desert, Western Sahara

Everything you need to know about Western Sahara

Nargiz Shiraliyeva Nargiz Shiraliyeva 07 January 2021
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If you search Western Sahara in data maps, you will probably see this line: No data available. Western Sahara is one of the most interesting and unique territories in the world, and these Western Sahara facts can pique anyone's curiosity. That is why today we will talk about the Western Sahara conflict, its population, interesting facts about Western Sahara, and all you need to know about this place. 

Let's Know Western Sahara:

Geography

western sahara desert

First of all, where is Western Sahara? Western Sahara is a deserted area in Africa, bounded by the Northern Atlantic Ocean to the west, and its neighbours are Algeria, Morocco, and Mauritania. This land is famous for its endless deserts, extremely hot climate, and sadly complicated history. Some people may be confused about is Western Sahara a country or not? Western Sahara is a disputed country. Different authorities divided this country into two parts, and it is still debatable who owns Western Sahara

Population & Language

western sahara local woman

Although its territory is greater than the United Kingdom, the Western Sahara population is hardly over 620,000. The lands of Western Sahara are the most scantily populated in the world. Additionally, one of the most interesting facts about Western Sahara is that its population is the biggest stateless population on the planet. What is the capital of Western Sahara? Laayoune is one of the biggest cities and the capital of Western Sahara, and Western Sahara people mostly inhabit two-third of the area, and about 40% live in the Laayoune. Over 80% of the Western Sahara population lives in urban areas. 

Western Sahara people call themselves Sahrawi. They are nomadic,Bedouin tribes and they speak Hassaniya Arabic dialect as the Western Sahara language. It is hard to say that there is an official Western Sahara language in the country.  Western Sahara people use Spanish, standard Arabic, Berber, and French languages, besides the Western Sahara language across the state. Western Sahara population accepted Islam, and the majority of them are Sunni Muslims. However, Sahrawis living in urban areas are practising it differently from the rest. 

Colonization and Decolonization

united nations

Western Sahara conflict is one of the most unspoken conflicts in international politics. Even though Western Sahara people have been fighting for their rights for more than 50 years, you can never see Western Sahara facts in the headlines. One of the sadly interesting facts about Western Sahara is that this territory is the biggest of the 17 non-self-governing territories.

According to the UN, Western Sahara is a non-decolonized territory. It belongs to neither Spain nor Morocco, and it is not independent, either. So, "who owns Western Sahara and where is Western Sahara" is an open question. 

In ancient times, Western Sahara deserts were an important transit area for Mali and Morocco to trade with caravans. That is why Mali and The Kingdom of Morocco ruled Western Sahara for over 500 years. When Mali and Morocco's trades ceased, everyone forgot about Western Sahara. It became popular in the 18th century when European states were colonizing African countries. Spain got interested in Western Sahara and claimed it as its colony. It is hard to say that Spain enjoyed this place much. As Western Sahara is a vast desert, and its climate is not suitable for agriculture, Spain got a negative answer to the question "is Western Sahara a country of rich resources." However, this land was rich in phosphate. Hence, in the 1960s, Spain invested over 700 million euros in finding hidden treasures in these areas. They found crude oil deposits, but it was too expensive to extract from them. 

sand clock
 
From 1884 to 1975, Western Sahara remained a de facto colony of Spain. In 1973, the Polisario Front, an abbreviation of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Río de Oro, a rebel national liberation movement, was established to free Western Sahara and end Spanish colonization. At the same time, Algeria, Morocco, and Mauritania claimed that some parts of Western Sahara are their land. Meanwhile, four different parties, Spain, Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania, and Polisario Front, declared their rights to this region. One of the interesting facts about Western Sahara is that Laayoune, what is the capital of Western Sahara now and means "water sources," was the capital of Western Sahara between 1940 and 1976. 

In 1975, Morocco and Mauritania signed an agreement called "The Madrid Accords" in Madrid, Spain, which provided Spain to transfer Western Sahara administration to Morocco and Mauritania. Morocco was to control the northern two-third and Mauritania southern third. The UN did not recognize this agreement, as it is impossible to transfer administrative control without the opinion of that territory's people. 

