Created: Friday, 03 March 2017 12:12
Written by FRFI
In 1975, following Spanish dictator Francisco Franco's death, the Spanish state abandoned its last large colony on Africa, Rio de Oro and Saguia el-Hamra - modern-day Western Sahara. However, instead of becoming independent, it was handed over to Morocco and Mauritania, which claimed the territory. The national liberation movement, the Polisario Front, unilaterally claimed the independence of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic and fought back with Soviet and Algerian aid. Polisario was able to defeat Mauritania, with whom it has good relations today. However, Morocco was able to drive out all armed resistance from the strategic locations and major towns. It did so thanks to the consistent military aid from Western Europe and the US. Also, the Moroccan state colonised the Western Sahara with civilians, outnumbering the natives, and built a wall for every area that it secured. The longest is now the ceasefire line, set in 1991 by the UN. About half of the Sahrawi population, around 200,000, lives in Western Algeria in refugee camps, where Polisario's headquarters are based.
Western Sahara is mostly desert, but is rich in various resources. Its coast has become an important source of tuna for Europe. In the interior, there are large phosphate mines and its soil is being tested for oil and natural gas. The Western Sahara's profitability is increased even further as the Moroccan king is, jointly with European companies such as Siemens, building renewable energy sources and farming areas. King Mohammed VI personally owns strategic sectors such as electricity, giving him an increased motivation to continue the occupation.
Western Sahara: an albatross on African Union’s conscience
At the 28th Summit meeting of the African Union (AU) held in Addis Ababa on 30 January 2017, Morocco’s readmission to the continental body generated heated discussion. At the end of the day the Kingdom of Morocco managed to win over sufficient member states on its side and it was allowed to join the fold unconditionally.
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