Few colonies have gotten their independence smoothly. For some, the process has been very messy, with demarcation lines put between families and governments left crumbling. Such was the case of Western Sahara, a vast yet sparsely populated piece of the desert stuck between Morocco and Mauritania.
Originally one of the very few Spanish possessions in Africa under the name of Spanish Sahara, it was then annexed by Morocco in 1975 which led to an insurgency which lasted over 16-years and ended in 1991 on the promise of a referendum. 27 years later, this referendum still hasn`t happened. While some areas are controlled by Morocco, a local government has gained recognition by many governments. The people of Western Sahara supporting independence call their country the Saharan Arab Democratic Republic.
On the other side, Morocco claims the whole of Western Sahara to be part of its territory, refuses to consider any option that would lead to the region’s full independence and has, at best, offered a referendum on autonomy. However, since the two sides of the conflict disagree on who qualifies as a voter, it could still take a while for any vote to take place.
To this day, the conflict is still so muddled that cartographers aren`t even sure how to put the country on a map.
So, is Western Sahara a country? It really depends on who you ask…
On this map found on Wikipedia, we can see that the red countries support Morocco’s claim, the green countries support the Sahrawi Republic, the blue ones support the self-determination of the Sahrawi people without recognizing the republic yet and the grey ones haven`t expressed a position or have expressed conflicting opinions. The Sahrawi republic has gained recognition from 37 states, which is non-negligible. Also, while Morocco holds de-facto control over most of the territory of Western Sahara, its claim is not recognized by the United Nations nor the African Union, with Ban Ki-Moon calling the situation an ‘’occupation’’.
Currently, the SADR has a president and a government-in-exil in Algeria. It even has an army! Stationed in Algeria…
Surely, Western Sahara is one of the most intriguing geopolitical entity of the world. How about coming with us and making your own mind about this very mysterious land?