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The West-Saharan Conflict (History Essay Example)

Middle East

After Spain evacuated the Spanish Sahara in the year 1975 Morocco and Mauritania moved to occupy parts of Sahara that were left by the Spanish a region currently called Western Sahara. In the year 1976 Polisario Front in Bir Lehlu proclaimed Sahara as the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic abbreviated to SADR. The land apparently belonged to the Sahrawi people and therefore any other people coming to claim the land as theirs was unacceptable by the Sahrawi people. As such, when the Morrocans and Mauritanians claimed the land as theirs, the Sahrawi retaliated hence the Western Sahara conflict. In view of the above, this paper looks into the West-Saharan Conflict from then to date.

The Sahrawi People

The Sahrawi people are the inhabitants of Western Sahara. There are those who are Arabs and we also have Sahrawis who are of African decent.They speak Hassaniya,an Arabic dialect. These Sahrawi people lacked a central government because they are traditionally nomads. It was therefore unsuitable for them to have a government structure.They lacked a form of authority that is why they vehemently opposed colonization by the Spanish which was a consequence of the Berlin Conference. The Sahrawi took a very long time to submit to colonialism.
The Sahrawi region has very low rainfall which was also irregular. The irregular pattern of rainfall is the reason why the Sahrawi people who are nomads, inhabited the place. Their most source of food was pastoralism and farming. As a people, they professed the Muslim faith whose main code of conduct borrowed from the Quran. By the end of the 16th Century, Ahmad al-Mansour the then Sultan of Morocco send an army to conquer Timbuktu. The expedition aided by the Sultan of Morocco failed.

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Governance of Sahrawi People in 17th Century

The Sahrawi people or society at large, was governed by an assembly of the forty tribes that made up their community. These tribes were divided into sub-tribes that were autonomous. Between the preceding years and the 19th century, the Sahrawi people mainly engaged in fishing which took place in the Canary Islands. Spain came in mostly to protect the Canary Archipelago. Previously, Spain encountered difficulties doing what it desired as it had to bargain with the chieftains every time their sailors ran into trouble with the indeginous people-the Sahrawi.
To assert that it was dominant, Spain declared some Capes as their own territory. These were from the Cape Blanc to Cape Bojador. Despite the fact that they wanted to show their might, the Spaniards move did not go unopposed as it was met with vehement resistance from the locals. This was the beginning of the problems that befell African countries. In 1885 the Berlin Conference ratified the actions by the Spaniads leading to the partitioning of Africa.

Sahrawi Nation During And After Colonisation

The issue of Spanish sahara became an issue for discussion in the United Nations General Assembly of 1965. After the declaration by the United Nation that everyone has a right to self determination (Pennel 2000) in resolution 1514 colonists began the process of decolonization. Spain was pressured by the United Nation to leave its colony. The United Nations called for a referendum in 1966 with regard to self determination by the Sahrawi people. Spain showed no signs of leaving and the Sahrawi people showed the desire to exploit their self determination rights.
Later on, a campaign that would mobilise the people of Sahrawi began and there was a massive demonstration. For instance, the Sahrawians demonstrated against the move to have the Sahara region as a province of Spain in the 1970s. The best way to do this was through an armed struggle. In 1971 El-Ooali Sayed leading a group of students started liberating Sahara out of frustration because Spain had refused to leave. The Spanish police hunted them down and they ended up fleeing to the desert where they established the first ever movement which they referred to as Polisario (Pennel 2000). Those who led the group intended to fight for national liberation from colonialism and gain full independence. Their movement quickly became popular with the aim of achieving full independence (Thompson & Adloff 1980).
As a movement, Polisario became the liberation vehicle and took charge of providing medical care for its people and also constructed schools among other vital things. The result of the foregoing was the birth of an informed people hence a stronger foundation for the movement. People began seeing the Polisario movement as their representative and when the Spaniads left, the Polisario movement proclaimed the creation of the SADR which was an abbreviation of Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. As such, this proved that the land or region in the sahara belonged to them hence validly theirs.

