The Saharawi perspective on Africa's "last colony": the case of Western Sahara and the Morocco invasion
The Green March of 1975 displaced many Sahrawis from Western Sahara into Algerian refugee camps that are now considered some of the oldest and largest refugee camps in the world (Courtesy of Wikimedia)
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As a Saharawi, I would like to address Eddarhem’s notion of Western Sahara’s myth, which is an idea that Morocco never invaded Western Sahara, a myth that remains a painful reality since more than 40 years for my family and the rest of my people. For me as a Saharawi born in the refugee camps in southernwestern Algeria, Eddarhem’s words ring falsely.
First, Eddarhem’s claims to be speaking on behalf of the Saharawi, which is extremely misleading. Eddarhem, a member of the Moroccan parliament, is only speaking on behalf of Morocco’s interest and fueling its propaganda. Second, what is interesting about Eddarhem's article is that there is no mention of the Green March that displaced my family and my people 40 years ago.
In 1973, the Saharawi movement was founded, which was called the Polisario, and its aim was to liberate Western Sahara, which was then called Spanish Sahara. The Polisario attempted to liberate Western Sahara by following the example of their African neighbors who were fighting against their colonizers. However, that all changed when Spain signed a deal with both Mauritania and Morocco, breaking their promise to negotiate with the Polisario.
In 1975, Spain then signed an agreement known as the Madrid Agreement with Mauritania and Morocco, who claimed the territory. The agreement led to the Green March that left Mauritania occupying Western Sahara from the south and Morocco from the north. Not only did the event result in the killing and raping of thousands of Saharawis, but also displaced about 250,000 people who were forced to flee to Algeria and build one of the biggest refugee camps in the world, where they are still waiting to go back to their homes one day. The other half of the Saharawi population remains under the Morocco occupation of Western Sahara.
Despite the ceasefire in 1991 and Mauritania signing a peace treaty with the Polisario, the promise of a referendum to be held where the Saharawi will have a chance to choose self-determination or integration with Morocco was never fulfilled and Morocco still occupies Western Sahara.
Today, the refugee camps are built by the Saharawi women, each camp is well organized into districts. Each district has its own school, hospital and government offices. Despite the Moroccan propaganda that the Saharawi are held in captivity, the Saharawi in the refugee camps have the freedom to lead their lives the way they wish and to travel freely, locally and abroad. Saharawi women are considered to be one of the most liberated women in the region and despite the hardship that the Saharawi have endured these past 40 years, education has become their greatest weapon. Every year hundreds of Saharawi students are sent to study in countries such as Algeria, Spain, the USA and other parts of the world. As a Saharawi I have to say that I am proud to be the first Saharawi woman to pursue my studies in politics.
Despite the Saharawi criticism, when it comes to the Polisario policies, the Polisario was and still are the legitimate movement that represents Saharawi self-determination. Contrary to Eddarhem’s statement, the Polisario is not fueled by the communists, but is supported by countries such as Algeria, South Africa, Mexico and 84 more who recognize the movement’s legitimacy and Western Sahara as a free country. Western Sahara holds various embassies in countries that recognize the Saharawi cause. If the Polisario isn’t doing its job, it will be held accountable by the Saharawi because they are free to do so.
That is something the Saharawi living under the occupation of Morocco don’t have; women and children are exposed to all kinds of human rights violations by the Moroccan police and authority. A great example is Aminatu Haidar, a Saharawi human rights activist who was imprisoned, beaten and raped by the Moroccan secret service because she refused to list herself as a Moroccan. Sadly, what Ms. Haidar experienced is the reality of the Saharawi, who are living as second citizens in their own land.
In the past years, the Polisario and Morocco have engaged in various negotiations led by different UN envoys; however, all of them failed due to the simple reason that Morocco has its own agenda, which violates the agreement of the referendum and the Polisario have their own belief that the referendum should be upheld. Both parties have failed to find a solution to the long dispute. Who is paying the price? The Saharawi who are waiting for a solution.
Despite the uncertain future of the Saharawi and Western Sahara, the Saharawi are equipping themselves with education. The Saharawi hold the great hope that one day Western Sahara will gain its independence. But in the meantime what so many call a myth is actually a reality, and unless a solution is found Western Sahara will remain Africa’s last colony.
By Agaila Abba