All about Western Sahara Conflict | Western Sahara Facts

All about Western Sahara Conflict | Western Sahara Facts

This article is about a 50-year-old unresolved African conflict in Western Sahara that is a disputed territory in the Maghreb region of North Africa lies at Africa North Atlantic coast. 

Western Sahara Dispute Involved Parties

Following is the list of parties have been involved in the issue 
  • Sahrawi are the indigenous people of the region struggling for their independent country
  • Polisario front is the rebel national movement fighting for independent country Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic
  • Morocco says that Spanish Sahara was part of pre-colonial Morocco so they are rightful owners of it.
  • Spain colonized Western Sahara around 100 years and left in 1975 without any proper transfer of power 
  • Mauritania also claimed Western Sahara like Morocco but withdrew in 1979.
  • Algeria borders both Morocco and Western Sahara, a great supporter of Sahwari people independent movement

Brief Introduction of Western Sahara

Western Sahara is one of the last remaining colonial-era wound on the face of Africa.  As the name suggests it is part of world largest (warm) desert Sahara. 
If we see its location it lies in the western part of North Africa. In the north, it has a straight border with Morocco. A small border with Algeria in the northeast and has longest border with Mauritania towards almost all of the south-east. Towards west, it has more than 1000 mile long coastline with the Atlantic Ocean. With the population just above the half million in the area larger than the United Kingdom, it is one of the most sparsely populated area in the world.
Colonial Background of Western Sahara
In 1884 European powers gathered at Berlin to distribute Africa among they self. Spain got some colonies and Western Sahara was the largest one. Morocco posed some resistance but in 1912 when Morocco became the protectorate of France things got settled. After fifty years in 1934 it became province of Spain named Spanish Sahara. After the World War 2 as all European colonial powers were experiencing pressure from both super powers and UN to release their colonies.

Morocco and Mauritania Claims

If we examine European colonies independence history after World War 2, France and Britain gave independence to most of their colonies within 15 years after WW2 whereas Portugal and Spain were reluctant and took relatively more time to give independence few of colonies they owned. Morocco got independence in 1956 from Spain and soon after it claimed Western Sahara. 
The other Western Sahara neighbor Mauritania who got independence from France in 1960 also had started to claim Western Sahara in 1957. The claim of both these parties were based on regional ties before the colonial era. Meanwhile like other regions in Africa nationalism emerged in Western Sahara as well.
In 1973 insurgency broke out by native Sahrawi rebellion group Polisario against Spanish rule lasted till 1975. At this point, there were four claiming parties Polisario front, Spain, Morocco and Mauritania. Polisario front was primarily backed by neighboring Algeria.  

International Court of Justice and Western Sahara

In 1974, Morocco went to International Court of Justice (ICJ) to legitimize its claims of sovereignty over Western Sahara. Later on, Mauritania joined it as well.
In 1975, after the death of long-lasting fascist ruler Franco, Spain was considering withdrew from Western Sahara due to increasing international pressure and Polisario rebellion. They were first intended to conduct a referendum asking indigenous people that would they like to join any neighboring country or an independent country. But the idea was postponed as a request by Morocco who was in the international court of Justice regarding its serenity over Western Sahara. The international court of Justice rejected the serenity claims of both Morocco and Mauritania over Western Sahara.

Green March

Soon after ICJ decision around 300,000 unarmed Morocco citizen entered into Western Sahara escorted by 20,000 Morocco troops under the planned Green March demonstration. It is referred as a black march by indigenous Sahrawi people. There was no response from Spanish troops. However Polisario front continued its resistance for independence. 

The Madrid Accord

As per forced by Morocco Spain held talks with both Morocco and Mauritania that result in The Madrid accord. As per Madrid accord, northern two third of Western Sahara went under the control of Morocco and Southern to Mauritania with Spain as an administrative role in the whole region. While taking control of their allotted areas both countries faced heavy resistance from Polisario front.

Independent Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic

In February 1976, Spain left Western Sahara and Polisario Front proclaimed the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic as their land. 

Mauritania Relinquished its Claim

In 1979, Mauritania signed a peace treaty with Polisario front and abandoned all its claim over Western Saharan in favor of them. But Morocco quickly occupied and claim the land left by Mauritania.          

African Union and Western Sahara Conflict

1982 African Union that at that time was called the Organization of African Unity recognized and admitted Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR - Western Sahara) as an independent country. Morocco was not happy at this and showed its resentment by quitting the Union. After 33 years, in 2015 it rejoined the Union.
Morocco Desert

Wall of Shame

Later in 1981, Morocco start constructing a wall that separates the Moroccan occupied West ran Sahara area from the Polisario front controlled areas. This 2700 kilometers long wall completed in 1987. This wall is famed as Wall of Shame, Secured by millions of mines and 100,000 Moroccan soldiers.

UN efforts to resolve Western Sahara Conflict

In 1991, after 16 years of conflict Morocco and Polisario front signed a cease-fire agreement. According to the agreement a referendum would take place within six months, despite various attempts referendum to realize agreement, the referendum has not conducted so far. Later years activities include Settlement Plan 1992, Houston Agreement 1997, Baker Plan I 2001 and Baker Plan II in 2003. Baker Plan two was endorsed by UN and accepted by the Polisario Front as well but Morocco rejected the plan stated that it would no longer be agreed for any solution with independence as an option.     

Current Status of Western Sahara

Around 75% of Western Sahara is controlled by Morocco including natural resources and almost all of the coastline. Polisario front controlled eastern area with the border of Algeria and Mauritania with the headquarter lies in Tindouf, Algeria. There are more than 100,000 Sahrawi people who have taken refuge in camps in Algeria. The area controlled by Polisario front is almost completely the uninhabitable desert that is the major reason behind the location of headquarter as well.
Western Sahara political map with flag - Green colored area under polisario front

Latest Developments 

  • In 2015, hopes for peaceful solution of the conflict rose again when Morocco rejoined the African Union unconditionally.
  • On May 31, 2016, long lasting first president of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic Abdel Aziz Mohamed died in Algeria
  • Recently On 1st of May 2018, Morocco cuts the diplomatic ties with Iran accusing it providing financial and armed support through its Middle East proxy Hezbollah
In the last decade support for Western Sahara as an independent country has reduced because of the significantly growing Morocco's economy, the fifth largest African economy has weekend the voice of so-called global peacemakers and no successful solution seems to be implemented in near future. Apparently only viable and moral solution is to conduct the referendum as per 1991 cease-fire and let the Sahrawi people to decide their future themselves.    


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