The unshakeable sahrawi spirit

Will Sommer

Western Sahara commentators watch the diplomatic community carefully, wary of the smallest change in international support for a referendum or for SADR. Increased foreign investment in Morocco, a leadership change in Algeria, an ambiguous statement from the UN—Western Saharan supporters can divine the apocalypse in these events, forecasting the dispersal of the refugee camps, abandonment of the referendum process, further exploitation of Western Sahara’s resources.

While I think that every event or remark concerning the Western Sahara should be considered and, if the situation merits it, responded to, I don’t think we should be bemoan every suspicious occurrence. Even in the nightmare worst-case scenario, with the referendum process abandoned and Algeria expelling Sahrawis, I don’t think the Sahrawis’ desire for self-determination will ever be crushed.

We need only look at countries similar to the Western Sahara that faced far greater odds and are nonetheless free today. Eritrea endured 30 years of occupation against an Ethiopian army that was armed by both sides during the Cold War. East Timor stood up to a nation of millions, a nation that swore there would never be a referendum. Poor, desert Namibia forced one of the most developed countries in Africa to retreat. And while the Palestine still endures an occupation, there is no serious discussion of a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli problem that doesn’t include political actualization for Palestinians.

There’s no reason the Western Sahara should be different. Periodic protests in the occupied territories, led by activists operating autonomous of Polisario, demonstrate the indigenous desire for self-determination that cannot be broken.

This isn’t a call for apathy. Everything we in the international community do to support the referendum brings it closer to fruition. But even when the best we can do seems like nothing at all, it should help to remember that the Sahrawis’ commitment to self-determination makes this far from a lost cause.