The Occupation No One Cares About: Morocco’s Continued Occupation of the Western Sahara

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The Western Sahara flag being held up toward a Morocco military outpost

It is unsettling that there is very little discussion of substantive issues facing the continent of Africa, not only in the mainstream U.S. media, but in the African-American media, as well. In the Black media, it often feels as if, upon liberation from white minority rule, Africa was no longer worthy of attention for Black Americans.

As readers of my commentaries are aware, I have been especially concerned about the lack of attention to Morocco’s continued occupation of the Western Sahara. In violation of international law and despite repeated calls by the African Union to respect Saharawi self-determination, the Moroccan government has stood fast in sending settlers into the Western Sahara and resisting efforts at a non-violent resolution of the conflict.

The struggle for Western Sahara’s liberation has been underway since the 1960s when it was a Spanish colony. When the Spanish abruptly withdrew and, in effect, turned the Western Sahara over to the Moroccans, the Saharawi people — the population of the Western Sahara — resisted. A 1991 truce and agreement between the liberation front of the Saharawi people, Polisario, and the government of Morocco was supposed to lead to a referendum on the future of the territory. Morocco has never let this happen.

This would seem to me to be a story of significance. It is a story about the legacy of colonialism. It is a story of the continued flaunting of international law by the Moroccan government. Yet, most of us would probably not be able to identify where the Western Sahara is located, let alone discuss the issues at stake.

In that regard, this commentary is actually about more than the conflict in the Western Sahara, as important as that struggle is. It is a plea to the African-American media to focus greater attention on international affairs in general and Africa in particular. There are those in the media who have argued that African-Americans are not particularly interested in global affairs. I do not think that such an argument stands the test of reality. What does, however, seem to be the case is that too much of the news is dumbed down, which actually leads to discouraging the average person from exploring any of the issues.

The African-American media needs to expand its scope and in so doing, tackle issues such as the Western Sahara. Certainly, the Saharawi people need our attention and support. But, much the same can be argued for many peoples and issues throughout the African world, which barely get a mention.

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Bill Fletcher Jr. is the former president of TransAfrica Forum. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.

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