prospect of a high court showdown only adds to the pressure on the couple.
Harry, sixth in line to the throne, married US former television actress Meghan at Windsor Castle in May 2018.
Her father, an award-winning former television lighting director now living in Mexico, did not attend the wedding after staging paparazzi photographs and suffering chest pains in the build-up.


The letter was written in August 2018 and published in February 2019 shortly after the US magazine People ran a story citing Meghan’s friends talking about the letter, which shed light on her troubled relationship with her estranged father.
Meghan filed a claim in October last year against publishers Associated Newspapers over the alleged misuse of private information, infringement of copyright and breach of the Data Protection Act 2018.
In an accompanying statement, Harry lashed out at negative press coverage, claiming British tabloids had mounted a “ruthless” and “malicious” attempt to vilify his wife.
Newly-revealed legal documents outlining The Mail on Sunday’s defense show they will rely on evidence from Markle, including that he “had a weighty right to tell his version of what had happened.”
The paper’s sister publication the Daily Mail said on its front page Wednesday that Markle would be prepared to give evidence against his daughter.
The Mail on Sunday also argues that a “one-sided” article in the US magazine People meant the letter’s existence was already in the public domain.
It could be months before any trial takes place.
More broadly, online and television debate has raged as to whether tabloid coverage had been racist toward Meghan.
Departing Labour main opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn “agrees” there were “to use Prince Harry’s words, racial undertones” in Meghan’s press coverage, his spokesman said.
Harry, 38, is due to resurface at Buckingham Palace on Thursday to host the 2021 Rugby League World Cup draw.
He and Meghan, 38, want to step back as senior royals, work toward financial independence from the British taxpayer, split their time between the UK and Canada and ditch long-established pooled media access arrangements for royal engagements.
Despite Canadians’ affection for the royal couple, a large majority (73 percent) do not wish to foot security or other costs for their relocation, according to an Angus Reid Institute survey.
Canadian media have estimated the costs of protecting Prince Harry and Meghan at approximately Can$1.7 million ($1.3 million) per year.