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one of many shantytown communities in french colonial north africa, situated near cities and towns.

Bidonville is one of three forms of living space in colonial France's Maghrib possessionsthe other two being the traditional Arab medina, which formed the nucleus of precolonial cities and towns, and the villeneuve, its Western counterpart that was designed by Europeans and built during colonial times. Bidonvilles in their original sense referred to the flimsy shacks and shantytowns that emerged in the nineteenth century at the margins of North African cities and townsoften built from "bidons à pétrole, " tin containers used to distribute kerosene.

The emergence of bidonvilles across North Africa was both directly and indirectly linked to the colonial presence. In several instances bidonvilles emerged as entire villages and populations were displaced, when in Algeria during so-called canton-nements and regroupements policies that were aimed at either providing agricultural land to colonial settlers or to keep the local populations away from what were considered by the colonial authorities to be strategic areas.

What contributed to the physical growth of a population that could no longer be incorporated into the confines of the precolonial city or town included: the growth of the North African coastal cities, linked to their new and intermediary role in the French economy; the impoverishment of the rural areas either through neglect or their incorporation into wider economies; the burgeoning population as a result of the introduction of health, sanitary, and hygienic standards; and the creation of an urban salaried class employed by France. As a result of this uncontrolled and more often than not hasty growth, bidonvilles contrast sharply both with the planned villeneuves of North African towns and the carefully integrated design of the traditional medinas; as a result, they have often been described by French colonial observers as monotonous and unpleasing.

At the time of independence of the North African countries in the 1950s and 1960s, and in the two decades that followed, bidonvilles became firmly established features of the urban landscape. Often, they possess only rudimentary sanitary systems, water, or electricity. The conditions that had contributed to their creation or existence in the colonial period were continued and often exacerbated by the economic and development strategies of the new governments. In several cases, substantial portions of city populationsin some instances up to 40 percentfound themselves temporarily but more often than not permanently in bidonvilles that often remained for years without the amenities enjoyed by other citizens. Perhaps not surprising, as bidonvilles became permanent fixtures throughout North Africa, they often were the focal points for riots and violent demonstrations against local governmentsforcing them to devote considerable resources to upgrading and incorporating the bidonvilles into their towns and cities, providing water and electricity, sanitation and transportation. Despite this, one of the unavoidable and seemingly enduring sights of the Maghrib remains that of bidonvilles that physically, socially, and economically are literally at the margins of each country's society.

see also cantonnement/refoulement; maghrib; medina.

Dirk Vandewalle

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Bidonville. Shanty town built of oil-drums, petrol-tins, etc. (from bidou, meaning an oil-drum or petrol-tin). By association, any collection of houses or shelters constructed of scrap-metal, e.g. the examples found in Calcutta, India, and Caracas, Venezuela.


OED Supplement, i (1987), 254