From Deep Within the Sahara Desert Comes a Cry for Freedom and Independence
By Don Rojas
(Director of Communications, Institute of the Black World 21st Century)
I first met the freedom fighters of Western Sahara way back in the early 1980s at a Summit meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement in New Delhi, India.
At that time I was the press secretary to the late Maurice Bishop, leader of the Grenada Revolution, and the delegates from the Polisario Front were seeking international support and recognition for their struggle to win independence for the people of Western Sahara, the former colony of Spain that had been ceded to Morocco in 1975. Back then, I was struck by their dignity, intelligence, discipline, highly evolved political consciousness and steel-like commitment to the liberation if their people.
Fast forward more than three decades and I’m at a Busboys and Poets Restaurant in Washington, DC last November chatting with Ambassador Mohammed Beisat, the representative of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic and the Polisario Front to the USA, Latin America and the Caribbean. He is requesting the Institute of the Black World to assemble and asking me to lead a delegation of African-American journalists and academics on a fact-finding visit to the Western Sahara refugee camps deep in the Sahara Desert near Southwestern Algeria.
The ambassador talks earnestly about how after some 40 years of struggle, using a combination of armed resistance and civil disobedience, his people continue with their quest to be free and independent. He explained how the Saharawi people are today displaced from their ancestral lands, which are now colonized by the Moroccan monarchy; families torn apart, some living in refugee camps in liberated territories, others in occupied territory and still others scattered across North Africa and Europe.
He laments that the tragic story of his people has been ignored by mainstream media in the United States and he argues persuasively that most African Americans simply are not aware that his country is the last remaining colony in Africa and that a delegation of journalists and academics can help to turn that public perception around. I accept his offer, indeed, his challenge to convene and lead such a delegation, viewing it as an act of solidarity with an oppressed people along a trajectory that stretched back to my involvement with the Grenada Revolution in the early 1908s.
So on Dec. 11, 2014, nine of us boarded planes in Washington, DC; New York, Chicago and Los Angeles and flew to the Algerian capital of Algiers, first to participate in an international solidarity conference with the people of Western Sahara and later to fly on to the refugee camps in the liberated territories where the Polisario Front administers a virtual “government in exile”, with a remarkable efficiency and a high-level of social and political organization. From Washington DC, I am joined by scholar/activist James Early, board member of the Institute for Policy Studies and eminent journalist George Curry, director of Black Press USA, the news service of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA).
Flying out from New York are Patrick Delices, professor of Africana Studies at Columbia University, Milton Alimadi, Publisher of the Black Star News, Linn Washington, professor of journalism at Temple University in Philadelphia and Demetria Irwin, freelance writer. Flying out of Chicago is Richard Muhammad, editor of the Final Call Newspaper and out of Los Angeles, videographer Brittany Washington.
For a week, our delegation lived among the Saharawis and what we witnessed was a noble and dignified people, proud of their cultural heritage and determined to continue struggling for their full and unconditional independence and self-determination.
The linguistic barriers, notwithstanding, we felt comfortable and welcomed by the warm, hospitable and generous families who hosted us in their modest tent homes sharing with us their food and their space, proudly showing off photo albums of their families in both the liberated and occupied zones, teaching us how to make tea Saharawi-style and speaking constantly of their yearning to one day live in a liberated Western Sahara.
Among the most highly educated people in Africa, the people of Western Sahara enjoy a 90% literacy rate with a high percentage of foreign-trained professionals—doctors, dentists, engineers, technicians, etc.
Islam is their religious faith but they reject the dogma of extremism and fundamentalism of jihadists, monarchies and caliphates, embracing instead the secular values of democracy, tolerance of religious and ideological differences, diversity, gender equality and pluralism.
As with most Saharan peoples living in the Great African Desert, the Sahrawi culture is mixed. It shows mainly Berber-Tuareg characteristics, like the privileged position of women identical to the neighboring Berber-speaking Tuaregs—and some additional Bedouin Arab and black African characteristics. Sahrawis are composed of many tribes and are largely speakers of the Hassaniya dialect of Arabic, and some of them still speak Berber in both of Morocco’s disputed and non-disputed territories. They express a strong identification as sons and daughters of Africa and enjoy the unanimous support of all the member states of the African Union and a vast majority of the members of the United Nations.
They may be displaced, living in refugee camps where the material conditions of daily life are extremely harsh; their country is illegally occupied and they do not enjoy the benefits that accrue from the rich natural resources of their lands and coastal waters—phosphates, uranium, fishing—all of which are exploited and appropriated by their Moroccans occupiers.
But in spite of all these adversities, the Saharawis refuse to comport themselves as a vanquished or defeated people. Their backs are straight, their heads held high and their eyes burn with the fierce desire to be a free and self-determined people living in their own sovereign state.
One of the most memorable moments of our visit to the refugee camps came on the day that President Barack Obama announced the normalization of relations between the USA and Cuba. Upon hearing the news, the people streamed out of their tents and mud-bricked huts waving the Polisario flag and chanting “Viva Obama, Viva Cuba.” And then they asked us to take back this simple request to the US President—“As the son of an African man, we ask you to do a similar thing, and help to bring freedom to the last remaining colony in Africa”.
Indeed, this is not an unreasonable or unrealistic request. Simple as it may sound, all President Obama needs to do as “the leader of the free world” is to publicly voice his support for the inalienable right of the people of Western Sahara to freedom and democracy and to pressure Morocco to abide by its promise to conduct a UN-supervised referendum that will allow the Saharawi people to determine their destiny by voting in a free and fair plebiscite for one of three simple options—full independence and sovereignty, full integration into Morocco or a quasi-independent, autonomous state.
What follows below is a multimedia collection (text, photos, videos) of reports, interviews, conversations, reflections and observations by the journalists and scholars who joined the delegation. Also assembled below are copies of recent African Union resolutions supporting the unconditional right of Western Sahara to independence and a Human Rights Watch report on the conditions in the refugee camps.
Over the course of several days, the journalists and scholars on our delegation conducted dozens of interviews with government officials, civic leaders, educators, health professionals, as well as with a cross-section of ordinary Saharawis.
They explored the history and structure of the Polisario Front, visited the military museum, examined the constitution and the institutional structures of the “government in exile” (Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic), delved into the past and present relations with the Moroccan kingdom, dissected the concrete demands of the Saharawi people, investigated the situation of political prisoners in Moroccan prisons and the fate of dozens of disappeared young activists. Their reports have appeared in recent weeks in several newspapers, magazines and Web sites published in the US.
Readers are invited to post their comments and opinions in the feedback section below.
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Index of Articles
Declaration on The Organization of Crans Montana Forum in the Occupied City of Dakhla, Western Sahara
Africa’s Last Colony–In the Western Sahara, an Independence Dispute Amid Claims of Torture.
Story and photos by Linn Washington Jr. (Special to the Philadelphia Daily News)
Cheikh Mahjoub has been beaten, tortured and imprisoned repeatedly for supporting independence in the Western Sahara, his homeland on the northwest coast of Africa.
His captors, he says, have been authorities from Morocco, the African nation that illegally colonized the Western Sahara in 1975.
“During one two-year time in prison, I was blindfolded and handcuffed most of that time,” said Mahjoub, 49, a human-rights activist for the Saharawi, the indigenous people of the Western Sahara.
“I have nightmares,” he added, “sometimes in the night and sometimes when I’m awake.”
Allegations of human-rights abuses against Mahjoub and other Saharawi — well documented in reports by the U.S. State Department since 2007 — have divided three Philadelphia area congressmen on the conflict between Morocco and the Saharawi.
U.S. Reps. Bob Brady and Chaka Fattah, both liberal Democrats, support the conservative Moroccan monarchy’s colonization of the Western Sahara. Suburban Philadelphia Republican U.S. Rep. Joseph Pitts, meanwhile, backs a mandate to hold a United Nations supervised referendum in the Western Sahara.
The referendum, which Morocco has reneged on since the U.N. ordered it in 1975, would allow the Saharawi to decide whether to remain under Moroccan control or become an independent country.
Brady, Fattah and Pitts have all cited Morocco’s status as one of America’s oldest allies to defend their positions.
Fattah said he has never heard of human-rights abuses by Morocco in the Western Sahara, and Brady did not return calls for comment.
But Pitts said Morocco’s long association with the U.S. “is exactly why we need to remind them to respect human rights, especially in Western Sahara.”
Members of Congress who support Morocco do not “understand the situation,” said Pitts, co-chairman of the Congressional Western Sahara Caucus. “The plight of the Saharawi people is not a high-profile issue” in America.
Rich in natural resources, the Western Sahara, often referred to as Africa’s Last Colony, is a desert nation of about 500,000 people that borders Morocco on the north, Mauritania on the south and Algeria on the east.
Once a free territory, the Western Sahara fell under the control of Spain in 1884, igniting a series of uprisings by the Saharawi that ended with Spain’s withdrawal in 1975.
That year, Morocco invaded the Western Sahara, despite the U.N.-ordered referendum, setting off a 16-year war with the Saharawi. The conflict ended with a 1991 cease-fire brokered by the U.N. that again called for a referendum that Morocco has never allowed.
Morocco, meanwhile, flooded the Western Sahara with settlers and built a 1,677-mile-long wall, enclosing its occupied area of the Western Sahara, including that nation’s prosperous phosphate and iron ore mines, coastal fisheries and major cities.
Morocco now controls 85 percent of the Western Sahara.
The Saharawi who remain say they endure discrimination from education to employment including brutal penalties for breaking Moroccan law that forbids any mention of independence for the Western Sahara.
A U.S. State Department report issued in February 2014, four months after Mahjoub’s most recent release from prison, criticized brutality by Morocco, including its use of “arbitrary and prolonged detention to quell dissent” among the Saharawi. That criticism personifies the plight Maalua Abedalhi endured in the Western Sahara.
Moroccan authorities imprisoned Abedalhi’s mom and her dad, who died in prison, for taking part in activities to support independence in the Western Sahara. Afterward, Abedalhi’s five brothers were arrested, then her and her grandmother were imprisoned for reasons that are not clear.
“I lived with my grandmother after my other family members were put in prison. Then, my grandmother and I were put in prison,” Abedalhi, 25, said recently during an interview at a conference on the Western Sahara in Algiers, Algeria. “My grandmother died one week after we were released from prison.”
Mahjoub was first imprisoned when he was 15. His older brother, also ensnared in the dragnet targeting Saharawi suspected of supporting independence, has not been seen since.
Hundreds of thousands of Saharawi displaced by the war or the Moroccan occupation live in surrounding nations and in five sprawling refugee camps outside Tindouf, a city in Southwestern Algeria.
“We are faceless to the world,” said Mohamed Salem, 29, who was born in and lives in a refugee camp. “We’ve been waiting over 20 years for change.”
Moroccan government representatives in the United States strongly reject charges of abuse, asserting that the Saharawi enjoy full rights and protections given to all citizens by the king.
Morocco considers the Western Sahara its ancient “Southern Provinces” — a sovereignty claim first raised in the late 1950s that is rejected by judicial bodies and governments internationally including the United States.
A 1975 ruling by the International Court of Justice, requested by Morocco, stated, “information before the Court does not support Morocco’s claim” of having past control over the Western Sahara.
Nevertheless, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI, said during a speech in November — marking the 39th anniversary of Morocco’s annexation of the Western Sahara — that his nation will continue its control “until the end of time.”
Mohamed Abdelaziz, president of the Western Sahara government-in-exile, said the U.S. and France (Morocco’s staunchest supporter) exhibit a “double standard” regarding adherence to international law when it comes to Morocco.
