December 18, 2020
By: Comrade Redbeard
It has become something of a cliché to refer to Western Sahara as “Africa’s last colony.” Long after open colonialism has ended in most of Africa ), the brazen occupation of Western Sahara and the Sahrawi (or Saharawi) people continues. When Spain’s occupying forces were forced to withdraw from the area in 1975, the neighboring countries of Morocco and Mauritania jumped in to take its place and carved up the land between themselves. The Sahrawi people, led by the Polisario Front, the national liberation movement founded in 1973, continued the liberation war they had begun against the Spanish against the African occupiers. In 1976, the Sahrawi formed the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). The declaration of the new Republic came days after the Moroccan air force dropped napalm and white phosphorus bombs on Sahrawi civilians and refugee camps. Mauritania renounced its claims to Western Sahara in 1979, but Morocco refused to do so, and so the fighting continued until a 1991 ceasefire. During this time, the ongoing conflict killed tens of thousands and forced many Sahrawi to flee to Algeria and Mauritania, where they still live in refugee camps. While the ceasefire was supposed to lead to a referendum vote on the fate of Western Sahara, this has never happened, and the United Nations and other supposed mediators have failed time and time again.
Morocco continues to violently occupy the majority of the land, torturing, repressing and killing Sahrawis as it exploits Western Sahara’s natural resources, namely its fisheries, phosphates, and possible oil deposits. It has allowed tens of thousands of Moroccans to set up colonial settlements, and has built a 1,700 mile wall to mark its zone of control, separating Sahrawis living in exile and those under direct Moroccan oppression. The similarities to the Israeli occupation of Palestine are obvious. The SADR and the Polisario Front, for their part, still control approximately a quarter of Western Sahara itself and act as the governing power in the Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria. Sahrawis widely support independence. The SADR has been recognized by scores of other countries, and is a full member of the African Union as well. Of course, these things are irrelevant to the occupiers.
On November 13, 2020, Morocco violated the then decades-old ceasefire by sending in soldiers into a demilitarized buffer area to disperse a peaceful road blockade by Sahrawi civilian demonstrators, who were protesting Morocco’s looting and exploitation of their region’s natural resources. This offensive came only hours after U.S Major General Andrew Rohling met with General Belkhir El Farouk, the commander of Morocco’s forces, in Occupied Western Sahara. As clashes escalated, the Polisario Front officially declared the end of the ceasefire. The liberation war has resumed. Reliable information on its progress is hard to come by, as Morocco denies all military losses and suppresses Sahrawi media reports. What is clear is that the Polisario Front has struck notable blows against the Moroccans, and many are eager to join the stuggle, whether as combatants or as civilians.
Why does any of this matter, especially to those of us who live in the Amerikan Empire? First, the freedom struggle of the Sahrawi people is inherently just. All nations, big or small, have the right to self-determination: in other words, they have the right to political, economic and cultural independence, and to preserve that independence by any means necessary.
The national question– the debate surrounding this principle– is often warped by pro-capitalist discourse, so we will take a moment to elaborate from a Marxist, communist perspective. In the 20th century, the imperialist powers many times encouraged the development of national independence and national liberation movements. By supporting reactionary and bourgeois elements within those movements, they sought to gain control of them, and therefore of any newborn “independent” nation-state the movements founded. They usually succeeded, despite revolutionary resistance. The imperialists will do what they can to make sure their allies win, so we must also do what we can to support the most revolutionary elements in any given national liberation movement, particularly those rooted in the working class and peasantry. Through the alliance between workers, peasants, and a communist party waging a people’s war, a democratic revolution, and therefore a real victory, is possible.
But as Vladimir Lenin and many others have taught us, national liberation struggles must be treated as not the final goal, though they are a necessary step forward. Rashid Johnson of the New Afrikan Black Panther Party writes: “[T]o the proletariat, national liberation is not an end to itself, but a stage to pass through on the road to World Communism. It is a stepping stone to greater unity and the ending of all oppression.” In today’s world, the most powerful countries (e.g. the USA) ruthlessly dominate the weaker ones, controlling their economies, their politics and often their culture. This is what we call imperialism. To defeat it, we must proceed from the principle that all colonized and occupied nations are entitled to self-determination.
