The Western Sahara isn't so much a country, more a territory - and a disputed one at that. Disputed by Morocco and the Algerian backed Polisario Front, a group that was set up in 1973 to represent the interests of the Saharawis, the native and nomadic population of the Western Sahara. The territory is home to 615,223 (2021) people, around half of who live in its largest city, El Aaiun. Western Sahara was ruled by Spain from 1884 as part of the scramble for Africa, and became a province of Spain in 1934, being administered by Spanish Morocco from 1939 onwards. Wnen Morocco gained its own independence from Spain in 1956, it continued to view Western Sahara as a natural part of its kingdom, merely separated by the colonial powers.
Neighbouring Mauritania had similar ideas whilst Algeria, largely suspicious of Morocco in particular, believed that the Saharawis had the right to self determination. The matter was considered by the International Court of Justice in 1975 which concluded that the Saharawis did indeed have the right to self determination and Spain, under duress to divest its remaining colonies, agreed to hold a referendum to resolve the issue. Matters were overtaken by the actions of Morocco's King Hassan II who marched 300,000 Moroccans into the disputed territory and Spain, sidetracked by its own domestic issues, signed the Madrid Agreement, pulling out of the area (and even repatriating Spanish corpses buried there), and dividing the area between the protagonists Morocco and Mauritania.
Mauritania's first post independence President, Moktar Ould Daddah, found his desire to unify the annexed part of Western Sahara into a 'Greater Mauritania' his undoing as he met fierce resistance from Polisario guerrillas, a resistance that proved his undoing and he was replaced in a military coup. So ended Mauritania's claims to any part of the Western Sahara. However just as Mauritania was signing a peace deal, Morocco moved into territories formerly held by Mauritania and thousands fled into Algeria and settled in the province of Tindouf.
Today Tindouf remains the Polisario's main base. Hostilities between The Polisario and Morocco continued unabated until 1991, including the building of a 1677 mile defensive structure, consisting of sand and stone walls with fences, bunkers and landmines across its length, between Moroccan control and Polisario controlled areas of Western Sahara effectively leaving the Polisario to inhabit what is largely uninhabitable. Despite the ceasefire called in 1991, two decades later the territory remains in dispute with the proposed referendum for independence or autonomy within Morocco stalling as the two sides cannot reach agreement on who should be eligible to vote.
Today there are around 165,000 Saharawis living in semi autonomous refugee camps in Algeria (above) completely dependent on foreign aid. The United Nations reports that 10% of the children there suffer from acute malnourishment and the camps have limited access to safe water. Matters have been compounded in recent years with flash rains and floods that have engulfed the camps. In November 2020, the ceasefire between the Polisario Front and Morocco broke down, leading to armed clashes between both sides and, a month later, the United States announced that it would recognize full Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara in exchange for Morocco establishing relations with Israel.
Western Sahara Profile: Volunteer Work
Western Sahara Profile: El Aaiun Profile
Western Sahara Profile: Child Sponsor Western Sahara
Western Sahara Profile: Western Sahara Map
Western Sahara Profile: Western Sahara News
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