Andrew McConnell – The Last Colony
“Western Sahara is Africa’s last open file at the United Nations Decolonisation Committee. Morroco invaded the territory in 1975 and forced colonial power Spain to withdraw without holding a UN sanctioned referendum on the future of the state. With Franco on his deathbed Spain had little desire for confrontation and so divided the land between Morocco and Mauritania, ignoring the pleas of the indigenous Saharawi people and a ruling by the International Court of Justice which found neither country had any sovereignty over the territory.
A Saharawi rebel group, the Polisario Front, which had formed a few years earlier to fight the Spanish occupation, declared the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) on 27 February 1976 and began an all out guerrilla war against the new occupiers. With heavy backing from Algeria the Polisario had many early successes and forced the withdrawal of Mauritania in 1979. Morocco then took control of the entire country and the war continued into the 1980’s. Thousands of Saharawls fled the invasion and set up refugee camps across the border in neighbouring Algeria where they remain to this day, their numbers having grown to some 170,000.
Polisario’s gains were hampered in the mid-eighties with the building of a heavily mined 1600 kilometre sand wall by Morocco, dividing Western Sahara in two and keeping the Polisario mostly confined to the inland desert. A ceasefire was signed in 1991 with the agreement that a referendum on self-determination would be held the following year. Nineteen years later that referendum has yet to take place, and for the Saharawi people a sense of injustice, hopelessness, and anger grows ever stronger.”