In the northwest corner of
Africa, an on-going conflict against an
occupation could be entering a new stage. The Western Sahara, known as the
Spanish Sahara prior to the withdrawal of Spain, has been the site of a
bitter struggle for national liberation. Currently led by the organization
POLISARIO, a movement for the independence of the Western
Sahara began to take shape in the 1960s and early 1970s. When Spain was finally forced to withdraw from its
colony, there was open season for Morocco,
Algeria and Mauritania,
each country claiming that it should have possession of the territory.
Insufficient pressure has been brought to bear on Morocco to withdraw.
Algeria was the first to end its claim to the territory,
then turning to support POLISARIO. Mauritania eventually abandoned its
on the other hand, set out to seize the territory, including the sending in of
thousands of Moroccan settlers. After years of fighting a truce was called, but
it has always been an uneasy one. Saharawis (the
people of the Western Sahara) have been
largely displaced from their lands, many living in refugee camps on the
Algerian border or going into exile. Repeated efforts at finding a just and
lasting solution to this crisis have largely been frustrated by Moroccan
intransigence, an intransigence backed by Morocco’s ally, France. At each
moment when it has appeared that a peaceful settlement has been within reach,
the Moroccans have undermined the effort.
Recent polls of Saharawi
youth have set off alarms for all those willing and interested in listening. These
polls indicate that Saharawi youth are increasingly dissatisfied with the
stalemate and are tending to look for a renewal of the armed struggle. Despite
being an armed movement, most observers have indicated that POLISARIO has
respected the truce, but the pressure from angry Saharawi youth may force a
shift in the strategy of the national liberation movement.
Though many African
countries, and even more African social movements, support POLISARIO and
national self-determination for the Saharawi people, insufficient pressure has
been brought to bear on Morocco
to withdraw. Forcing a Moroccan withdrawal and respect for Saharawi national
self-determination will necessitate not only pressure on Morocco, but an insistence that France
cease its own level of interference. While the USA, in the 1990s, attempted to
mediate a solution, it found itself confronting Moroccan obstinacy and was,
itself, unwilling to put the right sort of pressure on its North African ally.
Saharawi youth are increasingly dissatisfied with the stalemate and are tending to look for a renewal of the armed struggle.
The northern and western
regions of Africa are in considerable turmoil.
The Libyan Revolution, hijacked by NATO, has led to a flood of arms into the region,
promoting great instability (such as in Mali,
and in Libya
itself). Al Qaeda-aligned groups, sometimes supported by various governments in
the region, have been destabilizing forces. Morocco has attempted to avoid
dealing honestly and directly with the Saharawi by unsuccessfully painting
POLISARIO as one of those terrorist or terrorist-aligned groups. The Moroccan
government’s refusal to address this question of their illegal occupation of
the Western Sahara may result in further
destabilization of the region and a return to all-out war. Such a prospect is
more than Africa needs, but such a result will
be completely understandable in light of the continuous frustrations
experienced by the Saharawi people. This is a situation where there is a
desperate need for both an “honest broker” as well as public pressure on both Morocco and France. Morocco has been very successful in
hiding this issue from much of the world’s population. It is time this cover is
Board member and Columnist, Bill Fletcher, Jr., is a Senior Scholar with the
for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfricaForum, and the author of “They’re
Bankrupting Us” - And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. He is
also the co-author of Solidarity
Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path
toward Social Justice,
which examines the crisis of organized labor in the USA. Click here to contact Mr. Fletcher.