’You don’t screw with the Sahara’: Radioactive Dust and the Return of the French Imperial Repressed
In 2021 and 2022, traces of the series of nuclear bombs France detonated in Algeria during the 1960s seemed to ‘come home’ in the form of tons of ‘lightly radioactive’ Saharan sand that filled the atmosphere above and rained down onto surfaces throughout France. Multiple commentators characterized this ‘African dust’ as a postcolonial ‘boomerang,’ the return of a repressed past, a haunting, and a kind of revenge. This article considers closely the range of representations of this Saharan sand in France as material and metaphoric deposits on the contemporary landscape. Pursuing the coincidence of these recent episodes of a recurrent phenomenon with the crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic and a particular moment of reckoning in the history and legacies of French nuclear imperialism in North Africa and the Pacific, the article examines radioactive dust as memorial evidence, toxic residue, and imperial remains.