The Unfinished Referendum Process in Western Sahara

The Western Saharan conflict, between Morocco and the Popular Front for the Liberation
of Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro (Polisario), has constituted a major threat to regional
stability in North Africa since the Spanish decolonisation in 1975. The war has cost thousands
of lives, with prisoners of war taken on both sides, and forced Morocco to construct a huge
fortified wall in the Sahara. The conflicting parties have a fundamental disagreement on the
status of Sahara; Morocco claims its marocanity based on the region’s historical ties with
Moroccan dynasties. In contrast, the Polisario fights for the Sahrawi people’s right to
self-determination, bolstered by Organization of African Unity (OAU) principles and United
Nations (UN) resolutions. However, the underlying dispute concerns the control of the
region’s rich phosphate and fish resources. The UN Mission for the Referendum in Western
Sahara (Minurso) has played the major role in the organisation of the referendum for
self-determination, delayed several times due to disagreement on the voter identification and
registration. In January 2001, the Polisario declared the end of the ceasefire, effective since
1991, due to Morocco’s failure to respect the agreed principles. The political settlement of the
dispute remains difficult to achieve and frustration on the ground is increasing. However, the
example of a successful referendum in East Timor gives hope for the future in Western Sahara.

File Type: pdf
Categories: Journal of African Elections
Tags: Houston Accords, Morocco, Organization of African Unity (OAU), SADR, United Nations (UN) resolutions, Western Sahara
journal of african elections vol1 number 1 transparent democratic governance in africa