“In so many places of the world [the U.S. and France] go as far as bombing and economic sanctions to enforce international law. The U.S. should tell Morocco to respect international borders,” Abdelaziz said recently during an interview at his compound near Tindouf. “This issue is about basic justice”
Adala Hamadi smells the sea and feels a rush of memories whenever she thinks of Laayoune, the city in the Western Sahara where she grew up.
She remembers everything from the games she played as a child to the faces of friends whose fates are unknown. And she yearns to return.
But those days are long gone.
Today, home for Hamadi is a five-room house, with no running water, at a refugee camp in a bleak desert of southwest Algeria, where summer temperatures soar to 130 degrees and winter nights dip into the low 40s.
“We are in this place where even birds cannot live,” said Hamadi, 57, speaking in Arabic of the refugee camp over 300 miles from her hometown.
Hamadi, her husband, mother and three sisters, fled Laayoune in 1975 after Moroccan soldiers stormed the city. They survived repeated attacks by Moroccan jets by sneaking across the desert, under the cover of darkness, to avoid detection, until reaching safety in Algeria.
In limbo for nearly 40 years, Hamadi raised four children in the refugee camp, where she once served as an armed guard during the war with Morocco, and where she lost her husband who died after running over a land mine on the way back to the refugee camp from a trip to the Western Sahara in 1995.
While grateful for the generosity of Algeria, Hamadi prefers freedom in her homeland to her status as a “guest” in another land.
“In our land, we are relaxed psychologically,” she said. “Here, it is like an attack on my heart. There is no relaxation here.”
Having “drunk the milk of struggle,” Hamadi said she’s ready to fight Morocco for the independence of her homeland.
“It is our land not theirs,” she said. “We will fight for our land even if we are exterminated.”
Linn Washington Jr. is a journalism professor at Temple University’s School of Media and Communications. He was one of nine journalists selected to travel to Algeria in December on a fact-finding mission to examine the conflict over the Western Sahara. The trip was coordinated by the Institute for the Black World 21st Century, a Baltimore-based think tank.
The Real Reason Blacks “Can’t Breathe” — We Finance Our Own Oppression
El-Ouli Mustafa Sayed died in combat during liberation war — he founded Polisario when he was 23
Observations From The Streets Of America To The Sahara Desert
By the 8th century, Arab Muslims had penetrated several regions in Africa. Discernibly, with the Arab slave trade, they cosigned a strong Islamic imprint along with an Arabic colonial mindset in various regions in Africa with Morocco serving as a major slave trading port.
In spite of this enduring cultural imprint and protracted colonial mindset, the Saharawis of Western Sahara are crystal clear that they are first and foremost Africans before identifying with being Arabs, Muslims, Spaniards and any other socio-cultural description.
During my recent visit to the parts of Western Sahara that’s controlled by Polisario Front, the liberation movement, and the refugee camps in Algeria operated by their government-in-exile, the Saharawis indefatigably defended their Africanness and Blackness along with their quest for sovereignty and decoloniality.
Unfortunately, in the United States, slavery still exists psychologically as African-Americans tend to identify first and foremost not with race, but with gender, sexual preference, religious affiliation, and so forth.
Five decades ago, in “The Ballot or The Bullet,” Malcolm X declared, “They don’t hang you because you’re a Baptist; they hang you cause you’re black.” In our alleged “post racial society,” some African-Americans have yet to understand this powerful concept of “Race First”; nor do they fully understand that the United States is still a major depository for the financial, political, and cultural enslavement of Black folks.
As a result, in our alleged “post racial” society, African-Americans are still being killed in the United States because of their Africanness and Blackness; and the responses to such brutality have been to simply march.
For the most part, Black America “think” that by marching with Whites while wearing T-shirts with the words “I Can’t Breathe”, and holding their hands up, while their pants are down, will prevent the impending murder of peaceful, unarmed African-Americans.
And that such symbolism will somehow magically solve their economic and socio-political problems; just as the marches supposedly did in 1964. African-Americans might as well sing, “We Shall Overcome” in 2015 given the fact that they tend to prefer symbolism over substance and in many ways, slavery over sovereignty.
In regards to marching, Malcolm X in his “Autobiography” observed that “the marchers had been instructed to bring no signs – signs were provided. They had been told to sing one song: We Shall Overcome. They had been told how to arrive, when, where to arrive, where to assemble, when to start marching, the route to march.”
In the case of the current marches taking place throughout the United States for the unnecessary and senseless murders of Eric Gardner and Michael Brown, some marchers and protesters are provided with “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirts without understanding that the T-shirts are manufactured by a Canadian apparel company called Gildan which exploits the labor of Haitian workers by only paying them $6 per day.
As of 2014, Gildan Activewear Inc.’s (TSX:GIL) revenues reached nearly $2.2 billion with a second quarter net earnings of $79.2 million; which is a jump from the net profits of $72.3 million in 2013.
So it’s not only about derailing and manipulating the potential for a powerful movement away from slavery and towards sovereignty, but it’s also about a moment to make money off of the suffering of African-Americans; using Haitians and other people of color as slaves in White-owned sweatshops.
According to a 2013 Nielsen Report, the buying power of African-Americans is “$1 trillion and it is forecasted to reach $1.3 trillion by the year 2017.” Moreover, the Nielsen Report indicates the following: “Currently 43 million strong, African-American consumers have unique behaviors from the total market. For example, they’re more aggressive consumers of media and they shop more frequently. Blacks watch more television (37%), make more shopping trips (eight), purchase more ethnic beauty and grooming products (nine times more), read more financial magazines (28%) and spend more than twice the time at personal hosted websites than any other group.”
Therefore, it would be in the best interest of African-Americans if they use their capital along with their reading of financial magazines to create a decolonial system and institutions that can empower them, while preventing them from being murdered at a supernumerary rate by the hands of whites and other enslaved Blacks. Unfortunately, symbols trump the African-American cause for sovereignty over slavery.
Interestingly, in his classic “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa,” Pan-African scholar Walter Rodney illustrates the life of an African named Estaban Montejo who escaped a slave plantation in Cuba during the nineteenth century. Montejo indicated that Africans were enticed into chattel slavery by the color red by recalling the following:
“It was the scarlet which did for the Africans; both the kings and the rest surrendered without a struggle. When the kings saw that the whites were taking out these scarlet handkerchiefs as if they were waving, they told the blacks, ‘Go on then, go and get a scarlet handkerchief’ and the blacks were so excited by the scarlet they ran down to the ships like sheep and there they were captured”.
As part of the first African-American media-and-scholars delegation headed by Don Rojas –the former Minister of Information for the late Prime Minister Maurice Bishop of Grenada– to the Western Sahara refugee camps in December, I quickly observed that the Saharawis are not easily enticed by Western ornaments as they value substance not symbolism and sovereignty over slavery.
For the Saharawis it is not about hand gestures or fashionable trends; it is about reclaiming their sovereign rights and territories “by any means necessary.”
They routed the Spaniards who had colonized them and drove them back to Europe. They are determined to gain their independence from new occupier Morocco.
Moreover, for the Saharawis, it is a movement about sovereignty and decoloniality not a moment to make tons of money off of the pain and suffering of those who are victims of slavery and colonialism.
Thus, for the Saharawis, it is not simply about marching only; it is about reclaiming their land and establishing their own economic and socio-political system without being dependent on their oppressors.
And this is what the Polisario Front, the Saharawi’s national liberation movement, achieved in governing their refugee camps in Algeria as they work tirelessly towards sovereignty and decoloniality; while their African-American brothers and sisters finance their own oppression and enslavement in “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
Professor Patrick Delices is a political analyst/commentator for the Black Star News and the author of “The Digital Economy” in the Journal of International Affairs. For nearly a decade, Prof. Delices has taught Africana Studies at Hunter College.He also served as a research fellow for the late Pulitzer Prize recipient, Dr. Manning Marable at Columbia University. Prof. Delices can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sovereignty And Decoloniality — From The United States To Western Sahara
By Patrick Delices
Morocco’s King Mohammed VI– maintains colonial dominance over Western Sahara
Western Sahara is the last remaining colony in Africa; and here in the United States, African-Americans are still a colonized people.
Generally, colonialism is defined as the occupation of a sovereign territory along with the control and oppression of a sovereign group or nation by another where the oppressed group becomes totally dependent on the colonial state.
Moreover, in colonialism, one can witness the exploitation of land, labor and resources along with the oppression of a people where their sovereign rights are simply disregarded.
Colonialism in the 21st Century along with the unparalleled massacre of Africans, at home and abroad, is the most urgent challenge facing our world today. Thus, the only solution is sovereignty, the supreme power to control ones economics, politics, and culture along with the supreme authority to make sound financial and socio-political decisions in the best interest of ones group or nation.
To reclaim sovereignty, a colonized people must engage in decoloniality by any means necessary.”
To subrogate colonialism with sovereignty, there exists three crucial objectives to be met:
The first is the decoloniality of power where the ability to influence and control economics, politics, and culture must rest directly with the colonized not the colonizer.
Second, in the decoloniality of knowledge, the acquisition, dissemination, and understanding of facts, information, principles, and truths are not universally centered on a European worldview and western epistemology.
Last, in the decolonization of being, ones existence is not shaped by the undercurrents of superiority or inferiority nor does it configure within the zone of being which is reserved for Whites and the zone of non-being which is reserved for non-Whites. Put simply, non-Whites within the decoloniality of being are considered humans with inalienable rights not chattel with no rights.
However, within the current reality of the coloniality of being, Blacks at a global scale have no rights that the colonial state or group will acknowledge — and they are frequently reminded of this reality.
Therefore, in the coloniality of being, Black Lives Dont Matter to borrow from the now popular mantra “Black Lives Matter”; because they are considered non-beings and their rights are simply ignored. Consequently, African-Americans can be lynched, shot, or choked to death, at any given moment anywhere in the United States for no apparent reason; their killers continue to enjoy their lives with their families uninterrupted.
The most recent cases are the Ferguson killing of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson who was not indicted; and, here in New York, police officer Daniel Pantaleo was not indicted after the killed Eric Garner with a chokehold in front of scores of witnesses and then waved laughingly at the phone camera of one witness who recorded the killing.
The colonizer is still applying the 19th Century dictum of Chief Judge of the U.S. Supreme Court Roger B. Taney.
In his infamous decision in the Dred Scott case of 1857, Chief Justice Taney declared that Blacks were in fact not citizens and therefore had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.
In 1904, Booker T. Washington, in his essay, A Protest Against the Burning and Lynching of Negroes, insisted that the laws are as a rule made by the white people and their execution is in the hands of the white people; so that there is little probability of any guilty colored man escaping. If the law is disregarded when a Negro is concerned, it will soon be disregarded when a white man is concerned.
A better position might have expressed that the law also causes innocent Black men to be ensnared and wrongfully convicted; and allows Whites who commit crimes to get away as with the cases of officers Wilson and Pantaleo, and many other incidents throughout American history.
The rights of African-Americans are still being disregarded and as such, the words of Taney and Washington ring true today as evident in the lack of indictments and convictions regarding the critical killings of peaceful unarmed African-Americans by Whites.
Therefore, the United States is a nation of laws that protects the interest of whites not a nation of justice that respects the sovereign rights of African-Americans. Given that reality, African-Americans cannot expect justice from an unjust system where their rights are continually being violated by an unjust people.
I turn to the overseas case of Western Sahara to examine coloniality:
Similarly situated to the economic reality and socio-political development of African-Americans, the people of Western Sahara, the Saharawis, have no rights that the government of Morocco will validate.
On November 7, 2014, King Mohamed VI of Morocco, who oversees roughly 85 percent of Western Sahara as a colony, blatantly declared that Morocco’s sovereignty extends over the entire area and will remain inalienable until the end of time.