Morocco and the Western Saharan Region

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When looking at a world map of the current century, and depending on where you are, one would get to see many different shapes of countries and names that you would have otherwise not have noticed in other maps. Examples can be seen when you take a look at the Middle East and North Africa, for instance, if you stand on the Arabian side of the Gulf, it is named the “Arabian Gulf” and if you stand on the Iranian side it is called the “Persian Gulf.” However, this paper concentrates on the other side of the Middle East, namely Morocco and the Western Saharan Region. To understand what this region stands for and why it is not a self-governing state we must look at the historical context behind the region. Only after that has been cleared, we can start to look into and analyse the actions states have taken towards the region, or in other words lack thereof.
History takes us back to the 1880’s when the Shareefain Kingdom in North West Africa was seen as an area of paramount interest to its French neighbours, and the Kingdom was reaching a steady decline. France had always been close to the Kingdom and waited as the events within the country could lead to the perfect condition for them to intervene, with the French recognising the times to “help” and be the negotiator between the Kingdom and the Algiers as well as the Magazine, France established a strong connection not only to the kingdom and the citizens but also the region as a whole. Recognising this the British Empire along with the Spanish moved to try to assert their power in the region to no avail.
Then in 1907 a conference was called by the three to sign a treaty to maintain a “status quo” in north Africa(Harris 1913). The French Republic had a very expansionist mind-set like most of the empires of that time, and with the once rich Ottoman Empire becoming the Sick Man of Europe in its decline, it was an opportune moment for such powers to expand their territories. This was apparent as France had already made a food hold in western and central Africa. Following civil wars and other disputes over the region in the early 1900’s a treaty signed by the Sultan of the Shareefain Kingdom was signed in 1912 in the City of Fez, the treaty was known as the one that gave the consent of the kingdom to become a protectorate of France (Harris)Western Sahara however was slightly different because of a different history, historically speaking the area was mainly inhabited by tribes of people who were nomadic and moved in the area. Again as we look back into the 1880’s we find that during a conference that was held in Berlin, colonial powers had split the continent of Africa among them in 1884.


Morocco had shown the intention to acquire Spanish Sahara at the time of its independence.They claimed that their independence would be incomplete without the Sahara.The leaders wanted to fight to restore boundaries as they claimed Sahara was part of the Greater Morocco.King Hassan in the year 1973 campaigned through newspapers(Pennel 2000) that the Sahara should be returned to Morocco. King Hassan approached the international Court of Justice to determine on the issue whether Sahara belonged to Morocco or not.Spain refused the claims of Morocco and requested the United Nations to go on a mission and establish from the Sahrawi people whether they wanted to be independent or to be annexed by Morocco. UN established that the people wanted independence.
Morocco invaded Western Sahara in the late 1975 under the instructions of King Hassan.This was a few months after the International Court of Justice ruled that Western Sahara should be an independent state.The Polisario government was pushed into the territories Eastern fringe. The Spanish army asked its army to retreat from Sahara because it did not want to go to war with Morocco or engage unarmed civilians. Through Madrid accords Spain left Sahara.It now became Western Sahara.Morocco took two thirds while Mauritania took a third.


Before Spain ceded control of Spanish Sahara Polisario made a declaration that Spanish Sahara was now independent and it would be referred to us Saharan Arab DemocraticRepublic.Many Moroccan troops were already in North Sahara and Mauritian troop were in the south.They were countered by the Polisario who used guerrilla warfare.They forced out the Mauritian forces.Morocco took the advantage of the opportunity and annexed the portion that had been relinquished by the Mauritius. Morocco encouraged its citizens to occupy Sahara.(Zoubir 1975).

Cease Fire

Polisario and the Moroccan government agreed to a cease fire between the two countries’ forces.They agreed to a referendum determining Sahrawi people’s right of self determination.(Zoubir &Pazzania,1995). Both countries accepted that the the census results would determine who could vote in the planned referendum. Later on it became apparent that Morocco did not intend to follow the arrangement. King Hassan realized that the results of the referendum would favour the Sahrawi people. Morocco started making demands that more Moroccans to be settled in the Sahara region. This was really costly to the commission that was in charge of the referendum as it aimed to make an updated voters register (Whitfield,2007). Morocco continued to frustrate the MINURSO efforts with the hope that UN would either ran out of money or patience.

