Asria Mohamed, a refugee from Western Sahara and information officer of the Norwegian Support Committee, is one of the many people trying to raise awareness around the situation in Western Sahara, but too often all she gets is a “Huh? Is that even a country?”.
Short background on the conflict
Western Sahara was a Spanish colony until the mid-1970s, and was at that time named Spanish Sahara. When Spain backed out in 1975, both Morocco and Mauritania made their claim over the country. These neighboring countries claimed that Western Sahara had been a part of their countries’ territory before the colonization. At the same time Polisario (the Sahrawi rebel national liberation movement, which is today dedicated to end Moroccan presence and occupation of Western Sahara) claimed independence. The International Court of Justice rejected the claims of Morocco and Mauritania, but Morocco continued their claim over the territory and thereby the occupation.
“Find one mistake”
The map shows the colonies of Africa in 1945 and 2013 (which remains unchanged to this day). Western Sahara is the last colony of Africa, under Morocco.
The campaign “find one mistake” is a campaign started by SAIH (Studentenes og Akademikernes Internasjonale Hjelpefond), to raise awareness of the situation in Western Sahara. The situation there is similar to that of Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine in the Middle East, but the difference arises in that Western Sahara gets no media attention in Norway, and very few have even heard of Western Sahara, let alone knew it was a “country”.
Stephen Zunes, a professor at the University of San Francisco, had a lecture as a guest lecturer at the University of Tromsø about the occupation of Western Sahara. He explicitly mentioned that the situation in Western Sahara is not hopeless even though it may seem so.
He talked about the time in the 80s and early 90s, the time of sanctions against South Africa due to the apartheid regime. This situation also seemed hopeless. But the apartheid regime did end, due to international pressure from the civil society around the world. Professor Zunes met president F. W. de Clerk, the last president in South Africa before the end of apartheid. De Clerk told Zunes that much of the reason for his decision to release Nelson Mandela (which in many ways symbolized the end of apartheid) was not moral changes, but sanctions and international pressure from the civil society.
He also mentioned the East-Timor-situation in Asia where the situation was similar, and in some ways even worse, to the one in Western Sahara, but with the help of international pressure the situation has become brighter today.
Text: Maria Zaikova