Likewise, in Western Sahara, the Saharawis sovereign rights have been usurped by Spain during the Berlin Conference in 1884 and now by Morocco; even though Spain still holds the rights to offshore licenses in the fishing and phosphate industries of Western Sahara along with other business transactions under the Madrid Accords.
However, since 1974, the Moroccan government colonized the most lucrative and profitable regions of Western Sahara, particularly the coastal fisheries and mineral rich territories that comprise mainly of phosphates, oil, sand, and salt which produce billions of dollars in exports annually for Morocco.
At the shores of Western Sahara, Morocco captures roughly 90% of cephalopods and sardines as the demand for fish oil and other seafood products have increased in Europe and Asia, which serve as Moroccos major export destinations along with the United States.
Morocco also exports sand from Western Sahara; the sand is normally used for construction projects in addition to sustaining and filling the worlds beaches.
Due to the colonization of Western Sahara, Morocco is the largest exporter of phosphate worldwide; producing about 27-30 million tons of phosphates annually. Phosphates is a major element in fertilizers which is crucial in feeding our global population.
The phosphates that is seized by Morocco comes from the 25,000 acres Boucraa mine which is near Laayoune, the capital of Western Sahara. The worlds largest fertilizer company is PCS Nitrogen Inc., which is a U.S. owned company that has a manufacturing facility in Trinidad.
However, the Boucraa mine is managed and operated by PhosBoucraa, a Moroccan subsidiary of the state-owned Office Chérifien des Phosphates where the U.S.-owned Potash Corporation, a major unit of PCS Nitrogen Inc., serves as its main customer.
Moreover, Agrium, a Canadian company uses $10 million worth of phosphates; while France redeems uranium from the Boucraa mine in Western Sahara.
Morocco currently imports oil as it does not produce hydrocarbons. Morocco has turned to Western Sahara for oil reserves and petroleum. As such, Morocco contracted TOTAL, a French company along with Island Oil and Gas, a company in Ireland, and Kerr-McGee, a company from the United States to drill and extract oil in Western Sahara.
During my travel in December, 2014, as part of a fact-finding mission to the Saharawis’ refugee camps in Algeria as commissioned by Dr. Ron Daniels Institute of the Black World, a U.S. oil company, Kosmos Energy, commenced its drilling venture for oil in Western Sahara on December 19, 2014.
What’s more, salt is being produced in Western Sahara by Crystal Mountain Sel Sahara which is also a U.S. company while another U.S. company, UPC Renewables, is manufacturing wind farms in Western Sahara as it exports energy from there.
Morocco uses the revenues produced by coastal fisheries and mineral rich territories to maintain its colonial control over Western Sahara.
Here the U.S. uses the land, labor and resources along with Black consumerism to maintain African-American dependency.
And the U.S. has been a supporter of Morocco’s colonialism in Western Sahara.
Note: Decoloniality is not the same as Decolonization. See reference for “Coloniality did not disappear with decolonization: the nineteenth century end of territorial domination of the Americas by Iberian nations, or the twentieth century end of territorial domination of Asia and Africa by other European nations.”
Professor Patrick Delices is a political analyst/commentator for the Black Star News and the author of The Digital Economy, Journal of International Affairs. For nearly a decade, Prof. Delices has taught Africana Studies at Hunter College.He also served as a research fellow for the late Pulitzer Prize recipient, Dr. Manning Marable at Columbia University. Prof. Delices can be contacted at email@example.com
Western Sahara – A Sign of Africa’s freedom struggle
BY RICHARD B. MUHAMMAD | LAST UPDATED: FEB 3, 2015 – 1:39:40 PM
TINDOUF, Algeria (Boujdour Refugee Camp)—Khadaja Mami believes leaders of the Polisario Front, which represents her people, are right to press the United Nations to make Morocco obey resolutions denying its right to occupy her homeland and allow her people to vote to decide their future.
She wasn’t born when her mother fled Western Sahara as Morocco invaded the North African territory and the Saharawi people fled to nearby Algeria.
Saharawis say they suffered cold, hunger, deaths and napalm dropped by French planes supporting the Moroccan army. In the panic, refugees fled with nothing as belongings and even children were left behind. Families were separated.
Yet Khadaja, whose father died when a vehicle struck a landmine planted as part of the conflict, is resolute as are her mother and her sister.
“We have faith in our leaders, we believe they are doing the right thing and we support them,” Khadaja told Black journalists who stayed with her family as part of a trip to learn more about the Saharawi and their struggle.
However, she admitted, patience is growing short.
The young are tired of peaceful demonstrations, tired of over 20 years living in exile and ready to strike back at Moroccans, she said.
While Khadaja and her mother and sister live in camps in western Algeria under Polisario, over 100,000 Saharawis live in parts of Western Sahara controlled by Morocco. They suffer from rights abuses, discrimination and imprisonment. Videos and news reports aired over the fledgling Saharawi Republic television station broadcast videos of Saharawis being beaten by Moroccan security forces. Women bear their legs, backs, arms and sides to show bruises and wounds. Images of running battles between Saharawis and Moroccan police are shown as well. The main weapons appear to be rocks versus police vehicles, shields and batons in these clashes.
Polisario controls small portions of Western Sahara and administers refugee camps in nearby Algeria while Morocco controls the majority of the territory. The territories are separated by a huge, fortified, sand wall and heavily mined area that stretches along 1,600 miles. Morocco controls about 85 percent of Western Sahara and has an estimated 100,000 troops in the region along with settlers moved in by the government, which provides jobs and subsidies for those willing to emigrate.
Human Rights Watch, in a report released Jan. 29, cited continued human rights violations suffered by Saharawis under Moroccan rule.
A long struggle for self-determination
While the continent suffers under neocolonialism and corporate domination, the Western Sahara has been unable to take basic steps other countries took with the official end of the colonial period.
Two decades ago the Polisario Front, which represents Saharawis, suspended armed struggle with Morocco over this patch of land with the North Atlantic Ocean and Morocco to the north, Algeria to the east and Mauritania to the south.
The Western Sahara, which is often called “Africa’s Last Colony,” should have been on the road to independence when other nations achieved self-governance with the end of the colonial period in Africa.
Instead its colonial master, Spain, abandoned its duty to organize a referendum and signed a pact with France, Morocco and Mauritania. The agreement allowed Morocco and Mauritania to claim parts of Western Sahara. But Saharawis declared themselves independent February 27, 1976. They fought the Mauritanians and the Moroccans. Mauritania eventually abandoned the fight and settled on a peace treaty. The Polisario Front fought Morocco for 16 years. A ceasefire was reached in 1991 and since then a standoff has ensued.
Morocco claimed the region as part of its pre-colonial state but those claims were rejected in international arenas and the traditionally nomadic Saharawis rejected their rule. United Nations rulings call for giving Saharawis the right to vote to determine their future, but elections have never been held. Polisario blames Morocco and her Security Council benefactor France for the impasse.
Over 80 countries and international bodies, including the African Union and the European Union, have recognized the Western Sahara, officially the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, as a nation. Western Sahara’s government sits in exile in Algeria. The government includes government ministers, diplomats, elected representatives at the local level as well as governors, members of Parliament and a president.
Morocco marched 300,000 people into the area in 1976, after an international court rejected its claim. The United Nations still lists the Western Sahara as a non-self-governing territory with Morocco as the administrator.
Ambassador Mohamed Yeslem Beisat, who is based in Washington, D.C., and represents Polisario and the Saharawis, is hopeful that 2015 can be a breakthrough year. Morocco recently announced it would cooperate with the United Nations in good faith and would meet with UN representative Christopher Ross after years of stonewalling, Amb. Beisat said in an interview. After some diplomatic arm twisting, promises to resume shuttle diplomacy have been made, he added.
Those promises, however, mean nothing if pressure is not continually applied, said the ambassador. He likens the fight for self-determination to efforts to end apartheid in South Africa—nothing happened without public campaigns and international pressure. Morocco has sabotaged peace efforts since 1991, backed by veto-wielding France in the Security Council, said Amb. Beisat.
Reports of rights violations
Morocco has been very brutal in response to peaceful demonstrations since 2005 and is guilty of torture, kidnapping and inhumane treatment, he continued. Those violations call for expansion of the United Nations peace mission for Western Sahara to include rights violations, argued Amb. Beisat. The current mandate is largely limited to maintaining the ceasefire and facilitating stalled elections. International law obliges the United Nations to monitor and report on human rights around the world, but the United Nations does not care about human rights in Western Sahara, he said.
According to Human Rights Watch World Report 2015, Morocco has enacted some legal reforms, but military courts continue to deny defendants trials. “Moroccans are denied rights to peaceful expression, assembly, and association. Local free speech groups and Sahrawi human rights associations are withheld legal recognition. Women and girls continued to face discrimination in family codes,” said Human Rights Watch.
“Courts imprisoned demonstrators and outspoken critics on the basis of repressive speech laws or following unfair trials. Beginning in July, 2014, authorities blocked scores of peaceful private and public meetings organized by various Moroccan human rights associations, reversing a long-standing tolerance of such gatherings. The authorities also refused both new and long-standing human rights groups legal recognition. In Western Sahara, police blocked all public gatherings thought to be organized by opponents of continued Moroccan rule over the disputed territory,” Human Rights Watch added.
Maria Bensaid of the Moroccan Embassy in Washington, D.C., responded to a Final Call request for an interview by requesting questions in writing and a formal interview request. Sometimes we can answer these questions right away, other times we have to get answers from the foreign affairs office, she explained.
Morocco, however, has generally denied accusations of rights abuses and clung to its claims on Western Sahara despite international declarations that deny those claims. Morocco has also accused Polisario of rights abuses and slavery, but these accusations have not been received with much credibility.
In a report issued last October, Human Rights Watch reported some forms “of slavery persist in the camps in a few isolated cases … despite the Polisario’s long-standing call for its eradication and enactment of a law criminalizing the practice. The victims tend to be dark-skinned Sahrawis and the slavery takes the form mainly of non-voluntary housework, according to the Freedom and Progress association, an anti-slavery group formed by a group of camp residents.”
Human Rights Watch also found camp residents generally have freedom of movement and its investigators were able to freely talk with camp residents. UN officials said access to the refugee camps is easy but access on the Moroccan side is much more difficult.
Morocco has its own problems with race and human trafficking. The U.S. State Department reported, “Morocco is a source, destination, and transit country for men, women, and children who are subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. … Men, women, and an increasing number of children primarily from sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia enter Morocco voluntarily but illegally with the assistance of smugglers; once in Morocco, some of the women and older girls are coerced into prostitution or, less frequently, forced into domestic service. International organizations and local NGOs report that unaccompanied children and women from Cote d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Nigeria are highly vulnerable to sex trafficking and to a lesser extent forced labor in Morocco. Some women from Cote d’Ivoire, Philippines, and Indonesia are recruited to work as domestic workers in Morocco; some report being subjected to conditions of forced labor, including withheld wages and passports and physical abuse at the hands of their employers.”
Human trafficking can include involuntary servitude, slavery or practices similar to slavery, debt bondage, and forced labor.
According to a State Department Trafficking in Persons Report, Morocco was rated as a Tier 3 Watch List country, meaning “Morocco does not comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. Despite these measures, the government did not demonstrate evidence of overall increasing efforts to address human trafficking since the previous reporting period.”
Morocco is also responsible for 42 percent of the world marijuana supply, according to the United Nations. Illegal growing accounts for about 10 percent of Morocco’s economy, about $10 billion, according to the Moroccan Network for the Industrial and Medicinal Use of Marijuana. The Moroccan government has undertaken measures to stop marijuana production and there have been discussions of marijuana legalization for medicinal purposes.
