- Tomorrow, the Saharawi liberation front, Polisario, is to celebrate and commemorate its 30 years of existence in the Algerian desert refugee camps. The front, originally founded to oust the Spanish colonialists from Western Sahara, however deplores its continued existence.
Is it really an occasion for celebrations? Thirty years of war, fighting and without reaching the aim that 53 other African nations have reached; independence. Isn't it rather an occasion for asking; "What went wrong?"
Sahrawis will not let these troublesome questions ruin their 30th anniversary of fighting for their right of self-determination. Tomorrow, the normal 'tristesse' of the refugee camps in the Algerian desert - named after the main towns in Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara to keep the memory alive - will be furbished into the "grande fête" of the heroes of the liberation struggles.
On 20 May 1973, the authoritarian rulers of Spanish Sahara - one of Africa's last colonies - for the first time were confronted with armed resistance. The Frente Polisario, aiming at liberating the Spanish colonies of Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro, seemed to be in a good position to achieve its goals. Only in 1968, Spain had granted independence to its other African colony, Spanish Guinea (now Equatorial Guinea). In 1975, chances were enhanced by the Portuguese withdrawal from its colonies and the death of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco.
At the edge of independence, the Sahrawis were however stabbed in the back by their, now democratic, colonial masters. The New Spain wanted to decolonise, but in those chaotic days in Madrid, nobody knew how, and Moroccan troops were already entering the colony. Madrid therefore gave into Moroccans claims to Western Sahara and transferred the territory to Morocco and Mauritania in an agreement that since has been deemed contrary to international law.
Thus, the real war began and the Saharawi people were thrown into a wandering that has taken Biblical dimensions. As the Polisario had to evacuate most of the Saharawi territory to Moroccan troops and later settlers, the majority of the civilian population followed their political leaders into Algerian exile, during heavy attacks from Moroccan troops. The refugee camps, housing an estimated 150,000 Sahrawis, since then have been the home of generations.
Polisario's role has been that of a liberation movement, but it is also internationally recognised as the legitimate representation of the Saharawi people. Its longlivity however mostly reflects the long duration of the independence struggle. If Western Sahara was to gain independence, Polisario "might even disappear," Polisario top diplomat Emhamed Khadad told afrol News last year. Mr Khadad expressed a sincere desire for a situation where the existence of Polisario would not be necessary.
Tomorrow, Sahrawis and a large number of invited guests from all over the world will however commemorate these 30 years of struggle and pray for a political solution to the conflict, as renewed armed conflict seems more and more possible.
But they will also celebrate their victories, which have not been few. The exiled government of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), composed of Polisario members, is recognised by the African Union (causing Morocco to stay outside the AU) and a long list of states. Polisario in 1978 defeated Mauritania, which now recognises SADR. The Sahrawis have been able to stand united for all these 30 years of hardship. These victories will be celebrated tomorrow.
Another victory of the Saharawi people is their ability to avoid extremism in spite of these hardships. Albeit their recent history is comparable to those of the Palestinians, there has never been any terrorism stemming from Saharawi citizens. Thus, even though Morocco now mourns its deaths after last week's terrorist attacks on Casablanca; no one will be able to argue that one should not celebrate the Saharawi independence struggle in solidarity with Rabat. There is simply no connection between the two events.
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