10-27-09 | At the mention of Western Sahara to many Nigerians, they would immediately think of the Sahara desert. Not many Nigerians, and indeed Africans realise that there is a country on this continent called Western Sahara. But then, perhaps it is not so popular because it remains shackled by bondage of Morocco.
Yes, in this age and time, a country still remains oppressed by another, worse still, they are both African countries. Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (the people are known as Saharawi) is a former colony of the Spanish protectorate which is rich in mineral resources like phosphate mineral rock, it also has some of the best fishing grounds in the world, and its off-shore oil resources are currently being explored.
When Spain pulled out of the colony in 1975, it didn’t finish the decolonisation process and Morocco as its neighbour quickly invaded and took over. Mauritania also seized part of the land but soon returned it to the Saharawi and made peace with the Polisario Front, the political movement that continued to fight against Morocco.
Africa’s Last Colony: Spain’s Error, Morocco’s Sin aptly describes the situation and dire circumstances under which the Saharawi live. Water poisoning, torture, forced disappearances and other inhumane situations are some of the conditions under which the Saharawi live.
The book relays the experience of the author, Ike Abonyi who visited the country; Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic. In his foreword, he laments that the story of the country as being an emotional one which has since been ignored by the rest of the world.
The book is divided into three parts with an easy to read and understandable style. Its full title is apt; Africa’s Last Colony: Spain’s Error, Morocco’s Sin; An African Journalist’s Diary On Western Sahara.
The foreword was written by Prof. Nuhu Yaqub, the immediate past Vice Chancellor of the University of Abuja who described it as a timely addition to literature on Africa’s decolonization process. Yaqub also agrees that many Africans even enlightened ones are ignorant of a country called Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic, not to mention its struggle for independence from Morocco.
His foreword decries the hypocrisy of some of the Western countries who claim to uphold human rights; (France, Germany and Spain) for turning a blind eye to Morocco’s flagrant abuse of human rights. He adds that it is Nigeria’s duty to the African continent to assist Western Sahara secure its independence.
The first part of the book collates the history of Western Sahara, its history with Spain, Spain’s pullout, and Morocco/Mauritania invasion of the country. It also explains how Mauritania returned the land it had seized while Morocco stubbornly held on to its seized part.
Abonyi and other analysts blame Spain for not finishing the decolonisation process i.e., handing over to the Polisario Front, a political group which had been formed in 1973 to fight Spanish colonial rule.
Despite the 1975 ruling of the International Court of Justice that Western Sahara was a country on its own at the time of its colonisation by Spain, its sovereignty still belonged to its people, while Morocco refused to leave the occupied land and the war with the Polisario Front continued. In 1992, the United Nations brokered a cease-fire and passed referendum on self-determination of the Saharawi people but Morocco refused to allow it.
Over 150,000 Saharawi are internally displaced refugees living on a daily ration provided by the United Nations Food Programme while many are hounded into detention without trials or forced into exile.
In the second part, Abonyi narrates his personal experience on the trip to the country; how as a presidential guest, his bed was a six-inch mattress usually used in boarding schools in Nigeria. According to him, the camp has enjoyed some peace in the last 17 years, but most young Saharawi are disillusioned especially since Morocco simply exploits the resources of the country for itself alone, while ignoring the needs of the Saharawi.
The narration by Abonyi would elicit sympathy from every reader; he narrates how young Saharawi have lost their limbs, and in some cases their lives, with explosion of the mines, which Morocco has placed at the 2500km long wall erected on occupied Western Sahara.
He also narrates gory details of about 140 inmates of the Rehabilitation Centre for Victims of Mines and War located at the headquarters of administrative headquarters of the Saharawi camp.
The third part of Africa’s Last Colony is a collection of interviews with some dignitaries of Saharawi Government. In the interview, President Mohammed Abdulaziz praised Nigeria’s attitude towards other African nations, and its leadership role in the African continent. Other dignitaries who spoke to Abonyi include Mohamed Salem, the Commander of the Saharawi Military School, and Mohammed Yeslem Beisat, who is the Minister of African Affairs.
The author raises some very important questions; why did Spain not complete the decolonisation process by handing over to the Polisario Front? Why is the commonness of religion, language and geography not helping solve the problem between the two nations? Who manufactures and provides the weapons being used by the Moroccans to unleash terror on the Saharawi? Which other countries are benefitting from Morocco’s exploitation of the Saharawi? What is the role of France, as the former colonial master of Morocco, in the whole situation?
Some other questions begging for answers are; why is the rest of the Arab world adopting an indifferent approach to the oppression of their ‘brothers’? How much pressure are the African Union and other regional organisations applying to Morocco especially as Western Sahara is also being recognised as a sovereign state.
Africa’s Last Colony brings to fore a true but pitiable situation that, while other people have moved on to battling internal problems such as ethnicity, nepotism and so on, an African nation is being deprived of self-rule by another African nation. The gruesomeness of the situation is that soldiers readily torture and kill, without a war situation in Saharawi, regardless of age or gender.