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Published: March 25th 2007
Western Sahara Sunset
I had to lay on the sand and brave the scorpions to get this snap.
Western Sahara rarely features on lists of the world's countries anymore. Even on most maps, this large area of northwest Africa generally appears as part of Morocco. However, even in the eyes of the United Nations, Western Sahara is a seperate entity.
The country used to be known as Rio de Oro after it was grabbed by Spain during the scramble for Africa in the late nineteenth century. They grabbed it as a protectorate mainly because other European countries were claiming new colonies so why shouldn't they. It was soon realised that the land had little economic worth and never broke even before it was given up by Spain in 1975.
The country was divided in two with the top half going to Morocco and the bottom half to Mauritania. But Morocco wanted all of it. Mauritania was far too poor to but up significant resistance and left Morocco to it.
During the last 120 years while all of this has been going on, the resident population, the Saharawi, have understandably been quite narked that they have had no say and no power in their own country. A nationalist movement was formed, the Polisario, initially to get
This is an attempt to illustrate the abject desolation of Western Sahara.
rid off the Spanish, then the Mauritanians and Moroccans.
Using guerilla tactics, the Polisario initially had some success fighting for independance, but, when funding, principally from Algeria and Libya, stopped coming, their progress has been very limited. In retaliation, the Polisario and Saharawi civilians have been attacked at different times by the Moroccans, the Mauritanians and the French Air Force.
Thousands of Saharawi fled into the Sahara Desert to escape the fighting and most have been there ever since. In 1981 the Moroccans constructed a fortified sand barrier, including the largest mine field in the world, within Western Sahara cutting off the refugees from the larger part of their own country. Some 200000 refugees currently live in camps in Algeria and in their own words "...have chosen a life in exile, hundreds of miles from home, rather than live under the rule of a king whose reign has sought to erase their existence".
In the mean time hundreds of thousands of Moroccan settlers have made Western Sahara their home. Principal employment is in mining the rich phosphate deposits or fishing. Both activities restricted to a narrow strip along the coast from which the Sahrawi are prevented from
More Endless Nothingness
Rock becomes gravel becomes sand as you head south.
accessing by the 1000km long barrier.
The United Nations have been arguing over what to do about the situation for over twenty years. None of the parties involved can agree on even minor points that must be settled before there can be any sort of referendum on independance. In the meantime more and more settlers arrive, attracted by cheap, ready built housing, great roads, cheap fuel, making the place certainly Moroccan in nature if not quite in name.
Travelling through the country you struggle to see what they are fighting over. It is an incredibly desolate part of the world. The searing heat, fierce wind and endless gravelly plains appear to be completely uninhabitable. But to some people its home and that is worth fighting over.
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