The Last Colony
An Analysis of UN involvement in Western Sahara
One of the UN's proudest achievement is the worldwide decolonisation which it helped facilitate during the latter portion of the twentieth century. This was driven by the increasingly popular belief that ethnocentrism was no longer a proper justification for ruling over a people who had a longer claim to the land. A focus was shifted from trying to subdue rebel movements in various colonial areas to trying to help them establish a fully functional government of independence, and eventually stability. In Northwestern Africa, however, far from public attention, these goals have yet to be realized. The Saharawi people, though they can trace a clear cultural identity and claim to their land, are not in control of it- rather they are exiled into the most inhospitable part of their region or even outside the national borders. Having been occupied by France, Spain, Mauritania, and now Morocco, the Saharawi people have yet to be truly sovereign in the past 116 years.
The United Nations established MINURSO, the French acronym for the UN Mission for the Referendum In Western Sahara, to help organize a vote of the people to determine their fate. Unfortunately, in what the Economist has called a "triumph for procrastination," the results of this UN mission have been mixed at best.
Although the struggle over control of this region is relatively new compared with the age-old hatred brewing in such hot-spots as the Middle East, it is important to understand the historical context from which the present-day issue has arisen. The ethnic group at the center of this conflict is the Saharawi people, the native inhabitants of this region. These people are of Arabian descent, tracing their roots back to eleventh century Yemen. Though certain ties may be...