The Other Occupation: Western Sahara and the Case of Aminatou Haidar

December 2009

How long will U.S. authorities ignore the bleak realities of Moroccan repression?

A Tale of Two Human Rights Awardees

December 2009

The annual Robert F. Kennedy Award ceremony took place at the White House this year for the first time in its 28-year history. Also for the first time, the president of the United States was there to honor the awardees. Such public support from the White House is in stark contrast with its silence on the fate of last year’s winner, Aminatou Haidar, who is widely known as the Saharan Gandhi. Earlier in November, when she was returning from the United States after receiving the Civil Courage Award from the Train Foundation, Moroccan occupation authorities arrested and expelled Haidar from her homeland of Western Sahara.

Unlocking the Conflict in Western Sahara

April 2009

At the end of April, the UN Security Council will have the opportunity to make the right choice or the safe choice when it renews the authorization for the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO). The right choice would be to give the new UN envoy a mandate for peace. To do this, the Security Council would have to secure the commitment of both sides of the conflict, Morocco and the pro-independence Polisario Front, to power-sharing and self-determination. The safe choice, meanwhile, would be to continue under the weak mandate that contributed to the failure of the previous UN envoy.

Published by Foreign Policy In Focus.

The Potomac-SAIS report on North Africa: Paid Analysis, Partisan Fear Mongering, Bad Policy

April 2009

At the end of March, a relatively obscure Washington, D.C., think tank called the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies published a report — in conjunction with the conflict management program of the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University — arguing largely in support of Morocco’s 2007 autonomy proposal to solve the Western Sahara dispute. Framed in terms of US policy towards North Africa (‘Why the Maghreb Matters’), the report is a thinly veiled effort to provide academic and political legitimacy to a one-sided view of the Western Sahara issue. It precipitated a detailed response from the Western Saharan Union of Writers and Journalists.

Negotiations in Western Sahara: UN’s Last Chance?

December 2007

In recent months, the 32-year old Western Sahara conflict has generated almost unprecedented media coverage, all because of one de-contextualised fact. The pro-independence Polisario Front and the occupying Moroccan government met to discuss the disputed Britain sized territory in June and August 2007. Optimists pointed out that these were the first face-to-face meetings between the two antagonists since 2000. For pessimists, this author included (see Mundy, 2007) the mere existence of talks has come as a surprise. Nonetheless, the chances of a Polisario-Morocco agreement any time in the near future remains nil given that both sides are still attached to diametrically opposed positions. As always, Polisario continues to demand a self-determination referendum on independence for the native Sahrawi population of Western Sahara. Morocco, on the other hand, says independence is off the table, though it is willing to discuss an asymmetric power-sharing agreement (i.e., limited ‘autonomy’).

in Review of African Political Economy, Volume 34 Number 114 (Dec 2007), pp730-735.

The Future of Western Sahara

July 2007

The Bush administration and a bipartisan group of congressional leaders have enthusiastically supported the Moroccan autonomy plan as a means of ending the conflict. But Morocco’s plan for autonomy falls well short of what is necessary to bring about a peaceful resolution to the conflict. It also poses a dangerous precedent that threatens the very foundation of the post-World War II international legal system.

Performing the nation, pre-figuring the state: the Western Saharan refugees, thirty years later

June 2007

Recent social, economic and political changes in the Western Saharan refugee camps in southwest Algeria have import not only for the project of Western Saharan nationalism, but also for the ongoing peace process. These are examined through a background to the Western Sahara conflict, and an appraisal of the camps’ internal processes of elite politics, self-management and recent post-war socio-economic change.

in The Journal of Modern African Studies (2007), 45(2): 275-297
Cambridge University Press

Western Sahara: Against Autonomy

April 2007

In recent years, the Moroccan government has championed the idea of autonomy as a solution to its territorial dispute with pro-independence advocates over Western Sahara. Rabat has said it is willing to consider an autonomous, locally elected government in Western Sahara, which would have powers independent of the central government, albeit circumscribed by Morocco’s ultimate sovereignty. The movement for Western Saharan statehood, on the other hand, has rejected autonomy. It continues to claim the right of self-determination, to be exercised through a final status referendum among the territory’s indigenous ethnic Sahrawis.

Neutrality or complicity? The United States and the 1975 Moroccan takeover of the Spanish Sahara

September 2006

From mid-October to mid-November 1975, the Spanish Sahara was the site of a tense standoff between the governments of Spain and Morocco. By the end of the crisis, Madrid had abandoned its colony to Rabat, precipitating the now thirty-year-old conflict for Western Sahara between Morocco and the independence front Polisario. For many years, analysis of the US role in the 1975 Sahara crisis has had to rely on much speculation and little fact. This investigation is based on recently declassified US records and archival sources, as well as documents obtained under the US Freedom of Information Act. It demonstrates that the Ford administration adopted an explicitly pro-Moroccan policy. Though avowedly neutral in the affair, behind the scenes the US government worked to make sure the Spanish Sahara went to Morocco.

in The Journal of North African Studies, Volume 11, Issue 3 September 2006 , pages 275-306.

Autonomy and Intifadah: New Horizons in Western Saharan Nationalism

June 2006

The Western Sahara conflict entered its thirtieth year last November. Celebrated by Moroccans and lamented by Sahrawi nationalists, the anniversary went largely unnoticed by the international community. Though it has been on the Security Council’s agenda since 1988, Western Sahara has defied resolution by three successive Secretaries General and Kofi Annan’s former personal envoy, former US Secretary of State James Baker. It is likely that a fourth Secretary General will take over management of the conflict next year.

in Review of African Political Economy Vol.33 No.108 (June 2006), pp255-267.