Western Sahara


Western Sahara
a region in NW Africa on the Atlantic coast, bounded by Morocco, Algeria, and Mauritania: a former Spanish province comprising Río de Oro and Saguia el Hamra 1884-1976; divided between Morocco and Mauritania 1976; claimed entirely by Morocco 1979, but still under dispute. 165,000; ab. 102,700 sq. mi. (266,000 sq. km). Formerly, Spanish Sahara.

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Western Sahara

Introduction Western Sahara -
Background: Morocco virtually annexed the northern two-thirds of Western Sahara (formerly Spanish Sahara) in 1976, and the rest of the territory in 1979, following Mauritania's withdrawal. A guerrilla war with the Polisario Front contesting Rabat's sovereignty ended in a 1991 cease- fire; a referendum on final status has been repeatedly postponed. Geography Western Sahara
Location: Northern Africa, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean, between Mauritania and Morocco
Geographic coordinates: 24 30 N, 13 00 W
Map references: Africa
Area: total: 266,000 sq km water: 0 sq km land: 266,000 sq km
Area - comparative: about the size of Colorado
Land boundaries: total: 2,046 km border countries: Algeria 42 km, Mauritania 1,561 km, Morocco 443 km
Coastline: 1,110 km
Maritime claims: contingent upon resolution of sovereignty issue
Climate: hot, dry desert; rain is rare; cold offshore air currents produce fog and heavy dew
Terrain: mostly low, flat desert with large areas of rocky or sandy surfaces rising to small mountains in south and northeast
Elevation extremes: lowest point: Sebjet Tah -55 m highest point: unnamed location 463 m
Natural resources: phosphates, iron ore
Land use: arable land: 0% permanent crops: 0% other: 100% (1998 est.)
Irrigated land: NA sq km
Natural hazards: hot, dry, dust/sand-laden sirocco wind can occur during winter and spring; widespread harmattan haze exists 60% of time, often severely restricting visibility Environment - current issues: sparse water and lack of arable land Environment - international party to: none of the selected
agreements: agreements signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements
Geography - note: the waters off the coast are particularly rich fishing areas People Western Sahara -
Population: 256,177 (July 2002 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: NA% 15-64 years: NA% 65 years and over: NA%
Population growth rate: NA (2002 est.)
Birth rate: NA births/1,000 population
Death rate: NA deaths/1,000 population
Sex ratio: NA
Infant mortality rate: NA deaths/1,000 live births
Life expectancy at birth: total population: NA years male: NA years female: NA years
Total fertility rate: NA children born/woman HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate: NA% HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/AIDS: NA
HIV/AIDS - deaths: NA
Nationality: noun: Sahrawi(s), Sahraoui(s) adjective: Sahrawian, Sahraouian
Ethnic groups: Arab, Berber
Religions: Muslim
Languages: Hassaniya Arabic, Moroccan Arabic
Literacy: definition: NA total population: NA% male: NA% female: NA% Government Western Sahara -
Country name: conventional long form: none conventional short form: Western Sahara former: Spanish Sahara
Government type: legal status of territory and issue of sovereignty unresolved; territory contested by Morocco and Polisario Front (Popular Front for the Liberation of the Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro), which in February 1976 formally proclaimed a government-in-exile of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR),led by President Mohamed ABDELAZIZ and recognized by 54 nations; territory partitioned between Morocco and Mauritania in April 1976, with Morocco acquiring northern two- thirds; Mauritania, under pressure from Polisario guerrillas, abandoned all claims to its portion in August 1979; Morocco moved to occupy that sector shortly thereafter and has since asserted administrative control; the Polisario's government- in-exile was seated as an OAU member in 1984; guerrilla activities continued sporadically, until a UN- monitored cease-fire was implemented 6 September 1991
