Africa's Forgotten (And Festering) Freedom Struggle in Western Africa
Algiers -- The Western Sahara is not just a section of the famous desert that dominates North Africa.
The Western Sahara is a country on the Atlantic Ocean coast of North Africa with the dubious distinction of being the “Last Colony” on the vast continent of Africa. The current colonizer of this mineral-rich nation is the neighboring country of Morocco, which for decades has been conducting a viciously brutal occupation. A long history of human rights violations by Morocco in the Western Sahara have drawn wide condemnation from diverse entities including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the United States, ironically an ally of Morocco.
The plight of the Saharawi people, the indigenous population of the Western Sahara, was the focus of a conference in Algiers last weekend that attracted participants from across Africa , Europe and the Americas. That conference featured Saharawians who have been tortured and imprisoned by Moroccan authorities as well as experts who detailed various facets of Morocco's illegal occupation, including that country's failures to comply with United Nations mandates to conduct a voter referendum for determining the future of Western Sahara.
"Morocco confiscated our land. Built a wall dividing our country. It violates human rights while plundering our natural resources," Mohammed Abdelaziz, the President of the Western Sahara, said during his address at the opening ceremony of the 5th International Conference of Algiers. Called “The Right of Peoples to Resistance: the case of the Saharawi People," the conference was held at Algeria's Palace of Culture in the nation’s capital.
"We need a free, fair and just referendum to exercise the right of self- determination to create an independent state" President Abdelaziz said.
The Saharawi want an independent nation, while Morocco has offered the Saharawi only autonomy under Moroccan control. Morocco initially invaded Western Sahara in 1975 following the withdrawal of the then colonial ruler, Spain. That military invasion was followed by Morocco’s sending of hundreds of thousands of settlers into the country. It sparked a war with the Saharawi which wound down to a stalemate with Morocco controlling 80 percent of the country, including its fishing rich coast line, vast mineral deposits and major cities. The remainder of the country has been controlled by the Polisario Front, a liberation force that remains the main political force in the struggle for independence.