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Review of African Political Economy
Volume 33, 2006 - Issue 108
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Original Articles
Autonomy & Intifadah: New Horizons in Western Saharan Nationalism
Jacob Mundy
Pages 255-267 | Published online: 23 Jan 2007
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The Western Sahara conflict entered its thirtieth year last November. Celebrated by Moroccans and lamented by Sahrawi nationalists, the anniversary went largely unnoticed by the international community. Though it has been on the Security Council's agenda since 1988, Western Sahara has defied resolution by three successive Secretaries General and Kofi Annan's former personal envoy, former US Secretary of State James Baker. It is likely that a fourth Secretary General will take over management of the conflict next year.
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1. Nationalist Western Saharans and international sympathizers often refer to the Moroccancontrolled Western Sahara as ‘occupied’, though the Geneva Conventions have not been formally applied. Morocco's legal status is that of a de facto administrating power – a coloniser.
2. Though the mastermind of the first Gulf War coalition, Baker – a classical conservative – wassomewhat at odds with the Neoconservatives driving the White House to war in Iraq. Thus there is some question as to the extent of his influence at that time. On this point see Goldberg. The author thanks Spanish journalist Maria Carrión for pointing out this article and making this connection.
3. The State Department never clarified whether or not Armitage meant to say that the UnitedStates recognises Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara. See Mundy (2005). Former US diplomats close to Morocco claim that the Bush administration and Rabat have a secret understanding on Western Sahara, whereby the United States will not support any solution that involves the option of independence. Whether or not this is the case, one cynical official at the European Union felt that the United States is now in a poor position to push Morocco given its alleged role as a torture ‘sub-contractor’ for Washington.
4. According to a high level official in UN Department of Political Affairs, Van Walsum'spessimism stems from the fact that he was not fully briefed before he accepted the assignment. He realised this after his first tour of the region and meetings with France, Spain, United States and Baker.
5. See Hooper and Williams.
6. Many observers of the conflict, and even some nationalists, equate the terms Sahrawi (the Arabicadjective for Saharan) with Western Saharan. This is not accurate since many self-identifying Sahrawis are indigenous to southern Morocco, western Algeria and northern Mauritania. While all native Western Saharans are Sahrawis, not all ethnic Sahrawis are Western Saharan, though all Sahrawi ‘tribes’ are those whose traditional ranges included the former Spanish Sahara.
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Jacob Mundy
Jacob Mundy, is the co-author, with Stephen Zunes of the forthcoming Western Sahara: War, Nationalism and Conflict Irresolution (Syracuse University Press). In late 2005, he worked as a consulting external analyst with the International Crisis Group researching a report on the Western Sahara conflict in Morocco, Western Sahara and Algeria. In the autumn of 2006 he will begin pursuing his PhD at the University of Exeter.
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