Capital: none Administrative divisions: none (under de facto control of Morocco)
Suffrage: none; a UN-sponsored voter identification campaign not yet completed
Executive branch: none Political pressure groups and none
leaders: International organization none
participation: Diplomatic representation in the US: none Diplomatic representation from the none
US: Economy Western Sahara
Economy - overview: Western Sahara depends on pastoral nomadism, fishing, and phosphate mining as the principal sources of income for the population. The territory lacks sufficient rainfall for sustainable agricultural production, and most of the food for the urban population must be imported. All trade and other economic activities are controlled by the Moroccan Government. Moroccan energy interests in 2001 signed contracts to explore for oil off the coast of Western Sahara, which has angered the Polisario. Incomes and standards of living in Western Sahara are substantially below the Moroccan level.
GDP: purchasing power parity - $NA
GDP - real growth rate: NA%
GDP - per capita: purchasing power parity - $NA GDP - composition by sector: agriculture: NA% industry: NA% services: 40%-45% (1996 est.) Population below poverty line: NA% Household income or consumption by lowest 10%: NA%
percentage share: highest 10%: NA% Inflation rate (consumer prices): NA%
Labor force: 12,000 Labor force - by occupation: animal husbandry and subsistence farming 50%
Unemployment rate: NA%
Budget: revenues: $NA expenditures: $NA, including capital expenditures of $NA
Industries: phosphate mining, handicrafts Industrial production growth rate: NA% Electricity - production: 90 million kWh (2000) Electricity - production by source: fossil fuel: 100% hydro: 0% other: 0% (2000) nuclear: 0% Electricity - consumption: 83.7 million kWh (2000)
Electricity - exports: 0 kWh (2000)
Electricity - imports: 0 kWh (2000)
Agriculture - products: fruits and vegetables (grown in the few oases); camels, sheep, goats (kept by nomads)
Exports: $NA
Exports - commodities: phosphates 62%
Exports - partners: Morocco claims and administers Western Sahara, so trade partners are included in overall Moroccan accounts
Imports: $NA
Imports - commodities: fuel for fishing fleet, foodstuffs
Imports - partners: Morocco claims and administers Western Sahara, so trade partners are included in overall Moroccan accounts
Debt - external: $NA Economic aid - recipient: $NA
Currency: Moroccan dirham (MAD)
Currency code: MAD
Exchange rates: Moroccan dirhams per US dollar - 11.584 (January 2002), 11.303 (2001), 10.626 (2000), 9.804 (1999), 9.604 (1998), 9.527 (1997)
Fiscal year: calendar year Communications Western Sahara - Telephones - main lines in use: about 2,000 (1999 est.) Telephones - mobile cellular: 0 (1999)
Telephone system: general assessment: sparse and limited system domestic: NA international: tied into Morocco's system by microwave radio relay, tropospheric scatter, and satellite; satellite earth stations - 2 Intelsat (Atlantic Ocean) linked to Rabat, Morocco Radio broadcast stations: AM 2, FM 0, shortwave 0 (1998)
Radios: 56,000 (1997) Television broadcast stations: NA
Televisions: 6,000 (1997)
Internet country code: .eh Internet Service Providers (ISPs): 1 (2000)
Internet users: NA Transportation Western Sahara -
Railways: 0 km
Highways: total: 6,200 km paved: 1,350 km unpaved: 4,850 km (1991 est.)
Waterways: none
Ports and harbors: Ad Dakhla, Cabo Bojador, Laayoune (El Aaiun)
Airports: 11 (2001) Airports - with paved runways: total: 3 2,438 to 3,047 m: 3 (2001) Airports - with unpaved runways: total: 8 1,524 to 2,437 m: 1 914 to 1,523 m: 4 under 914 m: 3 (2001) Military Western Sahara -
Military expenditures - dollar figure: $NA
Military expenditures - percent of GDP: NA% Transnational Issues Western Sahara - Disputes - international: Morocco claims and administers Western Sahara, but sovereignty remains unresolved; UN-administered cease-fire has remained in effect since September 1991, but attempts to hold a referendum have failed and parties reject other proposals

