Mustapha Salma and the silenced truth about the Sahara and the Polisario

Whether you are acquainted with the question of the Sahara or not and you come across any article about the issue published on a foreign news outlet, you have undoubtedly encountered the following (mis)information: the Polisario leadership is fighting for the independence of the Saharawi people; the Polisario leadership is the sole legitimate representative of the Saharawis; Algeria supports the Polisario because the principle of self-determination is one of the tenets of its foreign policy; Morocco annexed the Sahara in 1975 and is illegally occupying the territory and violating the human rights of the Saharawis.

Yet these supporters of the Polisario and pseudo-defenders of human rights have been only publicizing one side of the story in order to lure the international public opinion into being sympathetic with the “cause” of the Polisario and dismiss Morocco as an occupying power. In the process, the main victim is the truth. For those who tackle the issue, irrespective of their ideological leanings, analyze it from a one-sided perspective -that of the Polisario and Algeria – while ignoring many historical, political and social facts that are crucial to grasp the multifaceted nature of this thorny conflict.

A new video of Polisario opponent Mustapha Salma Oueld Sidi Mouloud has debunked the “truths” that have long been divulged about this issue, and uncovered the true nature of Polisario leadership and to what extent their components represent the Saharawis.

In an interview with the Moroccan news outlet Hespress, Mustapha Salma said that he was banned entry to the Tindouf camps not only because he has a different political approach regarding the way to resolve the conflict, but most importantly, because he “has more legitimacy than the Polisario leaders.” In this regard he highlighted his belonging both by birth and origin to the Sahara, unlike the leaders of the separatist movement. 

Unlike the current leaders of the Polisario, “I belong to the Sahara by birth and by tribe,” he said. “My tribe never went out of the Sahara, neither is it recorded in Algeria nor Mauritania,” he added.

He went to say that this is what the leaders of the Polisario lack. “It is rare to find a leader of the Polisario who is Saharawi by tribe and by birth,” he noted. “Most of them may have been of Saharawi origins, but did not live in the Sahara, or they were born in the Sahara and are not of Saharawi descent,” he said. 

In this regard he gave the example of the President of the Saharawi Parliament and head of the Polisario negotiating delegation, El Khatri Adou, as well of Mohammed Boukhari, Polisario’s representative to the United Nations.

Khatri Adou “was born in the Sahara but his origins have nothing to do with the Sahara. He is from a Mauritanian tribe and you won’t find a cousin or a relative of his in the Sahara,” he said.

“Whether the Saharawis lose or win, he has nothing to lose since he has nobody in the Sahara”, he noted.

 As regards Mohammed Boukhari, “he was born in Dakhla and belongs to the Gar’a tribe. Gar’a is a Mauritanian tribe,” he said.

“All his uncles live in Mauritania and are Mauritanians.”

The same applies, according to Mustapha Salam, to Mohammed Abdelaziz, leader of the Polisario, and the Minister of Defense, Mohamed Lamin Bouhal.

“Although Mohammed Abdelaziz is from a Saharawi tribe, he was not born in the Sahara, nor did he live there, while the Minister of defense was born in, and his family lives in Algeria.”

“The only tribe that has both legitimacies [in reference to his Rguibat tribe] is banned from taking the leadership of the Polisario, because it is not the interest of Algeria,” he said. 

According to the former Polisario official, Algeria prefers to deal with the likes of Boukhari, Khatri or Mohammed Abdelaziz, because it can put pressure on them, in a sense that if they refuse to abide by its orders, it can tell them you are not fully Saharawis. 

‘Those are people who can be put under pressure and can be even called mercenaries, because they are fighting for their own self-interest” he noted.

Mustapha Salma went on to denounce the fact that none of those who speak on behalf of the Saharawis and negotiate with Morocco are from the Sahara or were born in the territory. “The delegation that negotiates with Morocco does not include a single person who was displaced (uprooted) from the Sahara. 

Mustapha Salma expressed his disappointment to see the international community extending the red carpet to Mohammed Abdelaziz and his acolytes while ignoring Saharawis like him. 

“These people have hijacked our legitimacy, our rights and even our name, since they negotiate on our behalf,” he said.

“Even if they created an entity on our behalf, we have the right to partake in it, but we are being excluded,” he added. 

Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud is a living example of the undemocratic nature of the Polisario and its determination to stifle dissenting voices in the Tindouf camps. In the summer of 2010, Mustapha Ould visited the southern city of  Smara for the first time in 30 years, and declared that the Autonomy Plan presented by Morocco in 2007 was “the ideal solution” to the conflict. On his way to the Tindouf camps, on September 21, he was kidnapped by Polisario militia and imprisoned in the desert for 71 days. He now seeks to return to the camps to join his family but is being denied access with the staggering silence of the United Nations and human rights activists.

Samir Bennis