Saharawi leaders accused Moroccan leaders of ties to the illegal trade and, they argue, continued limbo for Western Sahara hurts a region already facing instability. A free Western Sahara could be a strong partner to help combat drug trafficking, human trafficking and terrorism, they said.
The smugglers change hats but persist in illegal and destabilizing activity, said Saharawi leaders in talks with Black reporters.
Peaceful struggle versus violent overthrow
There is also fear as young people, and as the speaker of the Saharawi Parliament noted, old men tire of negotiations, violence could be a tool of last resort. They don’t feel Islamist groups are making headway, but the threat is there.
And there is not only the threat of radicals, but of seeds planted by a world community and media that fail to respect peaceful struggle.
One bomb by one madman brings media attention and discussion of a group’s philosophy and its cause, said a frustrated Amb. Beisat. “ ‘Plant bombs or kill innocent people or we don’t hear you.’ It’s a very dangerous political message to send. Polisario has spent considerable resources on strong belief in the peaceful process and legality but on the ground there is frustration,” he said. “We think the time has arrived to solve this issue.”
The simple answer, according to UN resolutions, is a simple referendum, a vote for integration into Morocco, autonomy under Morocco, or independence, the ambassador said. Voter eligibility has been determined by a census conducted by the United Nations and since balloting would only include a couple hundred thousand people, it could be done in two weeks, he said.
France: The colonial power behind the throne?
One obstacle is France’s role and support for Morocco, tied to “colonial thinking and calculations. The region was colonized by France two centuries ago with the exception of Western Sahara, which is why France is doing everything to side with Morocco right and wrong. France has contradicted itself, calls itself a democracy, why the blind eye on human rights and violations of human rights in Western Sahara?” the ambassador asked.
France, he continued, benefits from businesses in Morocco with French banks, French companies integral to the Moroccan economy from banking to telecommunications, mining, tourism and agriculture. “France has a colonial way of thinking, seeing Africa as its backyard and Morocco as a proxy, as a satellite state for France,” he said.
With Western Sahara supported by Algeria, France is angry because of her humiliating defeat at the hands of Algeria’s freedom fighters, the ambassador said. “France wishes to use the Moroccan regime to settle those old scores.”
The Western Sahara is a mineral rich territory, which includes phosphates used in agriculture, possible gas and oil deposits and coastal fisheries. Amb. Beisat said the region also may have iron and copper deposits to be exploited.
Morocco is stealing and plundering the resources of the region through its illegal occupation and industry, which includes fishing and phosphates, often with the riches exported to Europe, said the diplomat.
A European court should soon be ruling on illegal activities, which is why his government is urging businesses to wait until the question of self-determination is resolved. Shady deals with Morocco only help to escalate the conflict, he said.
The ambassador also hopes to connect with Blacks in America as Western Sahara has received recognition from the African Union and many nations in sub-Saharan Africa. “Before we are anything, we are African,” he told the Black journalists and other members of the delegation. “We are very grateful for the help, of the support, from our brothers in the continent. … We take this occasion to send a message to all our brothers and sisters in the United States to help us in our legitimate struggle for self-determination.”
ASSEMBLY OF THE UNION
Twenty-Fourth Ordinary Session
30 – 31 January 2015
Addis Ababa, ETHIOPIA
ON THE ORGANIZATION OF CRANS MONTANA FORUM IN THE OCCUPIED CITY OF DAKHLA, WESTERN SAHARA
We, the Heads of States and Governments of the African Union, having met at our Twenty Fourth Ordinary Session of the AU Assembly in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from 30 to 31 January 2015;
Taking Note of the recommendation of the Executive Council to issue a declaration on the organization of Crans Montana Forum in the occupied city of Dakhla (Western Sahara) on 12-14 March 2015 ;
Recalling all decisions and resolutions adopted by the OAU/AU and UN on the Situation in Western Sahara;
Bearing in mind the efforts undertaken by the UN and AU to achieve a just and lasting solution of the question of Western Sahara in accordance with the UN Charter and Resolution 1514 adopted in 1960 related to the decolonisation;
- REAFIRM the decision EX.CL/Dec.758(XXII) endorsed by the Assembly of the Union which inter alia “ Requests the Commission to take all the necessary measures for the organization of a referendum for self-determination of the people of Western Sahara in compliance with the relevant OAU/AU Decisions and UN Resolutions” and the Assembly decision (Assembly/AU/Dec.536(XXIII)), adopted by the 23rd Ordinary Session of the Assembly held in Malabo on June 2014
- EXPRESS support to the efforts made by the Chairperson of the AUC and the AU Special Envoy, the former President of Mozambique, H.E Joaquim Chissano, in coordination and complementarity with the efforts made by the UNSG Personal Envoy on Western Sahara, H.E. Ambassador Christopher Ross;
- CONSIDER that the organisation of any international conference in the current circumstances in Western Sahara is in contradiction with the efforts made by the International Community to resolve the conflict in Western Sahara, and can only create an atmosphere of confrontation in the territory;
- URGE the Swiss International Organization“Crans Montana” and all other organizers to cancel the meeting planned in the occupied city of Dakhla (Western Sahara), as it is a grave violation of the International Law;
- CALL UPON the AU Member States, African Civil Society and all Organisations not to participate in this Forum, scheduled from 12th to the 14th March 2015 in the occupied city of Dakhla (Western Sahara);
- REQUEST the Commission to take all necessary measures to ensure the follow up of this declaration.
The Freedom House Report on Western Sahara
Political Rights: -2 / 40 [Key]
Civil Liberties: 7 / 60
After Cuba, Hope Rises in Palestine and the Western Sahara
December 22, 2014
By George E. Curry
The loudest shouting after the announcement of a thaw in the U.S.-Cuba icy relationship may not have been in Havana or Washington, but in Ramallah, the de facto capital of the Palestinians in the West Bank about 10 miles north of Jerusalem and among the Sahrawis exiled in Morocco, Mauritania and five refugee camps near the city of Tindouf in southwestern Algeria.
Of the two struggles, the Palestinian plight is the better known.
Joel Beinin and Lisa Hajjar, writing for the Middle East Research and Information Project, observed: “Jewish claims to this land are based on the biblical promise to Abraham and his descendants, on the fact that the land was the historical site of the ancient Jewish kingdoms of Israel and Judea, and on Jews’ need for a haven from European anti-Semitism.
“Palestinian Arab claims to the land are based on their continuous residence in the country for hundreds of years and the fact that they represented the demographic majority until 1948. They reject the notion that a biblical-era kingdom constitutes the basis for a valid modern claim. If Arabs engage the biblical argument at all, they maintain that since Abraham’s son Ishmael is the forefather of the Arabs, then God’s promise of the land to the children of Abraham includes Arabs as well. They do not believe that they should forfeit their land to compensate Jews for Europe’s crimes against Jews.”
The already tense situation has worsened with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pressing for a new law that would declare Israel the nation-state of the Jewish people.
He said, “The state of Israel provides full equal rights, individual rights, to all its citizens, but it is the nation state of one people only – the Jewish people – and of no other people. And therefore, in order to bolster the status of the state of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people, I intend to submit a basic law that will anchor this status.”
Israel has decided to dissolve the Knesset and hold new elections on March 17.
For the past 41 years, there has been a major dispute over who should control the Western Sahara, land that has been annexed by Morocco. Like Cuba, the Western Sahara is a former Spanish colony.
The U.S. State Department notes: “Morocco claims the Western Sahara territory and administers Moroccan law through Moroccan institutions in the estimated 85 percent of the territory it controls. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro (Polisario), an organization that has sought independence for the former Spanish territory since 1973, disputes Morocco’s claim to sovereignty over the territory. There has been no census since the Spanish left the territory…
“In 1988 Morocco and the Polisario agreed to settle the sovereignty dispute by referendum. The parties did not resolve disagreements over voter eligibility and which options for self-determination (integration, independence, or something in between) should be on the ballot; consequently, a referendum has not taken place.
“Since 2007 there have been various attempts to broker a solution in face-to-face
negotiations between representatives of the two sides under UN auspices, most
recently facilitated by the UN secretary-general’s personal envoy for the Western
Sahara, Christopher Ross. Morocco has proposed autonomy for the territory
within the kingdom; the Polisario has proposed a referendum in which full
independence would be an option. During a ninth round of informal talks held
March 11-13  in Manhassett, New York, each side maintained its position, as in
previous rounds, unwilling to enter into negotiation.”
Sahrawis, the indigenous population, are living in Morocco and neighboring Algeria and Mauritania.
Under the sponsorship of both the Moroccan government and the opposing POLISARIO authority, I have seen both sides of the Western Sahara dispute up close. I have visited the cities of Dakhla and Laayoune in the Western Sahara, where Morocco controls 85 percent of the land. I returned to the U.S. Sunday after spending a week in Algeria, including several nights in the home of a family in the Boujdour Refugee Camp near Tindouf. In November, I spent two weeks in Israel and the Palestinian territories as part of an African American delegation sponsored by the Interfaith Peace-Builders.
There are some interesting parallels between the struggles of the Palestinians and the Sahrawis, both of whom are in a fight to regain their native land. Borrowing a page from Israel, Morocco erected a berm, a sand wall, to separate most of the Western Sahara from the remainding land controlled by POLISARIO. I will be writing two separate series on the Western Sahara dispute and the Palestinian issue for the NNPA News Service in coming weeks.
In the meantime, hope abounds among the Palestinians and Sahrawis that after a diplomatic breakthrough with Cuba, the U.S. will turn its attention toward their plight.
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook.
Africa’s Last Colony: Sahwaris Want Barack Obama’s Help (From the Huffington Post)
Posted: 01/16/2015 12:10 pm EST Updated: 01/16/2015 12:59 pm EST
By Milton Alimadi
Last month I watched President Obama’s announcement of plans to normalize U.S. relations with Cuba on CNN while I was in a refugee camp in the Sahara Desert. Some of the locals, Western Saharan refugees in Algeria, erupted in celebration, “Viva Cuba!,” “Viva Castro!” and “Viva Obama” they chanted.
The camps are home to tens of thousands of Sahwaris, as people from the Western Sahara are known. The Western Sahara is a country located on the upper north-west coast of Africa. It’s 103,000 square miles, about the size of Colorado.
Sahwaris haven’t had much to celebrate since 1976 when 80% of their country was gobbled up by Morocco after the former colonial power Spain was driven out following many decades of a war of independence waged by Sahwaris, traditional nomads.
The five refugee camps are located in Algeria on the border with parts of Western Sahara that’s not under Moroccan control. They are operated by the Sahwari refugees like an independent country.
The Sahwaris are renowned for their discipline, resilience and determination. Here in the camps, they have a government-in-exile that actually functions — not merely on paper. There’s a president, Mohammed Abdelaziz and a cabinet of ministers. There’s a judiciary and there’s a Parliament whose 64 members are 32% female.
I met two very articulate female ministers, Kheira Boulahi, minister of Professional Training, and Khadija Hamdi, the minister of culture; they both outlined their visions of a free and liberated Western Sahara. The women developed their independence over the years as they took care of homes when men were out fighting for the country’s liberation; some women also became guerrilla fighters.
When the Sahwaris fled to the refugee camps to avoid bombing raids by the Moroccan airforce in 1976, their literacy rate was only 10%; today it’s estimated at about 90% according to a U.N. official who says he’s never met such a determined people. “The Sahwaris never complain,” he says. “Even if there is food shortage they say ‘It’s God’s will.”
Sahwaris believe education is the key to building their nation and send many of their daughters and sons for university education overseas to countries that offer scholarships. They have a special relationship with Cuba, which has trained more than 5,000 engineers, doctors, teachers and other professionals through the years, at no cost.