Importance of West Sahara to Spain, Morocco and Mauritania

It is evident that people would always seek and fight over better pastures. As such the western sahara region was so important to the three countries hence the history. Among the most important reasons, western sahara was rich in minerals such as iron, natural gas, uranium and also oil. Further, there are so many rich fishing grounds. This therefore translates to Morocco’s obstruction of Saharawis self-determination struggle so that it could get control over all of the natural resources that the Sahara region has.
Many people have forgotten that this conflict still exists.The United Nations stopped the attempts to have a referendum for self determination for the people of Western Sahara. The French acronym of the referendum is MINURSO. The United Nations method has been to encourage Algeria, Morocco and Polisarion who are the parties to the conflict to negotiate with the aim of finding a suitable solution. So far these parties have negotiated five times but there has been no solution. Algeria is not implicated in the conflict,it is only defending the exercise of the right of self determination by the people of Sahrawi. Morocco’s claim too is very crucial for its foreign diplomacy agenda. Algeria supports the Sahrawi people both diplomatically and financially. Morocco left the African Union in protest.

First And Second Intifada

During the year 1999, there arose political activists who decided to seek government redress on matters relating to violations of human rights. Despite the protests, the Morrocan government was intolerant to these activist groups. The result was the legislation of laws that outlawed these organisations. Because of the outlawing of these groups, the force that was used to affect the policies led to disappearances. Consequently, there was the creation of the Equity and Reconciliation Commission to address the issue and also compensate the victims and their families.
After the death of King Hassan II who had promised reforms and democracy, there was the first intifada. This created a political space that was somehow new. Students of Sahrawi held meetings in different areas including the Al-Zamlah Square, which was the capital of the territory. These students made demands for scholarships and transport services. In a bid to send the message properly, they decided to sit in tents and hotels which were being used by the United Nations employees. The spot was a symbol due to the previous history as these meetings took place in areas where their protestors had been killed while fighting for independence.
Political prisoners joined the students claiming compensation and a stop to the disappearances. To add on the list of groups was the number of phosphate miners who joined the groups and demonstrated for almost twelve days. To curb these protestors, the government sent its troops and people were beaten and detained. Their homes were also attacked and ransacked because of the directions from the government. When the activists accused the police of brutality among other issues, the other groups joined in. among them was the Morrocan Settlers giving more life to the protests.
After a long period of protests, there was a need for peace. As such, peace was developed between the years 2002 and 2004. When there arose a standstill in the peace development in the year 2005, the protests ensued although they were not as violent as before and this was named the second Infada. What followed the protests was the tackling of the issues of independence. From the preceding, it is evident that these two infadas sought to address different things as the first one was about human rights while the second one was about independence.