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Territory, North Africa.

Area: 97,344 sq mi (252,120 sq km). Population (2002 est.): 256,000. Capital: Laayoune. Little is known of the area's prehistory, though rock engravings in southern locations suggest a succession of nomadic groups. In the 4th century BC there was trade across the Mediterranean Sea between the region and Europe; this did not last, and there was little European contact until the 19th century. In 1884 Spain claimed a protectorate over the Río de Oro region. Boundary agreements with France were concluded in 1900 and 1912. Spain formally united the area's northern and southern parts into the overseas province of the Spanish Sahara in 1958. In 1976 Spain relinquished its claim. The region then was divided between Mauritania, which relinquished its claim in 1979, and Morocco, which later occupied the whole territory. Separatists of the Polisario movement, based in Algeria, declared a government-in-exile called the Saharan Arab Democratic Republic in 1976; the issue of Western Sahara's status remained unresolved. remained unresolved.Western Sahara has vast phosphate deposits and some potash and iron ore.

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Arabic  Ṣaḥrāʾ al-Gharbiyyah , formerly (1958–76)  Spanish Sahara  

      former overseas province of Spain occupying an extensive desert Atlantic-coastal area (97,344 square miles [252,120 square km]) of northwest Africa. It is composed of the geographic regions of Río de Oro (“River of Gold”), occupying the southern two-thirds of the region (between Cape Blanco and Cape Bojador), and Saguia el-Hamra, occupying the northern third. It is bounded by the Atlantic Ocean on the west and northwest, by Morocco on the north, by Algeria for a few miles in the northeast, and by Mauritania on the east and south.

      Little is known of the prehistory of Western Sahara, although Neolithic-era rock engravings in Saguia el-Hamra and in isolated locations in the south suggest that it was occupied by a succession of hunting and pastoral groups, with some agriculturists in favoured locales, prior to a gradual process of desertification that began about 2500 BCE. By the 4th century BCE there was trade between Western Sahara and Europe across the Mediterranean; the Phoenicians sailed along the west coast of Africa in this period. The Romans also had some contact with the Saharan peoples. By medieval times this part of the Sahara was occupied by Ṣanhajāh Amazigh (Berber) peoples who were later dominated by Arabic-speaking Muslim Bedouins from about CE 1000.

      In 1346 the Portuguese discovered a bay that they mistakenly identified with a more southerly Río de Oro, probably the Sénégal River. The coastal region was little explored by Europeans until Scottish and Spanish merchants arrived in the mid-19th century, although in 1476 a short-lived trading post, Santa Cruz de Mar Pequeña, was established by Diego García de Herrera, a Spaniard. In 1884 Emilio Bonelli, of the Sociedad Española de Africanistas y Colonistas (“Spanish Society of Africanists and Colonists”), went to Río de Oro bay and signed treaties with the coastal peoples. Subsequently, the Spanish government claimed a protectorate over the coastal zone. Further Spanish penetration was hindered by French claims to Mauritania and by partisans of Sheikh Māʾ al-ʿAynayn, who between 1898 and 1902 constructed the town of Smara (Semara) at an inland oasis. Cape Juby (Ṭarfāyah) was occupied for Spain by Colonel Francisco Bens in 1916, and Güera was occupied in 1920; Smara and the rest of the interior was occupied in 1934.

      In 1957 the Spanish Sahara was claimed by Morocco, which itself had just reached independence the previous year. Spanish troops succeeded in repelling Moroccan military incursions into the territory, and in 1958 Spain formally united Río de Oro and Saguia el-Hamra into a Spanish province known as Spanish Sahara. However, the situation was further complicated by newly independent Mauritania's claims to the province in 1960, and in 1963 huge phosphate deposits were discovered at Bu Craa in the northern portion of the Spanish Sahara, which made the province a potentially economically valuable prize for any country that could firmly establish possession of it. Mining of the deposits at Bu Craa began in 1972.

      Decades of social and economic change caused by drought, desertification, and the impact of the phosphate discoveries resulted in an increase in national consciousness and anticolonial sentiment. A guerrilla insurgency by the Spanish Sahara's indigenous inhabitants, the nomadic Saharawis, sprang up in the early 1970s, calling itself the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Río de Oro ( Polisario Front). The insurgency led Spain to declare in 1975 that it would withdraw from the area. Faced with consistent pressure from Morocco and Mauritania and itself undergoing a period of domestic uncertainty, Spain agreed to the partition of Western Sahara between the two countries despite a World Court ruling that Morocco's and Mauritania's legal claims to the Spanish Sahara were tenuous and did not negate the right to self-determination by the Saharawis. Morocco gained the northern two-thirds of the area and, consequently, control over the phosphates; Mauritania gained the southern third. Sporadic fighting developed between the Polisario Front, which was supported by and based in Algeria, and the Moroccan forces. In 1976 the Polisario Front declared a government-in-exile of what it called the Saharan Arab Democratic Republic (a government recognized by some 70 countries), and it continued to raid Mauritanian and Moroccan outposts in Western Sahara.