They also share a common language with Cubans, having both been colonized by Spain. I visited a hospital that has 15 doctors; eight are Sahwaris and seven are Cuban volunteers.
The Sahwaris also have their own police force — they hasten to point out that serious crime is so rare that the last known murder case was decades ago. The camps are operated by the Polisario Front, which is a political organization with a small but vaunted military wing. The Polisario Front fought Morocco, whose army outnumbers the Sahwaris’s 10-to-1, to a stalemate.
That war ended in 1991 when the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the predecessor to the African Union (AU), working with the United Nations, helped broker a ceasefire.
The peace deal was to be followed by a transitional period during which the UN would be involved in administration and security — a referendum was to be conducted so Sahwaris could decide whether they wanted independence or to become a part of Morocco. On April 29, 1991 U.N. Security Council resolution 690 (1991) created a mission, whose acronym is MINURSO, to conduct the referendum and monitor the ceasefire.
The referendum was to take place in January 1992; 23 years ago.
Since resolution 690 set no deadline for implementation, Morocco, backed by its former colonial power France, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, has stalled the referendum.
Morocco settled more than 500,000 of its own citizens in the occupied territory, meaning they now outnumber the 300,000 Sahwaris there. But when the United Nations announced a list of 84,251 eligible voters for the referendum only indigenous Sahwaris were included.
The Sahwaris are chafing and even though they’re renowned for their patience many are now openly talking about the possibility of another war as the only way out of the stalemate. Some note the irony that the Sahwaris’ peaceful resistance against Morocco’s occupation is ignored by the world while acts of terrorism by groups such as Al-qaeda and ISIS garner global media attention.
Sahwaris also complain about the brutal regime Morocco operates on the 80% part of Western Sahara that it occupies. Peaceful protests demanding for independence are violently disrupted by Moroccan security agents.
Sahwari activists in the camps showed me video recordings showing plainclothes men with longs sticks beating, punching and kicking demonstrators, including teenagers, and women who were bloodied. Activists who distribute flyers calling for an end to Moroccan occupation are arrested and later convicted on trumped up charges of inciting violence against Moroccan security forces; the convictions carry sentences of 20 to 30 years in Moroccan prisons.
Since MINURSO’s mandate doesn’t include human rights, Moroccan security agents are able to attack Sahwaris during protests, in plain view of U.N. personnel. MINURSO, whose budget is $60.4 million as of October 2014, is barred from even documenting the plain-view atrocities let alone investigating such cases.
MINURSO’s deployment includes: 230 total uniformed personnel; 26 troops; 4 police officers; 200 military observers; 87 international civilian personnel; 165 local civilian staff; and, 13 United Nations Volunteers.
How is it that people allover the world know about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the long struggle over occupied land but hardly anything about the Sahwaris’s resistance to Moroccan colonialism?
Here’s some background:
The Western Sahara became a Spanish colony in 1884 when European powers met at The Berlin Conference and carved up the African continent; Britain and France swallowed up the largest territories.
The Sahwaris, a free spirited nomadic people were indomitable; they fought against the Spaniards for decades. Many of their leaders were killed during the struggle before they started capturing sophisticated weapons from the Spaniards and turning the tide.
By 1963 when most African countries began to win their independence, the United Nations designated Western Sahara as a non-sovereign territory and called on Spain to end colonial rule. In 1973 the Sahwaris, led by El-Ouali Mustapha Sayed, a 23-year old law school student who abandoned his studies in Morocco, founded a new liberation army, the Polisario Front, inspired by the legacy of the independence leaders killed earlier.
In 1975 the Moroccan government organized what became billed as The Green March, when 350,000 people accompanied by 20,000 soldiers marched into Western Sahara.
Rather than yield independence to the Sahwaris as called for by the United Nation and the OAU, that same year, Spain struck a sneaky deal with Morocco and Mauritania, two neighboring countries that had salivated for decades to control mineral-rich Western Sahara; it was called the Madrid Accord.
In the deal, Morocco to the north, and Mauritania to the south, split up the Western Sahara. Spain was also to continue enjoying 35% ownership stake in the Western Sahara’s phosphates production while Morocco and Mauritania were to divide the remaining 65%.
The Polisario Front rejected the Madrid Accord. On February 27, 1976 it declared the Sahwari Democratic Republic (SDR), which is today recognized by most African countries and the AU. The Front continued guerrilla warfare against Morocco and Mauritania. After a series of defeats Mauritania renounced its claim over Western Sahara and withdrew in 1979; that same year the U.N. also recognized Polisario as the legitimate representative of the Sahwaris.
Morocco on the other hand simply dug in. It poured thousands of troops into the country and launched aerial attacks, killing civilians and forcing tens of thousands to flee to Algeria, where they ended up in the camps.
Morocco then annexed 80% of the country and built a fortified wall 1,660 miles miles long separating the occupied territory from the 20% now under Polisario’s control. The wall is manned by 100,000 troops at a daily cost of several millions of dollars. Morocco also created a humanitarian and environmental catastrophe by laying an estimated seven million landmines alongside the perimeter of the wall.
The desert sands sometime shift and carry the landmines to Sahwari populated areas in the liberated zone; as a result more than 2,500 Sahwaris have either been injured or killed, human rights activists say. It could take decades to clear the mines even after a final peace deal.
The wall has also split up Sahwari families and it’s a daily reminder of the Moroccan occupation. About 300,000 Sahwaris live on the Moroccan-occupied territory; about an equal number live in the refugee camps; and, nearly another 300,000 live in neighboring countries or across the Mediterranean, in European countries.
Beyond territorial ambitions Morocco’s primary motives for occupying Western Sahara are economic. Morocco exports as much as $15 billion worth of sea food annually, with Western Saharan catches accounting for 70%, according to Prof. Carlos Ruiz Miguel, who studies the region and teaches at Universidad de Santiago de Compostela (USC), in Spain. Sahwaris complain of discrimination in employment; an estimated 95% of people employed in the fishing industry are “settlers” from Morocco.
Prof. Miguel estimates that Moroccan exports of phosphates from Western Sahara amounts to about $600 million, annually, even though Moroccan official figures claim it’s only $300 million. Morocco is also negotiating deals with Western companies to prospect for oil, gas and other mineral deposits.
What are the prospects for Western Sahara’s independence? Will Morocco ever allow the U.N. to conduct a referendum that it knows it would lose? Is Morocco dragging the crises for however long it takes for the eligible voters on the original U.N. list to all die?
The Sahwaris, renowned desert fighters, are confident of victory if they ever have to revert to war.
During a visit to their national war museum in the refugee camps, Sahwari guides proudly showed off rows of tanks and armored vehicles captured from the Moroccan military before the 1991 treaty. Some of the vehicles were made in the U.S.; some made in Germany; and, some in South Africa during the apartheid period.
A Polisario official recalled that during the war with Morocco their fighters once captured 80 South-African made armored vehicles. Polisario gave 40 of of the vehicles to the African National Congress (ANC) which was then battling the racist regime in South Africa and gave the rest to SWAPO, which was fighting for Namibia’s liberation from South African occupation.
Polisario also trained some of the ANC’s fighters and can now boast of having friends in high places in post-apartheid South Africa.
One of those friends is a retired South African general, Keith Mokoape, who attended a three-day gathering in Algiers, the capital of Algeria that brought together supporters of the Sahwaris’ quest for independence, from December 13 to 15, 2014. There were mostly academics, human rights activists, and parliamentarians from various African and European countries.
After formal presentations where speakers read prepared remarks about “unwavering” and “steadfast” support for the Sahwaris’s right to self determination, I spoke with the retired South African general, Mokoape.
I wanted to know what South Africa’s position would be if Polisario, faced with Moroccan intransigence over the referendum, were to resume its armed struggle?
“The people of Western Sahara would have the right to resume their armed struggle. And our position in South Africa is that we would support them if they resumed the armed struggle,” was the blunt response from Mokoape.
Mohamed Abdelaziz, the Sahwaris’s president, concedes that younger Sahwaris yearn for action. Yet, men of his generation also remember the pain of warfare and believe it would have to be a last resort. Abdelaziz took command of Polisario’s fighting force after its founder El-Ouali Mustapha Sayed was killed during military action against Mauritania in 1976.
When I met President Abdelaziz in his modest office in the refugee camps, he said he was very impressed with President Obama’s decision about Cuba and that he believes the U.S. can play a decisive role in Western Sahara.
“Obama has taken a courageous action,” he told me. “Here, we are not asking for much. We are asking for the right to vote for self-determination. We would respect the vote of our people,” he added.
President Abdelaziz made it clear that even though he was certain the vote would be for independence, Polisario would accept the outcome if Sahwaris actually decided that their country should become a part of Morocco, in the referendum.
“We ask that President Obama make a statement supporting our right to self-determination,” Abdelaziz concluded. “We must decide for ourselves.”
Sahwaris don’t believe France would support Morocco if President Obama made a statement explicitly calling for the referendum. I contacted The White House to find out whether the U.S. still supported the referendum and was referred to the State Department.
“As part of the UNSC, the U.S. recognizes the referendum as a potential approach,” a State Department official said, referring the the referendum called for by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in 1991, “but we also recognize the autonomy plan as a potential approach, as noted in UNSCR 2152 (2014).”
He concluded: “Above all we seek a peaceful, sustainable, and mutually-agreed solution to the Western Sahara conflict.”
Morocco has proposed an autonomy plan where Western Sahara would remain a part of Morocco; Sahwaris insist that the autonomy option also be decided in the referendum.
So will there be a “mutually-agreed solution” as the U.S. suggests?
In a bellicose speech marking the 39th anniversary of The Green March, on November 7, 2014, Morocco’s King Mohamed VI said, of Western Sahara “Morocco’s sovereignty extends over the entire area and will remain inalienable until the end of time”.
Moroccan officials at their Permanent Mission to the United Nations did not respond to my inquiries seeking comment for my article.
Similarly, France’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations didn’t respond to inquiries for comment.
So, will Obama heed the call from the desert and perhaps help Africa’s last remaining colony win its independence without having to revert to war?
I imagine Cubans glued to television screens watching CNN one day in the future before Obama’s term expires. I see President Obama speaking about the Sahwaris’ right to determine their own destiny, as others around the world did, including Americans.
I see dancing on the streets of Havana. I hear cries of “Viva Western Sahara!”, “Viva Abdelaziz!”, and “Viva Obama!”
Make it happen Mr. President.
[Author’s Disclosure Note: I visited the refugee camps for people from Western Sahara in Algeria in an expense-covered trip organized for journalists by The Western Sahara’s representative to Washington, D.C., From December 13 to December 20. Upon my return I made attempts via phone and e-mail message to get Morocco’s response to my story before publication from its Permanent Mission to the United Nations. I was told that an official would contact me but he never did].
Meeting with the President of The Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic H.E. Mohamed Abdel Aziz. (Video)
Africa’s Forgotten (And Festering) Freedom Struggle in Western Africa
by LINN WASHINGTON Jr.
The Western Sahara is not just a section of the famous desert that dominates North Africa.
The Western Sahara is a country on the Atlantic Ocean coast of North Africa with the dubious distinction of being the “Last Colony” on the vast continent of Africa. The current colonizer of this mineral-rich nation is the neighboring country of Morocco, which for decades has been conducting a viciously brutal occupation. A long history of human rights violations by Morocco in the Western Sahara have drawn wide condemnation from diverse entities including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the United States, ironically an ally of Morocco.
The plight of the Saharawi people, the indigenous population of the Western Sahara, was the focus of a conference in Algiers last weekend that attracted participants from across Africa , Europe and the Americas. That conference featured Saharawians who have been tortured and imprisoned by Moroccan authorities as well as experts who detailed various facets of Morocco’s illegal occupation, including that country’s failures to comply with United Nations mandates to conduct a voter referendum for determining the future of Western Sahara.