New Leadership

When Koffi Annan was appointed to be the secretary General of UN many people were hopeful that he was going to save Western Sahara as it had slipped into limbo.He replaced the Egyptian Secretary General Boutros Ghali in 1997. Kofi Annan stated that he would help with the Western Sahara crisis.He send Baker III to Western Sahara and determine whether it was possible to hold a referendum.He was also to establish whether the conflicting parties could reach a compromise.Both parties still favoured a referendum.He got the referendum back on track. This was an effort in futility because the referendum commission found that part of the voters were deemed ineligible to vote so it started the process of voter registration again.
Annan showed his concern on whether at any point in time there will be a possibility of a referendum. He concluded that only a political compromise would work the miracle (Mundy, 2010). The Baker plan states the chances of Morocco becoming a territory that is autonomous through elections (Mundy, 2010). Unfortunately both parties rejected Baker’s proposal.After the failure of Baker’s strategy he met again with the security council where he stated that the crisis will never come to an end unless one party did what they did not want to do. He gave the security council four options. The council instructed Baker to get a political solution which was ready to provide the self-determination rights (Theofilopoulou,2006). He started making another document.Baker’s new plan was favourable to both parties but it was still rejected by Morocco and Polisario. Polisario accepted the second document a year later but Morocco still rejected it (Mundy, 2010). Baker resigned because he felt that his efforts were wasted.
When Bakers resigned in the year 2004 the conflict rose again just like before. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon filed a report about Morocco’s continued attempts on the Western Saharan countries. He put up autonomy for the Western Sahara in the kingdom of morocco. On the other side the polisario leaders are still fighting for their right of self determination. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, in the same year he also released another report but the report had some good news where he revealed that they were going to have a resolution of the conflict between Morocco and polisario. Unfortunately during the general elections in Morocco in the year 2007, Morocco held parliamentary elections and included the areas of the Western Saharan. This was taken badly with the polisario who condemned it. After this the polisario decided to push in with their request of having a referendum on self determination.
In the year 2008, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon released a new report concerning the conflict between the kingdom of Morocco and the polisario. The report revealed that the conflict had risen up in a terrifying state. During the celebrations in morocco which was marking its thirtieth anniversary, King Mohammed VI of Morocco gave a speech that the kingdom of morocco was not going to give in when it comes to securing its territories and it was not going to rest until the success of the negotiations. In 2007 polisario held its twelfth congress where it discussed going back to armed conflict.
Morocco had reported the polisario of breaking the 1991 ceasefire agreement. The polisario announced a group of elections where they were going to elect a new parliament in the refugee camps in Algeria. The polisario had meetings where they celebrated their self proclaimed thirty second anniversary of their self proclaimed Saharan Arab democratic republic. Morocco on learning the intentions of the polisario threatened to strike the places where these events were going to take place.
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s reports show that both Morocco and polisario are not willing to resolve their long term conflicts. The two adversaries, Morocco and polisario are irritating because they are seen not to agree on almost everything that is seen to be of help when it comes to resolving their issues. Morocco is seen on the forefront when it comes to having resolutions, Morocco agreed on the 1974 ceasefire showing that they were in a position of negotiating with the polisario peacefully.
The western Saharan has even gone further to be a place of interest to even other nations. It is now clear and evident that not only Morocco and polisario are in the race of winning and occupying western Saharan. This may result in even a scarier conflict among these nations of interest to win over occupying of the Western Sahara. These nations of interests are playing a role in this conflict and mostly to prolong the conflicts as they get ready to also claim part of it. These countries are interested because the Western Sahara is full of oil fields and natural resources that they want to benefit from.

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Why Is The Issue Unexplored And Uncovered By The Media Outlets Within The Arabian Gulf Estates?

Journalists of the Arabian Gulf Estates know which red lines should not be crossed when criticising their leaders. They therefore exercise self-censorship to avoid public anger being directed towards them.Most of the media houses are owned by those in power.This makes it difficult to exercise independence.They end up reporting only on what their government would like to hear.The crisis in West Sahara rarely hits international headlines because of media blackout in the 80%territory occupied by Morocco.
Gulf states are unwilling to have strained relations with a strategically located power. Morocco is strategically positioned because of its proximity to the Mediterrenean sea and the atlantic ocean.It is easy to mobilize the police and the military if there is an uprising in a country that needs its help.Gulf countries therefore keep their media in check to gain favour with Morocco.
Another reason why this issue remains unexplored and uncovered by the media outlets within the Arabian gulf states is because Morocco is a member state of the Gulf Cooperation Council.The GCC members have an obligation towards each other.The media outlets cannot turnish Morocco’s reputation because as members of Gcc they are obligated to support Morocco’s plan in relation to Western Sahara.

