- by Che Janz
- The Guardian
- Issue #2043
Photo: Michele Benericetti – flickr.com (CC BY-ND 2.0)
Recently some much-needed attention has been brought to the situation in Western Sahara, brought on by speeches and visits from Ndaba Mandela, Nelson Mandela’s grandson. Another noteworthy speaker regarding this issue is Magdalene Moonsamy speaking with the group “Solidarity Movement with Western Sahara” (SASOMWES), who has attended protests in Pretoria in the last few weeks.
In 2021, the Kingdom of Morocco exported 6.5 billion dollars’ worth of phosphate, a large chunk of which was mined from the Western Sahara. Phosphate mined from the Western Sahara is noted for its rich quality, making it among the most lucrative in the world. Morocco has also exploited the Western Sahara for its coastal fish reserves. In 2006 Morocco signed a deal with the EU to supply them with fish from the Western Sahara’s waters. The deal was thankfully finally put to an end after constant public pressure from Western Saharan advocacy groups, but Morocco still produces billions from the Western Sahara in fishing alone. Not a cent of this money goes towards Sahrawis.
The entire conflict rests in the history of imperialism and the anti-colonial movement, from the time when France and Spain controlled much of North West Africa. When Morocco and Algeria gained independence from European colonial rule in the mid-20th century, tensions between the two were already high due to the sloppy borders drawn by their former imperial rulers. This resulted in the Sand War, which although short lived, resulted in much destruction in the area. Fidel Castro personally helped the Algerian military to create a ceasefire.
After this chaotic period, Northern Africa was once again thrown into disarray with the issue of the Western Sahara when it was finally released from the clutches of Fascist Spanish rule. Morocco took the view that the Sahrawi people’s freedom could only be granted at their whim, while Algeria and Libya (under Gaddafi) took the view that the region could only be free via Sahrawian self-determination. They achieved this by funding the Polisario Front, a Marxist revolutionary organisation that to this day fights Morocco’s illegal control of the region to establish an independent socialist state called the “Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.” The 10th of May 2023 will be the 50th anniversary of the founding of Polisario.
There have been a number of treaties and agreements between Morocco and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, but they are all meaningless, as Morocco constantly violates them and holds thousands of Sahrawians in detention centres. There is a mass of testimonies online about the horrific treatment inside these facilities, from sex abuse from guards, to slave labour and reported massacres. This cements Morocco’s determination to continue its endless war and kill as many Sahrawians as it takes, as long as the phosphate and fishing money keeps coming.
Unlike, say, Palestine, the Western Sahara does not receive much attention in western media. The Western Sahara is the forgotten side of the same kind of anti-apartheid struggle.
Western Sahara is the victim of two sets of imperialism – that of the European powers who arbitrarily divided up the area, and that of the Kingdom of Morocco. The people of Western Sahara deserve attention and support in their fight to go from being Africa’s last official colony to being its newest independent state.