Sunday, October 7, 2012

Could the Western Sahara Blow Up?

Could the Western Sahara Blow Up?

Bill Fletcher, Jr. - Back Commentator Editorial Board

October 4, 2012

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 claims. Morocco, 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 lifted.

___________________ Editorial Board member

and Columnist, Bill Fletcher, Jr., is a Senior Scholar

with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate

past president of TransAfricaForum, and the author

of "They're Bankrupting Us" - And Twenty Other

Myths about Unions.

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