The Ties Between Morocco and the United Arabs Emirates


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Relationship between Morocco and UAE can be traced back as 1982-1984 when economic, commercial and technical cooperation arguments were formed. This formed the basis of joint ventures mainly in tourism, mining and export industries between the two governments. It’s important to know that the relationship between the two countries have continued to improve with closer ties in trade and political connection.
Trade volumes have hit a high of over a half a billion dollars in non oil sectors. Top leaders from the countries have made high profile visits to the other nations notably by the UAEs crown prince his highness Sheikh Mohammed Zayed Al Nahyan to Morocco in 2015 that preside signing of multi dollar trading agreements. This was followed by a month later by the visit of King Mohammed the VI to the UAE.
Further to their economic ties the two countries have military cooperation indicated by a long past by Moroccan legislators stabling military cooperation between the two countries; also pledging to assist each other in the fight against terrorism.
It’s thus indisputable that the UAE and Morocco relationship will continue to improve and strengthen, supported by the increase in bilateral political and mining ties.
Morocco and the UAE are both members of the Gulf Cooperation Council.The Gulf Cooperation council was established in 1981.It consists of Oman,Kuwait,Bahrain,Morocco and the United Arab Emirates.UAE stood by Morocco when Morocco stated on 25th November at a GCC meeting attended by foreign ministers of member states when Morocco stated that it could only negotiate after it is given a guarantee that it would retain its sovereignty of all of its territories.
The wellbeing of Morocco has been facilitated by the United Arab Emirates. As such, there has been the development of stronger ties between these countries and a good example of the foregoing can be inferred from Morocco’s action to send its armies to help Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War in the year 1992. Further, how Morrocco contributed to the happenings in Palestine has led to even more greater ties between the Middle East. It is also worth noting that the Morrocans participation was funded by the United Arab Emirates.
Morocco and the United Arab Emirates signed an agreement on 21st April 2006 so as to promote bilateral judicial cooperation. The two countries agreed to cooperate on several areas; civil, criminal, trading and personal status matters. Mohammed Bouzoubaa,the then minister of Justice in Morocco signed on behalf of Morocco while Muhammad Nakhira Al-Dhahiri on behalf of United Arabs Emirates. This agreement encouraged participation of the two countries in seminars that were judicial and which would result in the expertise exchange of new information on judicial issues. These two countries also had a bilateral investment treaty signed in 1999 and came into force in 2002.
In the year 2015 King Mohammed VI and Sheikh Mohammed Ba Zayed AL-Nahyane signed several bilaterall cooperation agreements: Security and anti-terrorism treaty,a memorandum of understanding in relation to the establishment of joint commission of consular affairs., memorandum of understanding between between the Moroccan academy and United Arabs Emirates diplomatic academy,another memorandum of understanding in the field of agriculture development and Livestock etc.

Recommendation to UAE

The UAE should mantain ties with Morocco.Exchanging views is great as both countries will learn from each other on issues of security,terrorism threats and other challenges faced by the Arab Nations.
Consultations between countries especially are when shaping visions which are common to both countries.
Not a lot has changed since the Western Sahara crisis began. The conflict is worse. So much time has gone wasted and so much money lost. So many Sahrawi have been displaced. Most of them are refugees. Majority of Sahawarians have never the feeling of being in their own home. It’s unsafe for them to go to their homes because the polisarions still fight for recognition of self determination rights while Moroccans still attack them. Up to now Morocco has refused to leave Western Sahara. They have gotten support of many states, both in diplomatic and military capacity. In some instances states, finance Morocco. Algeria is the most noticeable country to have shown willingness to continue with military supply to Sahrawians.
The United States, France and Spain still support Morocco. If France and the United States stopped abruptly the United Nation and organizations that try to advocate for peaceful negotiations it will be easy to get a permanent solution to the crisis in the Western Sahara region. The United Nations has played a huge part in attempting to bring an end to the conflict in Western Sahara. The U.N has brought to our notice how weak our system of global governance is. For there to be a permanent solution of Western Sahara conflict the security council of the United Nation needs to be unified. If the United States of America became less concerned with the strategic position of Morocco, less concerned with dealing with Islamic terrorism and more concerned with the right of self determination of the Sahara people there would be hope of the Western Saharan conflict coming to an end.

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