Western Sahara is the only African territory still under direct colonial rule. It lies on the northwest coast of Africa bordered by Morocco, Mauritania, and Algeria. After Spain withdrew from its former colony of Spanish Sahara in 1976, Morocco annexed the northern two-thirds of Western Sahara and claimed the rest of the territory in 1979. USA and France have backed Moroccan Forces in the 16-year-long colonial war against the liberation Movement, the Polisario Front whose main assistance came from Algeria. The Polisario’s government-in-exile was seated as an Organization of African Unity (OAU) member in 1984.
Morocco maintains a heavy security presence in the Sahrawi occupied territory asserting her de facto rule by brutal force. To date, the UN describes Western Sahara as a “Non-Self Governing Territory”. As for the African Union, Western Sahara proclaimed by Polisario Front as Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) remains the only African territory under colonial rule.
The more than four decades of European passivity and complicity with the illegal occupation of Moroccan forces have manifested in natural resources exploitation deals where Morocco continues to earn Millions of funds from the EU for resources which do not belong to her especially fisheries and phosphate mines.
Legal status: The unresolved legal status makes the exploitation of its natural resources a contentious issue. Western Sahara has a small market- based economy relying on fishing, phosphate mining, tourism, and pastoral nomadism. Both Morocco and the Polisario Front have signed deals with oil and gas exploration companies. US and French companies began prospecting on behalf of Morocco over rights to authorize and benefit from oil exploration in the territory.
Sahrawi independence: Is entangled in a delicate balance of interests by other countries including some African States, factoring in the recently conducted SADC conference. It is believed that Morocco continues to use the proceeds from the resources exploited from Western Sahara to influence some African countries in form of development aid.
UN and AU resolutions: To this end, H.E Emmerson Mnangagwa, the President of Zimbabwe stated, “We completely reject in total the notion that the African Union has no locus standi in the dispute over Western Sahara”. Morocco supported by France on the UN Security Council is opposed to UN adding a human rights monitoring mechanism in the mandate of its peacekeeping mission in Western Sahara.
The Polisario Front: Morocco has been pushing for an idea of a Greater Morocco even at Arab League level where it did not receive support despite efforts in the 1960s to enlist the Arab League support for this “cause”.
The West African Regional body ECOWAS is largely mute about the plight of the Sahrawi people. It is further believed that France reinstated Morocco in 2017 as a member of the AU.