The Sahara between history and the need to reassess our policies

The issue of the Moroccan Sahara has taken–and continues to take—a large amount of time, effort and money from Moroccans with and without their consensus. The Moroccan state pours money in the Sahara with no guarantee that this will be of benefit to Moroccans. We are just gambling with our population’s well-being and waiting for something that, one day, will or won’t be in our hands.

First, the problem has its historical roots that go back to the Berlin Conference in 1884. The conference was organized to split Africa between England, Italy, France, Germany and other colonial countries. Fearing the territorial ambitions of France in the Maghreb after it conquered Algeria in 1830 and Tunisia in 1881, the Moroccan sultan, Hassan I, hurriedly sought support from England, a country that deceived him and made an exchange with France (Egypt for Morocco).

At the time, Morocco’s control extended to Sahara and Mauritania (the land of Muslims) and it was called the Far Maghreb. At that time, the Zawiyas played a major role in keeping the population under the sultan’s authority in some places. However, some other places, called Blad Siba (country of chaos) were dominated by dissidence.

Even after Spain gained control of the Sahara at the turn of the twentieth century, its control was nominal like in other parts of Morocco. It was not until 1934 when Spain managed to effectively control the territory. Its interest in the territory grew stronger after it discovered in 1949 that the Sahara contained natural resources, such as phosphates. Determined to keep this territory under its sovereignty, Spain used dilatory tactics in order to prevent Morocco from recovering this part of its territory.

Moving from the historical side to the prefabricated conflict, which has lasted for 37 years, we have watched how some neighboring countries have been bent on preventing Morocco from putting an end to this dispute. Algeria and some mercenaries from Sahara were and still are the core of the problem because they stand as a barrier to every attempt to resolve the issue. Algeria and other countries exert as much efforts as they can to abort any attempt to solve the issue.

As a Moroccan working in the Sahara, I see that the Moroccan strategy in Sahara has brought no positives, except for the Green March and the proposed Autonomy Plan which sounds mysterious to all Moroccans–because they know nothing about it except its name. If the Moroccan state wants supporters for the autonomy plan, it shall explain it first to the targeted area, then to all Moroccans and all the world. The agreement of Saharaoui people is very important for the success of this plan.

To put it in our officials’ minds, some Saharaoui people are neither with Morocco nor with the Polisario. They are with those who pay well. This kind of people shouldn’t be dealt with, because they are not the real representatives of the masses. Unfortunately, these people receive more benefits than those who fight for the ‘Moroccanness of the Sahara.’

Our State builds tens, if not hundreds, of houses for people to come back from Tindouf; though only a few of them have returned. We would be better off if we gave these houses to people who are living inside the Sahara and who are proud of being Moroccans. The state also offers jobs to those who are unqualified, as well as money and transport for these people to say that the Sahara is Moroccan. We can prove that the Sahara is Moroccan by its real people who are proud of being Moroccans without receiving a cent.

Morocco would be better off if it focused first and foremost on meeting the needs and grievances of the population living in the Sahara without any corruption and nepotism. Instead of giving handouts to the population living there, what should be done is to build a productive economy that would give better prospects for people’s future and better living conditions.

By doing so, the Moroccan government would enable the youth of the Sahara to become immune from any attempts of “polarization” and manipulation by the Polisario. Sahraouis would know that they are better off and enjoy the advantages of living under Moroccan sovereignty that outweigh the prospects they could expect from living in an independent country. That is to say, living under the sovereignty of an already-built country is better than building a new one. Morocco has a developing economy, a weight in the international sphere unlike a new country that will start over.

Like millions of my compatriots, I hope that this complicated issue will be resolved in the near future, in a cordial manner and without providing the opportunities that our enemies want. We would better integrate Saharaoui people in Morocco by giving importance to their human resources, culture and language to make them feel that they are an integral part of this country.

By Mohammed Chahbi

Morocco World News

TanTan, Morocco, November 27, 2012