The North African country of Morocco is known for its ancient cities, iconic markets, and even its association with the beat poets. But it’s also been part of a decades-long conflict in Western Sahara, which has cost thousands of lives.
Western Sahara is a territory located in the northwest coast of Africa. It’s the size of Colorado and home to around 600.000 people. It’s mostly an inhospitable desert, but it’s also rich in phosphate deposits and has access to offshore fishing grounds. It’s around 80% controlled by Morocco, but that control is being contested by the homegrown resistance known as the Polisario Front.
The conflict dates back to the post-WWII era and the decolonization of Africa. In the 1950s, France and Spain began to give up their colonial holdings. Suddenly newly-freed countries like Morocco started to set their eyes on borders made my former colonizers, wondering why they still needed to be respected. They ended up claiming Western Sahara at the UN in 1957.
In 1973, the Polisario Front was formed and a series of the regional disputes lead to the Western Sahara War, which lasted from 1975 to 1991. The conflict led to the displacement of thousands of Western Sahara citizens. And though a ceasefire was eventually called, there have been reports of several violations since then.