Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Africa's Last Colony Continues Independence Struggle in Western Sahara

Africa’s Last Colony Continues Independence Struggle in Western Sahara

Massacre of displaced persons prompts outrage against Moroccan govt.

Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire

Thousands of people demonstrated in the Spanish capital of Madrid on November 13 in response to a massacre carried out by the Moroccan security forces of Western Saharan people in a displaced person’s camp at Laayoune in this occupied territory located in northwest Africa. A former Spanish colony, the Western Sahara has been a hotly contested zone for nearly four decades when the Polisario Front, a national liberation movement, took up arms to drive out successive occupiers of their territory.

Members of the National Coordination of Associations in Solidarity with Sahara, which organized the demonstration in Madrid, accused the Spanish government of ignoring the crimes committed by Morocco against the former colony. Leaders of the two main labor unions in Spain joined the demonstrations to protest the November 8 killing of dozens of Saharawi people and the injuring of up to 4,500 others. (, Nov. 13)

Although the Spanish government demanded an immediate explanation from Morocco in regard to the circumstances surrounding the killings, the massacre has been largely hidden from the international media due to the exclusion of many journalists from areas surrounding Laayoune camp. According to Radio France International, only reporters from Le Monde and Le Figaro having been granted permission to enter the camp.

On November 10 the Moroccan authorities said that its security forces had detained 163 Saharawi people. However, the Polisario Front claimed that over 2,000 people were arrested and that the Moroccan security forces had also attacked others in Smara, some 240 kilometres east of Laayoune.

The massacre at Laayoune took place almost simultaneously with talks at the United Nations between representatives of the Polisario Front and the Moroccan government over the future of the territory. The Moroccan government presented plans to grant the Saharawi people autonomy while the Polisario Front demanded the holding of a national referendum on full self-determination and independence for the former Spanish colony that was annexed by Rabat in 1975.

There was no agreement reached during the talks between the parties involved even though they decided to continue discussions in December.

Morocco is a monarchy located in northwest Africa which has had close ties with the United States since the early days of its independence from Britain. Morocco was the first country in the world to recognize the former British colonies after their war of independence during the 1770s and early 1780s.

In addition to the demonstrations held against the massacres in Madrid, the Republic of South Africa issued a statement in response to the developments in the Western Sahara. The African National Congress-led government in South Africa has been a longtime supporter and ally of the Polisario Front and its provisional government known as the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR).

The South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation said in a statement on November 14 that “It is unfortunate that the clashes occurred while the third informal talks between the representatives of Morocco and the Polisario in Manhasset, New York were taking place.” This same statement continues by urging all parties involving to work out a “just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution that will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara.” (BuaNews (Tshwane), November 14)

Historical Background to the Western Sahara Independence Struggle

In 1884-85 the Berlin Conference convened to divide up the African continent among the various colonial and imperialist powers of Western Europe. Spain was recognized by the Berlin Conference as having colonial control over the Western Sahara region where various indigenous groups had lived for centuries.

During the height of the African liberation movement in 1963, the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization declared the Western Sahara as an area deserving of independence. Two years later in 1965, the General Assembly adopted its first resolution requesting that Spain decolonize the territory.

Then in December of 1966, the General Assembly requested that Spain organize a national referendum within the Western Sahara on the future of the colonized nation. Spain's refusal to honor these resolutions coupled with the growing demand for national independence by the Saharawi people, prompted the masses in 1973 to initiate the Frente Para la Liberacion de Saguia Al Hamra y Rio de Oro (POLISARIO) which was formed in Zouerate, Mauritania with the sole purpose of liberating the country.

Later in 1975, Spain, Mauritania and Morocco signed the Madrid Accords in which the colonial power agreed to relinquish administrative control over the Western Sahara to Morocco and Mauritania. In December of that same year, Morocco sent in troops to Laayoune where fighting erupted between them and the Polisario Front.

In 1976 Spain officially withdrew from its colonial outposts in the Western Sahara and the Polisario Front declared the establishment of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic in Bir Lahlou. Fighting raged during the remaining years of the decade resulting in Mauritania withdrawing any claims to the territory in 1979.

The SADR applied for formal membership in the Organization of African Unity in 1980 and was granted this request in February of 1982. By 1984, Morocco officially withdrew its membership in protest from the OAU.

Later in 1991, a ceasefire agreement was signed between the Polisario Front and Morocco with the understanding that a national referendum would be held inside the territory on independence for the Western Sahara. Nonetheless, fighting continued sporadically after the ceasefire agreement was signed and the promised referendum has not been held.

Morocco, which is heavily backed by the U.S. and other imperialist states along with Israel, has systematically refused to hold the referendum on independence for the Western Sahara. The recent massacre at Laayoune is representative of the colonial character of the national oppression of the Saharawi people, who even under international law, have the right to self-determination and full political independence.

Imperialists Continue to Ignore the Plight of the Saharawi People

In a visit to Morocco by U.S. Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota during November, he stated that relations between Rabat and Washington could not have been better. Ellison said that “the people of the U.S. are very happy to work with Morocco to help alleviate poverty and promote economic security.” (Maghreb Arab Press, November 12)

Ellison also noted that the U.S. had “a lot of faith and confidence in the Moroccan people and I have no doubt that Moroccans can produce world-class goods and services and compete with anybody in the world, including the U.S.” (Maghreb Arab Press, November 12)

Nonetheless, the Australia Western Sahara Association has pointed to the underlying reason behind the continued occupation of the Saharawi territory stating that the “Western Sahara is rich in mineral resources, including phosphate mineral rock which Australia imports contrary to international law. Western Sahara has one of the best fishing grounds in the world. Currently its off-shore oil resources are being explored.” (

The Saharawi people have a right to national independence and the continued occupation of their territory by Morocco, which is supported by the imperialist states, should be reason enough to attract the support of anti-imperialists inside the U.S. and the other western states.

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