      Mauritania bowed out of the fighting and reached a peace agreement with the Polisario Front in 1979, but in response Morocco promptly annexed Mauritania's portion of Western Sahara. Morocco fortified the vital triangle formed by the Bu Craa mines, the old colonial capital of Laayoune, and the city of Smara while the Polisario Front guerrillas continued their raids. A United Nations (UN) peace proposal in 1988 specified a referendum for the indigenous Saharawi to decide whether they wanted an independent Western Sahara under Polisario Front leadership or whether the territory would officially become part of Morocco. This peace proposal was accepted by both Morocco and the Polisario Front, and the two sides agreed to a cease-fire in 1991. As a UN administrative and peace-keeping force arrived in Western Sahara to prepare to conduct the referendum, however, Morocco moved tens of thousands of “settlers” into the territory and insisted that they have their voting qualifications assessed. This drawn-out procedure, which involved questions regarding the definition of who among the traditionally nomadic Saharawis would be entitled to cast a ballot, continued throughout the 1990s and into the early 21st century. Meanwhile, Morocco continued to expand its physical infrastructure in Western Sahara despite widespread protests against its presence in the areas under its control.

      During this time, the Polisario Front continued its campaign despite a number of setbacks. Among the challenges were defections from the organization and a reduction in support by its primary backer, Algeria, as that country was forced to concentrate on its own internal problems. Algeria's diplomatic campaign on behalf of Saharawi self-determination, however, continued unabated. By 2001 tens of thousands of Western Saharans, including numerous Polisario Front soldiers, had relocated to semipermanent refugee camps in Algeria.

      Western Sahara is virtually all desert and is very sparsely inhabited. The Kasbah and mosque of Smara are among the major Muslim monuments in Western Sahara. The principal town is Laayoune, the old colonial capital. There is little agriculture in the region; camels, goats, and sheep are raised, and dried fish is exported to the Canary Islands. Sources of potash and iron ore are at Agracha and elsewhere, and the vast phosphate deposits are at Bu Craa, southeast of Laayoune. Phosphate extraction, however, presents problems because of the shortage of water; a conveyor belt carries phosphate from the mines to the piers 18 miles (29 km) southwest of Laayoune. Motorable tracks abound in the country's extremely flat terrain, but there are few paved roads. There is regular air service between Laayoune and Al-Dakhla (formerly Villa Cisneros) and between Laayoune and Las Palmas (in the Canary Islands), Nouakchott (in Mauritania), and Casablanca (in Morocco). Pop. (2004 est.) 417,000.

Additional Reading
John Damis, Conflict in Northwest Africa: The Western Sahara Dispute (1983), provides important background information on the territory and discusses the evolution of the conflict between Morocco and the Polisario Front from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s and its wider diplomatic ramifications. Tony Hodges, Western Sahara: The Roots of a Desert War (1983), deals with significant people, places, and events in the territory and surrounding areas from prehistory to the early 1980s. John Mercer, Spanish Sahara (1976), is among the only English-language books to extensively research the more obscure aspects of Western Saharan history, concluding its coverage in the mid-1970s, prior to the eruption of armed conflict over the region's status. Anthony G. Pazzanita and Tony Hodges, Historical Dictionary of Western Sahara, 2nd ed. (1994), describes and analyzes most of the cultural, historical, and economic aspects of Western Sahara. Anthony G. Pazzanita (compiler), Western Sahara (1996), deals with major books and articles on Western Sahara across many academic disciplines, including anthropology and international law. Lynn F. Sipe, Western Sahara: A Comprehensive Bibliography (1984), lists a wide array of books, articles, and media coverage. Virginia Thompson and Richard Adloff, The Western Saharans: Background to Conflict (1980), provides a broad historical and sociological introduction to the region and its people. Michel Vieuchange, Smara: The Forbidden City, ed. by Jean Vieuchange (1933, reprinted 1987; originally published in French, 1932), is a vivid firsthand account of the author's arduous journey from southern Morocco to Western Sahara just before the establishment of Spanish colonial rule over the interior of the territory in 1934.

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Universalium. 2010.

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