Self-determination in Western Sahara: A Case of Competing Sovereignties?

By: Maribeth Hunsinger

Western Sahara is a disputed territory in the Maghreb region of North Africa, bordering Morocco, Algeria, and Mauritania. It boasts phosphate and iron reserves, and is believed to have offshore oil deposits. Spain colonized the territory in 1884 and exercised control for over one hundred years, until Morocco wrested de facto control over large parts of the territory.

Some, however, still see Western Sahara as “Africa’s last colony,” with the Kingdom of Morocco exercising colonial power over the native Sahrawi people. No member states of the United Nations (UN) have recognized Moroccan sovereignty. While there remains political support for Morocco’s claim in the West, many countries are increasingly recognizing the legitimacy of the independence claims by the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR).

This piece explores the basis for these respective claims, and in particular the proposition that self-determination in Western Sahara should not serve to decide between “competing sovereignties” but to allow the Sahrawi people to decide whether to retain their sovereignty.

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