This brings us to the second reason why the conflict in the Western Sahara is important: the enemies of the Sahrawi people are your enemies as well. Morocco is a major ally and accomplice of the US. This is demonstrated by the close military and economic ties between Rabat and Washington, which have only increased as the empire has expanded its presence in Africa. Historically, U.S. arms sales have been critical for Morocco in its fight against the Polisario Front and the Sahrawi people.
According to Western Sahara Resource Watch, a host of multinational corporations based in Europe, North America, Australia, and elsewhere have helped plunder Western Sahara for years alongside Moroccan banks and companies, although international pressure has forced many to divest. These include the Illinois-based construction and mining equipment giant Caterpillar, Inc, which has provided trucks for the Moroccan state-owned company OCP to use in its Western Saharan phosphate mines. Caterpillar also supplies the Israeli Occupation Forces, which provide ample training to US police, with the bulldozers they use to demolish Palestinian homes and farms. The notoriously corrrupt German conglomerate Siemens AG, which once used slave labor in Nazi death camps, builds most of the wind farms that power Moroccan mining operations. Siemens is a major partner in a massive coal mine in Australia, built in defiance of Indigenous rights.
The forces that occupy Western Sahara are the same ones that shoot Palestinian children dead, that disappear the girls and women of Indigenous nations, and rob the entire Global South blind. They are the capitalists, the colonialists, and the imperialists. They are the people who send pigs to harass, spy on, beat and kill Black and Brown people in the internal colonies of the United States as they suck their wealth away, the ones that pollute the air that we breathe, the water that we drink, and the soil that our food grows in. The faces and names may be different, but the crimes are the same. The pain, injustice, and suffering is the same.
We don’t have to look long to see how the colonizers– the world-class butchers and land thieves– band together to whitewash each other’s crimes. Only a short time ago, the Trump administration recognized Morocco’s claim to Western Sahara in exchange for Morocco establishing diplomatic ties with Israel. This was met with predicable hypocrisy from the European Union (which has long aided the Moroccan occupation behind the scenes, just like the United States) and liberal American elites, who condemned Moroccan colonialism but celebrated Israeli colonialism in the same breath. The ruling classes of Israel, the U.S. and Morocco have no problem making deals amongst themselves to increase their grip on power. What’s stopping colonized people from doing the same, in pursuit of liberation? Colonized people are constantly pitted against one another by the ruling class, precisely to prevent them from joining forces and uniting against their common enemies. Historically, they have sabotaged and attacked all efforts of colonized people to organize under a multinational, revolutionary cause. But they are not invincible.
As always, those of us in the US empire, the belly of the world’s deadliest beast, must stand in solidarity with people fighting colonialism and imperialism everywhere. This solidarity must be meaningful, consistent, and whenever possible, material. In many respects, Morocco is a client state of European and US imperialism. Although capable of exerting its own interests, it is not powerful enough to sustain its occupation of Western Sahara alone. The occupier may have his allies, but the Sahrawi have theirs. Through international struggle, we can strike sharp blows against our common enemies, and against the system called capitalism which enriches them and steals from us. This is our duty. This is our responsibility. This is our goal.
[1. Neocolonialism, as conceptualized by figures such as Kwame Nkrumah, Amilcar Cabral, Frantz Fanon, and Walter Rodney, can be understood as a strategic shift on the part of the colonizing bourgeoise, or capitalist class. Thanks to the anti-colonial, often socialist, liberation struggles of the 20th century, the colonial powers could no longer afford to rule over colonized nations and people directly. Instead, they had to transition to indirect rule, continuing their dominance of the economies (and therefore the politics) of nominally independent and sovereign countries with the help of “native” puppets.
 Rashid Johnson. “Black Liberation in the 21st Century,” p. 201. Emphasis mine.