“Morocco confiscated our land. Built a wall dividing our country. It violates human rights while plundering our natural resources,” Mohammed Abdelaziz, the President of the Western Sahara, said during his address at the opening ceremony of the 5th International Conference of Algiers. Called “The Right of Peoples to Resistance: the case of the Saharawi People,” the conference was held at Algeria’s Palace of Culture in the nation’s capital.
“We need a free, fair and just referendum to exercise the right of self- determination to create an independent state” President Abdelaziz said.
The Saharawi want an independent nation, while Morocco has offered the Saharawi only autonomy under Moroccan control. Morocco initially invaded Western Sahara in 1975 following the withdrawal of the then colonial ruler, Spain. That military invasion was followed by Morocco’s sending of hundreds of thousands of settlers into the country. It sparked a war with the Saharawi which wound down to a stalemate with Morocco controlling 80 percent of the country, including its fishing rich coast line, vast mineral deposits and major cities. The remainder of the country has been controlled by the Polisario Front, a liberation force that remains the main political force in the struggle for independence.
The United Nations approved a referendum on the future status of the Western Sahara in the early 1990s but Morocco has balked, refusing to permit the U.N. to conduct a vote. Morocco’s occupation is strongly backed by France, and has the tacit support of the United States. While the U.S. does not formally recognize Morocco’s sovereignty over what Morocco calls it’s “Southern Provinces,” it has not forcefully demanded that its ally comply with international law. Morocco contends its claim on the Western Sahara predates Spanish colonization, a position rejected by the International Court of Justice in 1975, months before Morocco’s invasion.
“International law recognizes Western Saharan independence from Morocco. His Majesty the King of Morocco wants to stop the will of history,” Dr. Said Ayachi, chairman of the Algerian National Committee of Solidarity with the Saharawi People, said during remarks at the conference. Algeria has supported the Saharawi economically, militarily and politically, putting it at odds with its next door neighbor Morocco, as did Libya, before the US-led overthrow of Libyan leader Muammar Ghaddafy.
“This is a struggle that should have ended years ago. Morocco must cease violating international law and stop violating human rights like committing torture in the Western Sahara,” said Obed Bapela, a representative to the conference from South Africa’s African National Congress. The legendary South African leader Nelson Mandela had consistently supported freedom for Western Sahara.
No representative from Morocco spoke at the conference. Morocco officially denies brutality in the Western Sahara but a U.S. State Department human rights report released in February 2014 listed violations including “physical/verbal abuses” of Saharawi people “during arrest and imprisonment.” That report also listed a lack of democracy, corruption and “widespread disregard of the rule of law” by Moroccan security forces — violations that report stated also occur inside Morocco — a monarchy ruled by a king.
The night before the conference opened, the opening film at the Algiers International Film Festival was “Sons of the Clouds” a documentary on graphic Moroccan brutality in the Western Sahara produced by Academy Award-winning Spanish actor Javier Bardem.
Saharawi people meeting with a group of African-American journalists who attended the conference described arbitrary beatings, arrests and torture suffered while they were imprisoned for terms ranging from few months to years. One former prisoner described being blind-folded and handcuffed during one two-year imprisonment (his third, the first having begun when he was fifteen years old). A 25-year-old woman told of the imprisonment of numerous members of her family. She was imprisoned with her grandmother, who died a week after their release from prison.
Morocco enjoys support on Capitol Hill, ranging from conservatives to members of the liberal-leaning Black Congressional Caucus. American human rights activist Susan Scholte, who has worked on the Western Sahara issue since 1993, said most American supporters of Morocco’s position on the Western Sahara either don’t know the facts or are getting paid by Morocco. Morocco spent $3.5-million on lobbying inside the U.S. In 2013 alone, according to public documents.
“This is a clear-cut justice issue. You can’t support invasion and occupation. Peaceful protesters in the Western Sahara are beaten and shot by Moroccan police,” Scholte said during an interview in Algiers. Scholte, a Republican, asked, “How can America ever expect to win the war on terror when it allows this issue to fester?”
5th International Conference of Algiers
“The Right of Peoples to Resistance:
the case of the Saharawi People ”
Algiers, 13 & 14 December 2014
The 5thInternational Conference on “The Right of Peoples to Resistance: The Case of the Saharawi People” was held at Algiers,, on 13th and 14thDecember 2014, following the joint invitation of the Algerian National Committee of Solidarity with the Saharawi People (CNASPS) and the Algiers’ Embassy of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR).
360 Participants representing 49 countries* attended and took part to the proceedings of this Conference, which has benefited from the contributions of Parliamentarians, Diplomats, Political Figures, Academics, Jurists, Intellectuals, Media Professionals, NGO’s Representatives and Civil Societies.
A high-level Saharawi delegation was led by H.E. Mohamed Abdelaziz, the President of the Republic and Secretary General of Polisario Front, who in his inaugural speech in front of the participants, has reiterated the firm determination of the Saharawi People, the Polisario Front and the SADR to continue the struggle until to meet the legitimate claims for building a free and democratic State on its national soil.
In his speech, H.E. Mohamed Abdelaziz has brought out the responsibility of the United Nations vis à vis the Western Sahara issue. In this respect, he underscored commended the efforts made by Mr. Christopher Ross, the Personal Envoy of the UN Secretary General, to seek a fair and final solution to the conflict in Western Sahara, which would put an end to the sufferings endured by the Saharawi People and enable them to gain independence and sovereignty.
The SADR Prime H.E. Mohamed Abdelaziz recalled to the audience, the ongoing violations of Human Rights, in the occupied territories of Western Sahara, extensively verified and sentenced, whose population is overwhelmed by Morocco’s occupation administration.
H.E. Mohamed Abdelaziz emphatically denounced the non implementation of the UN resolutions, which embody the will of the International Community, due to the delaying tactics of the Kingdom of Morocco in the negotiation process, because of the obstructionism and arrogance of his leaders who practice the policy of escaping forward and the defy the international community. By the same token he has also denounced the unjust and unjustifiable support provided to Morocco by some governments, encouraging the Moroccan authorities in their drift and criminal obstinacy.
The President of the Republic strongly condemned the terrorist activities in the Sahel region. He clearly reaffirmed his country’s support to the territorial integrity and unity of Mali andannounced the total willingness of his government to contribute, in an African framework to the combat for eradicating terrorism in the region.
The participants to the Conference salute the speech of H.E. Mohamed Abdelaziz, supporting the guidelines set out, and recall that the Western Sahara conflict remains a matter of decolonization, registered as such in the United Nations and stipulated in theresolution1514 of the General Assembly, as outlined in the resolutions of the Security Council and the annual recommendations of the 4thUN Committee.
The Participants to the Conference clearly reaffirmed the Right of the Saharawi People to resistance against the illegal occupation of their territory by the Kingdom of Morocco, as stipulated in Article51 of the United Nations Charter and the resolution3163 of1973 of the UN General Assembly.
The Participants to the Conference listened to the testimony of Sahrawi Human Rights activists coming from the occupied territories of Western Sahara on the repeated violations against human dignity, physical integrity and the Sahrawi People liberties. These daily violations committed by the Moroccan occupation administration, are obstructed by a media blackout organized with the complacency if not the complicity of European states.
The Participants to the Conference condemn the biased position of France, which has led to a deadlock in the settlement of the Western Sahara conflict.
The Participants also denounced the unacceptable position of the Spanish Government as Spain discharges a historic responsibility in the Western Sahara conflict.
It was presented on this occasion, a report on the status of the Sahrawi prisoners who are suffering in the Moroccan jails, and on parodies of trials that are conducted for them, and a report on the Sahrawi missing persons.
The participants to the Conference heard with great reprobation a report on the large-scale systematic despoliation of the natural resources of Western Sahara.
After listening to a communication about the general situation of the Sahrawi refugees in the camps near Tindouf, the Participants deeply regret the multifaceted lack of the provided humanitarian aid, despite the commendable efforts of the UN agencies and Algeria.
In regard to all these facts, and after discussion, the Participants to the conference:
- Reaffirm the legitimacy of the national liberation struggle of the Saharawi People and their peaceful resistance against the Moroccan occupation. The Participants commend and encourage the Saharawi in this struggle for their freedom and dignity.
- Appeal to the United Nations to honor immediately its doctrine of the decolonization through the implementation of its own resolutions related to Western Sahara, by organizing a referendum on self-determination accepted by both countries parties to 1991 settlement plan, and endorsed by the Security Council, that is answerable for by creating the MINURSO for this purpose.
- Denounce the repeated violations of Human Rights committed by Morocco in Western Sahara, and called on the UN, the European Union, the African Union, international NGOs, and all Human Rights activists throughout the World, to promptly ensure, by all ways and means, the respect by Morocco of Human Rights, and demand the immediate release of all Sahrawi prisoners. In this context, the participants have called the members of the UN Security Cancel to extend without delay enlargement of Minurso mandate to include the monitoring, protection and reporting on human rights in the occupied territories of Western Sahara
- Denounce the systematic looting by Morocco of the natural resources of Western Sahara, in flagrant contradiction with the provisions of the United Nations resolutions on permanent sovereignty of peoples over their natural resources.
- Request the United Nations, all its specialized agencies and the entire international community to provide a sufficient multifaceted humanitarian aid in favor of the Sahrawi refugees.
- The Participants to the Conference strongly encourage Mr. Christopher Ross, the Personal Envoy of the UN Secretary General, to continue its mediation between the two parties of the Western Sahara conflict, and to engage in serious negotiations between the two parties, and urge all States to provide their support and assistance so as he would accomplish his mission whose objective is to find a solution guaranteeing the auto determination of the Sahrawi People.
- The Participants pay tribute to all support committees to the just cause of the Saharawi People all over the world, which consistently and unconditionally support the fighting of the Polisario Front for freedom and dignity. In this context, the Participants grant special mention to the international observers in charge of the Saharawi prisoners, as well as to the humanitarian players serving the Sahrawi refugees.
- The Participants at the conference condemn la biased position of France which has led to a deadlock in the settlement of Western Sahara Conflict. The participants have addressed notably the President of the French Republic, Mr. François Hollande, requesting him to register, under his rule, in this conflict in particular, a political path worthy of France and its greatness, consistent with its landmarks and historical battles for freedom and Human Rights, by dispensing justice to the Saharawi People, and in particular by facilitating the expansion of the mandate of the MINURSO to the protection and respect of Human Rights in the occupied territories of Western Sahara. The participants urge the President of France to bring France official position to be in line with scrupulous respect of the International Law.
- The Participants to the Conference denounce the inacceptable position of the Spanish Government as Spain bears historic responsibility in The Western Sahara Conflict. It should have a clear efficient political position in conformity with the resolutions of the UN Security Council, in favor of the Right to self-determination for the Saharawi People, with regard to the historic, moral and political responsibility of Spain in the genesis of the conflict in Western Sahara.
- The Participants to the Conference call upon the European Union to stop all trade agreement concluded with the Kingdom of Morocco, which illegally exploit the natural resources of Western Sahara and to adopt a fair policy in favor of self-determination of the Saharawi People. In this context, the participant have denounced the policy of double standards and flagrant contradiction of the European Union vis-à-vis the conflict of Western Sahara.
- The participants to the Conference pay tribute to the European MEP’S for their honorable position in stressing the right of self determination of Saharawi People.
- The participants note with satisfaction the important presence in the conference of the media professionals who are requested to defuse the message of the strangling Sahrawi People and to break the media embargo imposed by Morocco about the realities of Western Sahara and historic resistance of its people.
- The Participants to the International Conference pay a special tribute to Algeria and to His Excellency Mr. the President Abdelaziz BOUTEFLIKA, for the Algerian constant political position, based on the historical and intangible principles and on the International legality.
