Wednesday, December 06, 2006

My Western Sahara info sheet

One of the problems about activating people for the Western Sahara is that people don't know where it is. You can talk to people about Palestine and their minds fix, at worst, vaguely on the Levant; you talk to people about Tibet and they think of China. But "Western Sahara" sounds like more of a geographical designation than a country, and worse, it just sounds like a collection of dunes no one cares about.

There's a lot of stuff to know about the Western Sahara, and not a lot of time to tell people. I decided the best place to get people would be where they don't have anything else to do: the bathroom. I posted this info sheet in the men's bathroom stall on my floor and, so far, I've been getting positive responses.

The Western Sahara: 31 Years Without Self-Determination

Where is the Western Sahara?
Western Sahara is on the northwest coast of Africa, south of Morocco and north of Mauritania.

When did the Western Sahara’s problems begin?
From 1884 to 1974, Western Sahara was a Spanish colony. In 1975, due to activism from native Sahrawis (the Arab ethnic group that lives in the Western Sahara), Spain decided to decolonize and grant the Western Sahara independence.
Before independence, vast phosphate reserves were discovered in the territory. Morocco and Mauritania began claiming Western Sahara was part of their countries, despite a 1975 International Court of Justice ruling that found neither country had a legitimate claim.
Morocco and Mauritania made a secret agreement with Spain to divide Western Sahara between them. In late 1975, the two countries invaded, forcing tens of thousands of Sahrawis to flee to nearby Algeria. During the evacuation, the Moroccan air force dropped napalm on the refugees.

Did the Sahrawis accept the occupation?
Not at all. The Polisario Front, a militant Sahrawi independence organization, attacked both occupying armies. Their successful operations forced Mauritania to withdraw, but Morocco’s Western allies reinforced its army. Morocco also built a wall through all Western Sahara and sowed over 3 million land mines.
The war ended in 1991, when Morocco and Polisario signed a ceasefire. Morocco promised to hold a referendum on independence, but it’s broken its promise. Meanwhile, Sahrawis languish in the territory or in refugee camps.

What does the international community think?
The United Nations lists the Western Sahara as Africa’s last colony. In November 2006, it reaffirmed its commitment to Sahrawi self-determination.
In 2006, Amnesty International reported that Moroccan police beat a Sahrawi independence demonstrator to death.

What do you think I should include/drop? Right now, it's at one page for punchiness.


  1. Anonymous8:13 AM

    With millions of other causes in the world, why have you chosen this particular cause?

  2. Anonymous8:41 AM

    Hi Will

    This is Great idea to inform people what is really the Western Sahara issue look like briefly and without unnecessary details…
    This is also for our friends from Morocco ( many saharawis too!) who don’t know more about Western Sahara and if they know only Moroccan “official” version

    “..Western Sahara is not Kuwait..” as James Baker III said . The Saharawi leaders started understanding that too and they offered licenses to enable international oil and gas companies to explore WS oil fields…
    They even signed contracts with some oil companies …you can check their official website:

    May ‘ Diplomacy of barrels “ will be better useful for ALL saharawis than “Diplomacy of parlours”


  3. Who was ruling the Western Sahara before 1884 ?

  4. Anonymous11:20 AM

    Hi Will,
    The latest news on the moroccan AUTONOMY PLAN

    "Independence is not possible because Sahrawis are scattered over the borders and inside four states: Algeria, Mali, Mauritania and Morocco," said Ould Errachid.

    He did not give details of the autonomy plan, saying it "is still a draft. It would become a proposal only when the king accepts it".

    Sources familiar with the plan told Reuters the draft included alternative variations for the wording of several articles, with the final decision left to the King. Ould Errachid made it clear that one of the proposal's aims is to put pressures on Polisario's leadership in the hope of weakening it and cutting its support among Sahrawis.

    "Polisario fears our plan. They see it as a tsunami because it offers an alternative to the Sahrawis," he said.

    He called on Algeria, where Polisario has its headquarters and thousands of Sahrawi refugees live, to give Sahrawis there the freedom to choose.

    "All Sahrawis, except between 800 and 1,000 people making up the core of Polisario's leadership and support, are telling us they back autonomy," said Ould Errachid.(REUTERS)

    Moroccan Berber

  5. In reverse chronological order: good question, studentintheus. Off the top of my head I'd say sovereignty was shared by several tribal and monarchical groups. The International Court of Justice found, after all, that the Western Sahara before the Berlin Conference "was not a territory owned by no one."

    I agree with Desertman. If the Sahrawi cause could get more money and lobbying power behind it, real pressure could be brought to bear on the US and France.

    And as for why I chose the Western Sahara, there's no one reason. In the world, there are a wealth of causes and problems that need solving (unfortunately), including some that are more urgent or deserving of attention than the Western Sahara.

    But the Western Sahara is a uniquely unambiguous issue. Polisario doesn't attack civilians, and it hasn't broken the ceasefire. Most NGOs and quasi-governmental organizations agree the cause is righteous. Those things make it attractive to me. Plus, it's easier to have my voice heard on the Western Sahara issue than in a larger one, like Palestinian solidarity.

  6. Anonymous12:07 PM

    To Friend: Moroccan Berber

    Ould Errachid is not cedibele for Saharawis …( long story)

    For Saharawis this man was and still just “Traitor”. He traited them during the Spain colonial period and He still do the same during “ Moroccan occupation period”

    The Autonomy plan is not new also the Royal council for Sahara exist from 1981 and they did/do nothing to let Sahara issue go forward

    The plan was promised by Morocco many times now and all time is delayed ..why?

    furthermore. If Morocco really want the Autonomy why they don’t ask Sahrawis in free referendum if they want Autonomy or independent country like do in the “civilized world”
    Who is afraid of the truth in this case?
    Why “ few people” like Ould Errachid want to decide in the name of ALL Saharawis and Moroccans also ?

    He talked about “ Saharawis in the camps “ in Algeria but what about the
    Saharawis in “ the occupied territories by Morocco”. Where the human rights are broken/violated daily
    “See the last UN report on human rights in Western Sahara “

    "All Sahrawis, except between 800 and 1,000 people making up the core of Polisario's leadership and support, are telling us they back autonomy," said Ould Errachid.(REUTERS)

    Did He do sounding among the Saharawis to know their opinion about Autonomy” . I don’t think so.
    Did he asked Saharawis in FREE referendum if they will back the Autonomy or not. Of course not

    Regards to All

  7. This is v interetsing, thank you for blogging on such a unique and important topic. Good Luck.

  8. unJane12:29 PM

    great idea but why only the men's bathroom?

  9. Anonymous8:24 PM

    i guess what we now have is a bi-coastal american effort to free a small country(330,000) from a large country(33,000,000)that is trying to suck all the resources to benefit a tyrant. Mohammed VI has already proven that he cares little for his subjects, and less for anyone else.

    freewesternsaharanow joins you in a fight for human rights in a world that doesn't seem to care.