I’m learning a lot with this African-Country-a-Week series. Like: Western Sahara is not part of Morocco. While I was crossing Morocco off the map, I noticed that a goodly area that looked like it was part of the country was actually disputed territory.
Here’s the story: This was once a Spanish colony, known as Spanish Sahara. When Spain pulled out in 1976, Morocco moved in. Although only about a half million people live here, Western Sahara has mineral wealth, including offshore oil.
Furthermore, history shows over and over that many people want to be independent even it makes no economic sense. They like where they are, in part because it is their place. Economically, Detroit should be shut down, but that’s not going to happen. And Detroit doesn’t have oil! Morocco’s royal family believes that Western Sahara is their territory and always was, and they have been in power for 500 years.
Allegedly, the Moroccans have not behaved well toward the people of Western Sahara (who are known as Saharawis). That’s not helping the Moroccans’ case, is it? If they want the oil, they should be nicer.
The United Nations has tried to work out a transfer of power in Western Sahara, but the proposed referendum that would let the people decided whether to be independent or to join Morocco has not taken place. The Moroccan government claims that there is a security risk to a referendum.
The situation continues, long and tedious and ugly. Poorly drawn borders are an unfortunate legacy of Africa’s colonial era. What made sense for France and Spain has led to nothing but headaches for the Saharawi. If Morocco prevails, it will be an oil power, but it is the oil that gives the Saharawi a reason to fight.