The Participants to the International Conference thank Algeria, land of hospitality, for hosting with brotherhood and friendliness, this important meeting and for granting all facilitations to the success of this event.
The Participants to the International Conference also commend the Algerian National Committee of Solidarity with the Saharawi People and the SADR Embassy in Algiers for the excellent organization of the 5th Algiers International Conference.
Algiers, on December 14, 2014
(*) Participating countries:
The SADR, ALGERIA, ARGENTINA, CHILE, SENEGAL, TUNISIA, MAURITANIA, SLOVENIA, GHANA, MEXICO, HUNGARY, ITALY, SPAIN, BELGIUM, HOLLAND, FRANCE, MALI, TOGO , PALESTINE, LEBANON, BURUNDI, CUBA, RWANDA, SOUTH AFRICA, VENEZUELA, CHAD, EGYPT, SYRIA, NIGER, MOZAMBIQUE, ANGOLA, BURKINA FASO, ZIMBABWE, KENYA, TANZANIA, USA, GREAT BRITAIN, BENIN, CONGO RDC, PORTUGAL, NIGERIA, SWITZERLAND , GUINE, COTE D’IVOIRE, CANGO BRAZZAVILLE, GERMANY, AFRICAN UNION, ACPHR, EUCOCO.
Sea Change In US-Cuba Relations Makes Waves Deep In Desert
By Linn Washington
Tinduf, Algeria – News about the historic change of relations between the United States and Cuba triggered cheers across the five Sahrawi refugee camps located near this Sahara Desert city located 1,100-miles southwest of Algeria’s capital of Algiers on the Mediterranean Sea.
That news elevated hopes among many Sahrawi that the major changes in relations between the U.S. and its longtime, bitter enemy Cuba would lead to the U.S. pushing for changes with its longtime ally — Morocco.
Morocco is the country that has illegally occupied the Western Sahara, the ancestral homeland of the Sahrawi, since a 1975 invasion. Morocco controls 80+ percent of the Western Sahara, including its mineral rich inland and coastal fisheries that generate billions of dollars in exports annually — money that helps fund Morocco’s expensive occupation.
Since 1991, when Morocco and the Polisario Front (which represents the Sahrawi) ended a 16-year long war over Morocco’s invasion, America’s major ally in North Africa has repeatedly reneged on its agreement with the United Nations to hold a voter referendum in the Western Sahara where residents would decide their future through a democratic vote.
“We woke up very happy with the historical announcement of President Obama, establishing new relations with Cuba. We hope that Mr. Obama will take another historic position and enforce international law on the Western Sahara. We are tired of waiting,” Adda Ibrahim said.
Ibrahim is the governor of Smara, the largest of the five Sahrawi refugee camps surrounding Tindof. Over 160,000 Sahrawi live in those camps, many since fleeing Morocco’s 1975 invasion. Other camp residents were forced to flee Morocco’s brutal occupation of the Western Sahara. All camp residents live in bleak conditions on barren desert land where summer temperatures hit 130 degrees and winter night lows dip to the low 40s.
The government formed by the Polisario Front for the Western Sahara is the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). The SADR is the government for the liberated zones of the Western Sahara and the Sahrawi living in the refugee camps around Tinduf.
“What President Obama did with Cuba gives us hope that there will be a clear vision for the Western Sahara,” Khadija Hamdi, Minister of Culture for the SADR said during a meeting with black American journalists, one day after the headline news announcements of the historic thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations.
The U.S. broke relations with Cuba in the early 1960s following a revolution in that Caribbean nation that overthrew a brutal but pro-American dictator. America justified its decades long, punishing embargo against Cuba by contending that nation needed democratization and a greater respect for human rights.
The Moroccan occupation of the Western Sahara is rife with human rights abuses condemned in reports by the Obama Administration and other monitoring organizations like Amnesty International. Sahrawi inside the Western Sahara are routinely beaten savagely and imprisoned by Moroccan authorities for peaceful protests. Women and children are frequent targets of beatings on the streets that include baton strikes, kicks, punches and stomping from riot-clad police. Sahrawi in West Sahara endure high unemployment and other forms of discrimination.
The 2014 democracy/human rights rankings issued by Freedom House list Cuba as better than Moroccan domination in the Western Sahara. The Washington, DC based Freedom House ranks Moroccan occupation with its worst ratings in the categories of freedom; civil liberties and political rights. Cuba, however, received the worst rating in only the political rights category. Freedom House, a research institute, was co-founded in 1941 by then U.S. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.
For decades the U.S. condemned the autocratic control of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Yet, Morocco is a monarchy ruled for centuries by kings while the Polisario Front has democratically elected officials at the local and national levels.
The residents of Morocco, the Western Sahara and the refugee camps outside Tinduf share the same religion — Islam, even belonging to the same Sunni branch of Islam.
“The U.S. having better relations with Cuba is in the interest of the entire world,” Brahim Mojtar, SADR’s Minister of Cooperation said. Mojtar has held SADR diplomatic postings in the U.S. and many countries across West, East and Southern Africa.
“The time must come for the U.S. to realize it is in its interest to put an end to this impasse and put the U.N. referendum in place,” Mojtar said.
That U.N. supervised referendum for the Western Sahara would enable the Sahrawi to vote for three options: independence for the Western Sahara, autonomy of that nation under Moroccan control or complete integration within Morocco.
Morocco contends it has an ancient claim over the Western Sahara dating from when the Kingdom of Morocco was dominate in a section of North Africa prior to European colonization. International legal and political bodies have consistently rejected Moroccan claims to the Western Sahara, located south of Morocco on the Atlantic Ocean coast of North Africa.
The African Union, the body representing 54 nations in Africa, supports the U.N. backed vote to determine the future of the Western Sahara. Morocco is the only country on the African continent that does not belong to the AU — having left the AU’s predecessor (the Organization of Africa Unity) in 1984 when the OAU recognized the SADR’s claims on the Western Sahara.
Morocco has been able to defy the United Nations and other bodies demanding a referendum due to overt support from France and tacit support from the United States.
Morocco’s position to extend autonomy to the Western Sahara enjoys bi-partisan backing on Capitol Hill — support that embraces strange bedfellows. For example liberal black Democratic Congressman from South Carolina James Clyburn, a staunch supporter of President Obama, supports Morocco’s autonomy scheme as does South Carolina conservative white Republican Congressman Joe Wilson who uttered the infamous “You Lie!” insult at Obama during Obama’s 2009 State of the Union address.
While most Americans view Cuba through a decades-long anti-Castro/pro-embargo prism, most Africans praise Cuba for its contributions of economic, educational, medical and military assistance. Legendary South African leader Nelson Mandela frequently credited Cuban assistance as pivotal in the defeat of apartheid. America fully supported South Africa’s white minority racist government until the late 1980s.
Cuban assistance to the Sahrawi includes having trained thousands of Sahrawi in areas from education to medicine without charging fees. SADR Minister Hamdi said proudly that one of her children received training as a journalist in Cuba. Minister Mojtar noted that during “400-years of colonialism, just one Sahrawi was trained as a doctor.”
Seven of the 14 doctors working at the Bachir Saleh Hospital serving the refugee camps near Tinduf are from Cuba. The six Sahrawi doctors at that hospital received their training in Cuba. Cuban Dr. Maria Borego said she works six-hour shifts, six days a week. Borego said the work at Saleh is difficult because of differences in language and culture.
In early November 2014, many Americans applauded the 25th Anniversary of the removal of the Berlin Wall, that once divided Germany’s largest city, unaware of the ‘Moroccan Wall’ that is ten times larger.
Morocco has built a 1,677-mile long wall enclosing its occupied area of the Western Sahara. That wall stretching across the length of the Western Sahara is constructed of sand, rock and metal.
Over 100,000 Moroccan soldiers man this wall that is buffered on the non-occupation side by 5-to-7-million land mines. Operating the ‘Moroccan Wall’ costs nearly $3-million per day. Morocco funds operation of its wall through revenue generated from plundering natural resources in the Western Sahara according to European experts.
Thaw in U.S. and Cuba relations brings hope to Africa’s ‘last colony’
By Richard B. Muhammad (Editor, The Final Call)
Nearly 400 people participated in a recent conference calling for a referendum to decide the fate of the Western Sahara, which is supported by UN resolutions. Photos: Richard B. Muhammad
ALGIERS, Algeria – The thawing of U.S.-Cuban relations has inspired hope thousands of miles away for those seeking self-determination for Western Sahara, a small nation called Africa’s last colony.
The announcement of U.S. moves to normalize relations with Cuba came just after an international conference here devoted to the plight of the Saharawi people who are native to Western Sahara. Saharawis find themselves in political shackles despite UN resolutions affirming their right to decide their future. They have waited for decades to vote to decide if this traditionally nomadic people wants to integrate into Morocco, claim autonomy under Moroccan rule or choose independence.
At the conference, held here Dec. 13-14, the Saharawi expressed hope that President Obama would speak to their struggle and their right to choose how they will live.
With the American president making the historic and politically risky move of reaching out to Cuba, a few words calling for respect for international law and respect for human rights would go a long way for the Saharawi struggle, officials said.
In an end-of-conference declaration, an appeal was made for America to take a stance and blunt the influence of France, which has protected Morocco’s illegal occupation. France benefits from businesses that loot the resources of Western Sahara, including phosphates, gold and fish, said activists and officials who constitute a kind of government in exile.
Saharawis shared stories of beatings, abuse, politically-motivated jailing and rapes at the “Fifth International Conference: People’s Right to Resistance—The Case of the Saharawi People,” which included sessions at the El Aurassi Hotel and Algeria’s ornate Palace of Culture. Nearly 400 people, who represented groups, governments and individuals took part in conference discussions and presentations. Peaceful demonstrations by Saharawis in Moroccan-controlled territory bring brutal beatings, imprisonment and torture, said officials and torture survivors.
Western Sahara should have been able to decide its fate in the 1960s as others did coming out of Africa’s colonial period. Instead Spain, France, Morocco and Mauritania—who laid claim to Western Sahara—crafted a pact that derailed self-determination. War broke out. Mauritania eventually left but Morocco stayed. Morocco and the Polisario Front, the Saharawi liberation movement, signed a ceasefire that was supposed to include the referendum. That was in 1991, voting has yet to happen. Algeria has supported Polisario and the Saharawi struggle.
The Final Call was part of a nine-member press and academic delegation that attended the conference and spent time in Saharawi refugee camps outside Tindouf, Algeria. The delegation was organized by the Institute for the Black World 21st Century and led by Don Rojas, who has a history of involvement in international affairs and struggles for Black self-determination.
“This is a great opportunity for President Obama to write another chapter into his legacy by being the first U.S. president in over 50 years to being normalizing relations and Cuba but also an opportunity to close the last chapter in the long history of colonization on the African continent,” said Mr. Rojas.
Signaling support for basic democratic rights for the people of Western Sahara is the right thing and presents no downside to Mr. Obama because it is consistent with U.S. democracy to recognize the right for Saharawis to vote for their own future in an open referendum, he added.
“In 2015 the world is changing but Western Sahara remains in this condition of colonialism and it is reprehensible. For the first African American president to go on record for a vote for their destiny would be welcomed in the U.S., in the African American community and people of good will who respect the principles of independence,” said Mr. Rojas. How can a democracy and a superpower ignore people whose human rights are violated daily? he asked.
Cuba is one of the nations that has supported the Saharawi struggle and Polisario, their movement for liberation and armed struggle with Morocco. The group has been engaged in a ceasefire since 1991. Cuba and Western Sahara are also former Spanish colonies.
