Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Western Sahara: Africa's last colony?

For over 30 years the lands of the Western Sahara and its people, the Sahrawi, have been in a deadlock of conflict, violence and non-identity. The main actors within this conflict have failed to find a resolution to the problem and still abide by a flawed compromise nearly 20 years old. This has resulted in disaster for all of the countries involved in this land dispute: Algeria still has over 100,000 Sahrawi refugees living on their border, Mauritania suffer from intense trafficking problems and economic problems, Morocco still has the heavy economic burden of supplying 120,000 troops to patrol the Moroccan Wall and the Sahrawi are still displaced and have no land to call their own. The UN has failed to find a compromise to this ongoing land dispute and is still financially burdened by the problem. Clearly existing efforts to define, determine and distribute the lands of the Western Sahara have been unsuccessful, insufficient and ineffective; will there ever be a solution and who is responsible for finding it?

Independence and Conflict

Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony was granted independence in 1975 with disastrous results.
As soon as the Spanish left, the land was plunged into conflict as Moroccan and Mauritanian armies invaded Western Sahara to claim the land as their own. Mauritania, however, withdrew its forces within 3 years and subsequently declared their recognition of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.
Morocco, on the other hand, pursued and battled the guerrilla resistance of the Sahrawi people; ultimately winning with the construction of the Moroccan wall (or ‘Wall of Shame’ to the native Sahrawi people) which stretched all the way across Western Sahara. This wall effectively took all of the useful Western Saharan land and left the Sahrawi people with a ‘free zone’: simply a mass of uninhabitable desert. Morocco also surrounded the wall with millions of land mines, making the wall the most heavily land mined region on earth and rendering it not only inhabitable but highly dangerous.

The Sahrawi Perspective
The Sahwari now reside mostly in the town of Tindouf in Algeria and there are over 100,000 refugees living in camps there, as well as it being the main Polisario army base. The Polisario Front is a Sahrawi rebel national liberation movement working for the independence of Western Sahara from Morocco. They claim Western Sahara is their native home and that they should have the right to self determination under the UN Resolution 1514 (XV) which states the’ right of colonised peoples to independence’. In 1975, the UN enforced this resolution but this was ignored and deemed to be invalid by Morocco. A solution was then proposed in which a referendum would be put to the Sahrawi people with the cooperation of Morocco where they would choose whether or not they wanted to be Moroccan or an independent nation. Morocco, however, negated their support for this; ending all long term prospects for a solution. Forty years on the Sahrawi people are still waiting for the right to self determination, with no sight of their circumstances changing.

The Moroccan Perspective
Morocco claims the western conception of law regarding the region ignores the affected terrirories’ historical and judical tradition: its view is that because Morocco has existed for centuries, the source of its sovereignty as well as the path of its borders do not follow from a Western conception of a nation-state. Instead, the historical tie with the Cherifian sultan who is also, according to the doctrine of the Moroccan monarchy, “the Commander of the faithful” constitutes the foundation of its sovereignty.They rejected the referendum proposed by the UN in 1975 for this reason and also as it meant there is a high possibility they will lose their land in Western
This ongoing battle to keep the Western Sahara, however, is not easy or sustainable for Morocco. The cost of building the wall and supplying the wall with its 120,000 troops (a figure higher than the Sahrawi population) has taken its toll on the country economically, with key areas such as health, education and domestic security suffering.
Furthermore, Morocco’s actions have also had significant political costs such as their forced exit of the African Union and relations with other African states as Morocco is seen within Africa as an occupying power, in particular with neighbouring Algeria and other Maghreb countries as their economic agreements are now suspended due to this conflict with an estimated $3Billion loss over the 5 countries per year.

The International Perspective
The UN’s involvement with the Western Sahara conflict began with the establishment of the ‘United Nations Mission for the Referendum of Western Sahara’ (MINURSO) which was put into place to create a referendum for the Sahrawi people, this, however, was unsuccessful. Therefore, the UN’s primary involvement with the conflict now is that of providing aid and managing the refugee situation, rather than attempts to find a political solution. The UN spends an average of $45Million a year on these efforts, not including the cost of the Security Council activity, the different special envoys of the UN Secretary- General, and international aid for the Tindouf camp refugees.

The Royal Advisory Council for Saharan Affairs (CORCAS) are an advisory body to the Moroccan Governement and have been in place since 1970. Recent developements have been very promising with Morrocco proposing autonomy for the southern provinces in western Sahara this is supported by the Polisario and could be the break through they have been looking for. This however does have complications as Algeria do not support this and have now closed Moroccan/Algerian borders this poses problems for the people in the Tindouf camps as they cannot pass through the Moroccan border, this emphasises increasing fears from the international community on human rights abuses within the camps.

This conflict is now over 30 years old and with no current or foreseeable solution; international bodies such as the UN should be finding new ways of addressing the stalemate between the two countries as this conflict puts strain on all who live in and around it. What should the UN be doing? Should other bodies and nations get more involved? And is there a realistic solution to the end of this bitter conflict?

By Chloe Smith


  1. Wow, this is really interesting. I hadn't heard about this conflict, though I had heard that Morocco was not in the African Union for some reason. We'll definitely be discussing this in MUN next year at some point.

  2. This is a really enlightening article.I hadn't really heard about this conflict prior to reading this. Thank you!

  3. Very interesting article, but Polisario does NOT support the autonomy plan of Morocco since that would mean loosing their independance. I wonder what source you have for that idea? Many people in Spain have contact with polisario, and can give you a different story. Morocco would want people to believe polisario agrees with autonomy plan and put the fault on Algeria to have more support.