Consequently, the question of who owns Western Sahara remained unanswered. Spain agreed to call a referendum so the Western Sahara population can choose if they want independence or to integrate with one of the neighboring countries. Morocco asked to postpone the referendum and hear the International Court of Justice regarding Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara. The court concluded both Morocco and Mauritania are historically bound to the region but have no rights to claim these lands as their legal territories. Therefore, Morocco organized the Green March of 300,000 Moroccan people escorted by 20,000 Moroccan troops. They met no resistance from Spain. By overnight, the whole Western Sahara was occupied by Moroccan powers. Yet, the Polisario Front opposed Morocco, which led to a never-ending war between Morocco and Western Sahara.

Taste of Freedom

handcuffs

In 1979, Mauritania and Polisario Front signed a peace agreement, and Mauritania left this territory. In 1991, Morocco and the Polisario Front signed a ceasefire agreement, but both parties are violating it until these days. 

The Polisario Front established the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic in 1976. Only 50 states recognize it as an independent country, and most of these states were members of the African Union. Laayoune, what is the capital of Western Sahara today, remained under Morrocan control. 

The Morocco and Western Sahara conflict caused a lot of casualties in Western Sahara. There were arguments about where is Western Sahara. Moreover, Morocco built six dividing walls to prevent the Polisario Front from entering so-called Moroccan territories. Morocco de facto administers the capital of Western Sahara. Morocco controls over 80% of the region, including all the coastline areas and natural resources, and exports over 30 million phosphates from Western Sahara every year. It makes Morocco the biggest exporter of phosphate and adds more than 1 billion dollars to its budget in a year. 

Recently, the Polisario Front was trying to destroy Mali and Morocco's trade route, which ended the 1991 ceasefire agreement in November 2020. 

Western Sahara flag

western sahara flag

After Spanish forces left the country in 1976, the first president El-Ouali Mustapha Sayed designed the first Western Sahara flag. The national Western Sahara flag has a black, white, and green horizontal tricolor with a red crescent and star in the middle stripe and a red chevron in the left corner. Each of the colors and symbols in the Western Sahara flag has its meaning; black color represents death while green means life, and white stands for peace. The crescent and four-pointed star indicate Islam, and the red chevron in the left corner symbolizes the revolutionary heritage of the Western Sahara people.  

Poor but Richly Charming

touristic place

After all of this information, you may think, is Western Sahara a country of tourism? Of course, it is not as rich and safe as most visited countries. However one of the greatest Western Sahara facts is that the combination of Morocco and Western Sahara nomadic cultures makes this country enchanting. 

You can meet some nomads playing music with kitchen tools (like pots and glasses) and dancing amusing native dances in the middle of the desert while others are kitesurfing on the ocean waters and discovering the desert's marvels with well-equipped modern vehicles. And, of course, camel caravans! What else can make you feel the real flavour of East culture?! Enjoying sunsets in the desert sitting on the camelback is a dream of every The Little Prince lover. 

books

İf you travel to Western Sahara, it is better to do it with tour guides. The Western Sahara conflict has not ceased yet; thus, there are many mined places and conflict zones. It will be great to bear in mind all these Western Sahara facts. Especially if you are a writer or journalist, you may face some challenges. When you get to that beautiful ocean of golden sands, you will fall in love with the scenery that opens up before your eyes. Almost everyone agrees that there is no better place to drive but deserts. Also, you may need a scarf. Locals will teach you how to use it as a real Sahrawi. The air is dusty and makes breathing challenging. Hence, scarves are one of the most needed things. The capital of Western Sahara Laayoune, Dakhla, and Boujdour is the most visited place in Western Sahara. Laayoune is mostly known for its bazaar and beautiful valleys. You can also rest at McDonald's and whet your appetite. Dakhla is the second biggest city, and, what makes it enchanting, is the white dunes. Dune is a desert surrounded by water.

What is more, after enjoying seafood, you can have an ostrich ride. And Boujdour- the land of fish! It will remind you of Swallow Falls from the famous movie Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. And, it is no wonder, as Boujour is the port city of Western Sahara

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Nargiz Shiraliyeva
Nargiz Shiraliyeva Wanderlust. Booklover.

Nargiz was born in Russia where she grew up until the age of 12 before moving to Baku, Azerbaijan. At different life stages she lived in Turkey and Serbia. As of 2020, she has been to 38 cities in 11 countries. AIESEC Azerbaijan Alumna. She is fond of participating at youth projects and making friends with people from all around the world. Her biggest dream is to visit all the continents and as many countries as possible. Following her passion to travel, she joined the team of a “Trawell Group” company.  

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