Backed by France in the UN Security Council, Morocco has ignored UN mandates that call for a referendum going back to the 1970s. Polisario controls small portions of Western Sahara and administers refugee camps in nearby Algeria while Morocco controls the majority of the territory. The territories are separated by a huge wall and heavily mined area that stretches along 1,600 miles. Morocco’s historic claim to Western Sahara have been rejected by international bodies, including the International Court of Justice and United Nations.
Lucy Offiong’s Nigerian Labour Congress has been involved in the Saharawi struggle for eight years. Her organization supports Saharawi self-determination. The trade union lobbied Nigeria’s government to receive the president of the Western Sahara and Nigeria made commitments to press the United Nations to resolve the problem through the African Union, she said. Morocco, however, is not a member of the African Union because of the occupation of Western Sahara, she said.
Africans see themselves as brothers so to see one brother oppressing another is distressing, said Ms. Offiong whose Nigerian Labour Congress has about 20 million members.
African nations with some representation at the conference included South Africa, Mozambique, Senegal, Tunisia, Mauritania, Ghana, Togo, Mali, Burundi, Rwanda, Chad, Egypt, Niger, Angola, Burkina Faso, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Tanzania, Benin, Congo, Nigeria, Guinea, Cote D’Ivoire, and Congo Brazzaville.
Suzanne K. Scholte, who has done extensive work on Western Sahara, sees the problem clearly as Morocco’s violations of international law, Morocco’s ability to pay to exert influence and inaction by the United States. The ability of permanent Security Council members, like France, to stifle legitimate action was called another reason for the body to be expanded and reformed.
Mohammed Abdelaziz, president of the Western Sahara, and other speakers appealed for support, saying Western Sahara’s existence is recognized by the United Nations, the European Union, the African Union and countries around the globe. “We need a free, fair and just referendum to exercise the right of self-determination to create an independent state,” President Abdelaziz said.
The conference included 360 participants from 49 countries and included political figures, rights activists, diplomats, academics, non-governmental organizations, journalists and lawyers.
Saharawi speakers and their supporters said 49 political prisoners are held in seven Moroccan jails and about 526 Saharawis have been kidnapped or have disappeared. Independent journalists are not allowed in Western Sahara and Morocco uses its riches and French support to blunt media coverage, they added.
After 40 years, still waiting for justice: Western Sahara, Africa’s last colony
By Oscar Güell
The Sahrawi people of Western Sahara have been waiting 40 years for a self-determination referendum, writes Oscar Güell. But thanks to the passivity of the EU, the US and the rest of the ‘international community’ their wait for justice won’t end any time soon. Meanwhile, Morocco settles the country with colonists and exploits its natural resources.
Spain has an added responsibility as the de jure administering power. It acts, however, like the others: it doesn’t defend Moroccan occupation openly but its inaction supports it.
“The biggest poverty that exists in the world is to lose your territory; we are not in our land and others are taking advantage of our wealth”, said Mahmoud Dellal, asked about the poverty in the refugee camps of Tindouf in Algeria, where he had spent more than 25 years of his life. He is one of the thousands of inhabitants of Western Sahara who had to leave the country 40 years ago, when it was occupied by Morocco.
Dellal lived in a refugee camp until 2000, when he moved to Spain because his wife had health problems which could not be addressed by the precarious health service there. But he doesn’t feel Spain is his home-only the Sahara.
“Any person feels fine where he comes from; when you live in exile you lose your dreams”, he said. He is convinced that “Sahrawis will never stop fighting for what is theirs.”
The last colony in Africa, Western Sahara is divided by the second longest wall in the world (after the Great Wall of China). Located between the west of the desert and the Atlantic, it was assigned to Spain in the Berlin Conference of 1885, when the major European states distributed the African continent among themselves.
In 1965, with the world immersed in a decolonisation movement, the United Nations asked Spain to do likewise (it was then called Spanish Sahara).
Facts on the ground: Franco’s colonial stitch-up with Morocco
Spain abandoned the territory but it did not let the Sahrawis express their self-determination right as the UN resolution had sought: it transferred control to Morocco and Mauritania in 1975, by means of a tripartite agreement, the Madrid Accords.
When the agreement became effective, the Polisario Front, born in 1973 to fight the Spanish coloniser, waged war against Morocco and Mauritania, proclaimed the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) and created refugees camps in Algeria to host Sahrawis who escaped persecution by the occupying armies.
In 1979 Mauritania withdrew but Morocco (with the support of France and the United States) continued the war against Polisario (supported by Algeria).
Hostilities were prolonged until 1991, when the parties agreed a ceasefire overseen by the UN, which organised a mission (MINURSO) to monitor the situation and organise a referendum on Sahrawi self-determination.
But the referendum never took place, due to irreconcilable differences between the parties as to who had the right to vote. The UN continued renewing the MINURSO mandate annually, without any progress.
Unique: Africa’s last colony
Nowadays, Western Sahara is the unique non-self-governing territory in Africa. The UN never recognised the Madrid Accords, because the arrangement “did not transfer sovereignty over the territory, nor did it confer upon any of the signatories the status of an administering Power.” Nor has the International Court of Justice recognised Moroccan sovereignty.
Therefore, according to international law, Spain remains the ‘administering power’, and decolonisation should end with the application of “the principle of self-determination through the free and genuine expression of the will of the people of this territory”. Nevertheless, any solution to the conflict seems remote.
The parties have very distant positions and the international community does not press them to achieve a solution. “Unless an unforeseen event will occur, this problem will not be solved because nobody wants it to be resolved”, said a Spanish expert on the Maghreb, Tomás Bárbulo.
In the documentary Hijos de las Nubes the former French foreign minister Roland Dumas said that “no solution is the solution.” But what is really making this conflict irresolvable?
Polisario, recognised by the UN as the representative of the people of Western Sahara, is determined to get a referendum on self-determination. International law supports this, so the front is immovable.
“We are not asking for anything strange – it is written in all UN resolutions and in the International Court of Justice”, said Mohamed Yumani, a member of Polisario and president of the Saharan Immigrant Association in Aragon (Spain).
Morocco blames the victim of its colonial land and resource grab
On the other side, Morocco has always claimed-despite the UN’s contradiction-to have held sovereignty over Western Sahara before the Spanish colonisation and it attaches complete validity to the Madrid Accords, as “duly registered at the UN’s Secretariat General”.
It accuses Polisario of blocking negotiations and having a “biased” understanding of self-determination, which it says need not necessarily be exercised through referendum – although this was already what the UN had called for in 1966. Morocco proposed an autonomy plan in 2007 but it is not in hurry to find a solution.
The Moroccan government feels comfortable with the status quo, which allows it to control and act as de facto administrator of most of the territory. Western Sahara is divided from north to south by a sand wall of 2,700km-further than from Madrid to Copenhagen-built by Morocco during the 80s.
Nowadays, the Alaouite kingdom controls everything west of the barrier, including all the habitable territory and the natural resources.
Phosphates and fisheries and (possibly) offshore oil and gas make Western Sahara one of the richest parts of the Maghreb. The BuCraa mine in the north contains one of the biggest reserves of phosphates in the world and, according to Western Sahara Resources Watch, generated the equivalent of $330m for Morocco last year.
The EU is negotiating a fisheries agreement with Morocco for access to Western Sahara’s waters, worth €40m per year.
‘Life is extremely difficult’
East of the wall, the area controlled by Polisario, there is only desert inhabited by some nomadic tribes. In the area occupied by Morocco, 70,000 natives mix with 150,000 Moroccan settlers, while there are some 165,000 refugees in the camps in Algeria and a further-scattered Sahrawi diaspora.
Mohamed Yumani, who spent two decades in a camp, said that “life there is extremely difficult”. Sandstorms are common and the temperature reaches 50C in summer.
The camps, controlled by Polisario, are completely dependent on international aid, which has been reduced since the onset of the economic crisis. Gonzalo Moure, a Spanish aid worker who has visited several times, has seen evidence of child malnutrition. Yet Dellal envisages being back in Tindouf when his wife recovers.
Rabat has invested in Western Sahara-indeed its development and social services are superior to Morocco proper. But freedom is denied to those who favour independence or even a referendum.
The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, echoed complaints of abuses of civil and political rights in his last Western Sahara report – “particularly in the form of arrests without warrants, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in detention, confessions extracted under torture or violation of the right to a fair trial.”
Realpolitik and power politics rule
But the international community remains inert. “Western countries are interested in the Moroccan occupation because it provides iron control in a region that is a space of jihadist activity”, said Bárbulo. Their governments are applying realpolitik, prioritising geopolitical and economic interests over international law and human rights.
Western Sahara is divided from north to south by a sand wall of 2,700km-further than from Madrid to Copenhagen
Stephen Zunes, Middle East expert at the University of San Francisco, said in Hijos de las Nubes that the US “is unfortunately quite willing to sacrifice fundamental principles of international law in the name of supporting a strategic ally.”
In his book about Western Sahara, Zunes asserts that France and the US have not only provided Morocco with material support but have dominated the approach by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to the conflict, avoiding condemnation of the occupation.
In 2013, during the debate on the annual renewal of MINURSO, the US proposed monitoring human-rights violations in Western Sahara but, due to Moroccan pressures, this was left out of the final resolution.
In November that year, the king, Mohammed VI, visited the US president, Barack Obama, and the White House declared Morocco’s autonomy plan “serious, realistic, and credible”.
Morocco has also invested roughly $20m since 2007 in “lobbying policymakers and soliciting sympathetic coverage from journalists in the United States”, according to an article published in Foreign Policy last February.
Among Western countries, Spain has an added responsibility as the de jure administering power. It acts, however, like the others: it doesn’t defend Moroccan occupation openly but its inaction supports it.
A report that sets the basis of Spanish foreign policy for the next years says that an independent Western Sahara would be “non-homogeneous”, with inhabitants “susceptible to radicalisation”.
A gulf remains
Is any solution possible? Juan Domingo Torrejón, researcher in international relations at the University of Cadiz, points out that Chapter VII of United Nations Charter allows the Security Council to press ahead without the agreement of the parties. Yet the substantive gulf remains:
“A solution based on the strict application of the self-determination right would be totally contrary to Moroccan interests, and France would veto it in the UNSC, but I neither see it possible to impose a formula favourable to Morocco without asking the population, because it would raise serious legal questions.”
Torrejón also warned that “a favourable solution for any of the parties could cause instability in the Maghreb.” This risk of instability favours the status quo, as a 2007 cable involving European diplomats published by Wikileaks indicates:
“For Europe as a whole, the principal interest is that Morocco has been an island of stability in a crucial but shaky near neighbourhood; this stability must be preserved, so a solution to the Sahara problem that destabilises Morocco proper is undesirable.”
Last April, the MINURSO mandate was extended for one year more without any relevant change. In August, the Canadian Kim Bolduc was supposed to replace Wolfgang Weisbrod-Weber as head of MINURSO but at time of writing she had not been able to travel to her post-Morocco was apparently displeased that it had not been consulted about the appointment.
‘Who thought apartheid would end in South Africa?’
For Torrejón the stagnation can be also dangerous because the situation may deteriorate further: “There is not a solution on the table, the humanitarian conditions in the refugees camps are getting worse and tension between the parts in the territory controlled by Morocco has increased.”
Meanwhile, said Bárbulo, young people in the camps wanted to go to war because they had seen how their parents lived “and they don’t want to live like them.”
Joining a war without prospect of victory makes no sense but the perspective is different in the camps: the emotions play a bigger role there and refugees have lost faith in the international community.
“Young people don’t want to bear more,” said Yumani, “and, even if we don’t arrive until the end, at least we will teach something to Morocco.”
Dellal takes the long view: “Who thought that apartheid was going to end in South Africa?”