  4. Can't we borrow some B-52 and bomb Rabat and Casablanca...pretty sure they will agree to anything the next day! This people (morocco's leaders)are intransigent as well as bullies and they do not understand any other language, than the language of imminent danger.

  5. As long as the internationla community is not taking an active interest on the Western Sahara, then the Moroccan authorities will continue their colonisation and oppression of the Sahrawi people. It is ountries like France that continue to benefit from contracts awarded to them by the Moroccan regime to extract minerals that keep the conflict going by turning a blind eye on severe violations of human rights in that part of the world. What is certain, however, is that independence for the Sahrawi is inevitable.

  6. There is no Western Shara or whatsoever. The teritory is Moroccan for centuries and was annexed to homeland after Spain quitted in 1975. Polisario are a group of mercenaries who were recruited by the Algerian regime backed by the then Soviet Union and the rest of the eastern block to gain access to the atlantic. They tried to invade the terittory in 1975 aided by the algerian army but were beaten by Morocc in Amgala. Most of those who are known as Sahrawi people now were forced or bribed by Algeria at the offset of the conflict and for the past 35 years they remnain stranded in the desert, used and abused by the military and dictator regime of the Polisario. Most of the people incarcerated in the camps suffer poverty, destitution and torture should they express their wish to return to their home country Morocco. International aid to the camps is sold in the black market by the miltary regime. Algeria, and against international law,carries on denying the High Commission of Refugees access to the camps to carry a census and assess the human rights and the living conditions of the population. Morocco, however has made a generous offer in terms of self determination as a leeway.

  7. ... Morocco made a generous offer in terms of a self determination but Polisario and Algeira did not take the opprotunity seriously and forged the lists of potential voters the fact that led to the failure of a genuine solution that could have spared the region years of conflict. Currently Morocco is proposing autonmy so that there are no winners or losers, but with practically no chance for the "Sahrawi" people to have their own say due to the oppresive nature of the "Sahrawi" regime coupled with the strungle hold Algeria has on issue, there seems to be very little progress in this direction, if none.

  8. yet there is no blogs about Mustapha ould Salma, the Inspector General of
    the Polisario Front’s police who was in Morocco on a trip sponsored by
    the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). After seeing the progress in
    W. Sahara, which he was visiting for the first time in 31 years, Sidi
    Mouloud vowed to return to the refugee camps and voice his support for
    Morocco’s compromise autonomy plan to end the 35-year dispute. Upon his
    return he was arrested and disappeared.
    This is just an example of the tyranny and repression that is allowed in
    the refugee camps in Algeria. Your silence on the authoritarian regime
    and repression in the Tindouf camp shows a great deal of double
    Here are some links I hope you find useful on the subject:
    SAvage attack on Moroccan servicemen who try to dismantle the Gdeim Izik
    camp peacefully

    Supporter of autonomy plan should not face retaliation in the Tindouf
    camps in Algeria
    In a letter sent on 14 December, Amnesty International called on the Polisario
    Front to reveal the legal status and whereabouts of Mostafa Salma Sidi
    Mouloud, who was arrested on the evening of 21 September following his
    visit to Western Sahara, a territory annexed by Morocco in 1975. The
    organization fears that he might be held solely on account of his
    publicly expressed views in favour of the autonomy of Western Sahara
    under Moroccan administration.

    Western Sahara: Polisario Arrests Rare Dissenter
    The Polisario Front, the Western Sahara independence movement, should
    release a dissident detained on September 21, 2010, if the real reason
    for his arrest is his vocal support for Morocco’s autonomy plan, Human
    Rights Watch said today.
    Polisario security forces arrested Mostapha Selma Sidi Mouloud, a police
    officer, as he travelled toward the Polisario-run Sahrawi refugee camps
    near Tindouf, Algeria. His arrest followed a visit to Moroccan-controlled
    Western Sahara, during which he publicly declared his support for
    Morocco’s proposal to resolve the conflict over the disputed territory’s
    future by granting it autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty.
    Leadership Council for Human Rights calls for release of Western Sahara
    Official :
    The Leadership Council for Human Rights this morning called on the
    International Committee of the Red Cross to seek the release of Mustapha
    Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud, the 42 year old police inspector of the

    Sidi Mouloud was arrested yesterday by Algerian and Polisario authorities
    after speaking out in favor of the Moroccan Autonomy Plan for the Western
    UNHCR deeply concerned about arrest of Ould Sidi Mouloud by polisario
    The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) expressed, on Thursday, “deep
    concern” over the arrest in Tindouf camps
    Rabat – The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) expressed, on Thursday,
    “deep concern” over the arrest in Tindouf camps (south western Algeria)
    of Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud, chief inspector of polisario’s
    Speaking to the press in Rabat at an information day on the situation of
    refugees in Morocco, the UNHCR representative, Johnnes Van Der Klaauw,
    said the UN refugee agency “closely” follows with “concern” the arrest in
    the Tindouf camps of Ould Sidi Mouloud.

  9. What a misleading ariticle

    0/10 you spread lies ... did they pay you or something?

    There was no western sahara before spain colonisation you bad lier!!

    This is a Moroccan issue .. It's a problem between Morocco and algerian government

  10. I hear there is plenty of oil in Western Sahara or near its shore. Wonder why the US hasn't bombed it yet?

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