Towards a Decolonial Worldmaking in the Western Sahara


In this text, Inma Naïma Zanoguera offers a series of questions pertaining to the ways we, around the world, may address the Sahrawi liberation struggle against Moroccan occupation. One question strikes us in particular for its potential: what if the Sahrawi fight redefines the way we frame decolonization and interdependence outside of the nation-state paradigm?

The Western Sahara is a “non-self-governing territory” colonized by Morocco since 1975. While the United Nations denies the legitimacy of Morocco’s occupation, the referendum for independence that the UN promised Sahrawis in 1991 is yet to take place. This is why, today, the Western Sahara is almost unanimously considered a geopolitical “stalemate.” Inadvertently (and erroneously), this “stalemate” narrative assumes Sahrawis’ resignation in the face of the UN’s unfulfilled promise. Yet, after almost three decades witnessing one failed attempt at peaceful resolution after another, the end of the Morocco-Sahrawi ceasefire in November of 2020 bespeaks Sahrawis’ ceaseless commitment to anti-colonial resistance. Far from romanticizing the need for armed conflict, the fact that there currently exists a decolonial war on African territory should alert us to the urgency of analyzing the Western Sahara’s unique struggle for decolonization.

An exhaustive analysis would have to include a plethora of moving targets: in particular Spain’s colonial history and how it bears upon its diplomatic relations with Morocco; the latter’s ties to the United States, Israel, and France; and the key issue of Europe’s deadly “Frontera Sur” and its immigration policies, many of which get negotiated under Morocco’s supervision. In the context of this text, I want to focus on the fact that, because of its fundamental differences with other nations’ decolonial processes in the past, we have largely failed to tell the story of Saharawis’ plight for independence on its own terms. And this failure has consequences: international recognition becomes an uphill battle when this complex of historical and geopolitical elements continues to be misunderstood as a seemingly irresolvable “stalemate.” Thus, a close examination of the narratives we use to make sense of the Western Sahara’s role in these geopolitical schemes is of vital importance. Key questions arise: is the nomenclature used to conceptualize the current situation aptly reflective of the historical and geopolitical agents at play? Are our framings sufficiently attuned to the interconnectedness of Sahrawis’ decolonial struggle with other nations’ struggles and interests?

And how can we operationalize a case for Sahrawis’ emancipation so that decolonization itself gets reimagined?