Published on Pambazuka News, by Peter Kenworthy and Konstantina Isidoros, March 30, 2011.
In conversation with Konstantina Isidoros, Peter Kenworthy profiles the longstanding Saharawi struggle for independence from Morocco and the gulf between people’s support for Western Sahara around the world and governments’ action on the conflict.
‘I don’t like this phrase “forgotten conflict”,’ Konstantina Isidoros tells me. ‘The primary concern here is that the Western Sahara conflict is very simple to solve but no one is solving it. It simply perpetuates its “forgotten-ness” and major newswires miss the point that the Western Sahara is actually a “hot” geopolitical potato that has the US and France fighting over regional superiority and valuable untapped natural resources, with Spain squirming between the two.’
Konstantina Isidoros is a doctoral researcher at Oxford University, but lives most of the year in the Sahara desert where she does anthropological and political science research, with a special focus on the Western Sahara region.
Morocco has occupied the more fertile and resource-rich three-quarters of the Western Saharan territory for the past 35 years, and brutally clamped down on the indigenous people, the Saharawis, within this occupied territory that dare dispute their rule, however peacefully. Many of those Saharawis that do not live in Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara therefore live in the camps near Tindouf in the Algerian desert that they fled to in 1975 when Morocco invaded their country.
Although Konstantina spends much of her time in these camps, she insists that she is not pro-Saharawi or pro-Polisario (the Saharawi national liberation movement). She says she simply accepts the ruling of the International Court of Justice that Western Sahara is not Moroccan and that the Saharawi therefore have a right to return to their homeland, Western Sahara, and do so with full independence from Morocco’s illegal territorial violation.
FORGOTTEN CONFLICT? … //
… THE DIGNIFIED SAHARAWIS:
Konstantina believes that if the Western leaders could be bothered to listen whole-heartedly to what the Saharawis had to say, they might change their minds and agree to give Western Sahara its independence, as many ordinary people around the world are calling for.
‘I wish these world leaders would come to visit the Saharawi refugee camps near Tindouf,’ she says, ‘to see how these people resolutely stand by their human right for self-determination, to see that these refugee camps are nothing like the disgusting propaganda websites that Morocco produce. This is why the Saharawi have so many international supporters and why there are so many foreigners who live in the camps all year round – we do so because the people are decent and dignified and because their political cause a just one.’ (full text).