Shifting Sands: From Kingdom to Colony (Western Sahara Special I)

Dark Green: Morocco
Light Green: Western Sahara

Setting the Scence
Today, Western Sahara exists in state of virtual purgatory.  It is not officially independent, nor is it officially a part of another nation.  This void-like existence is the result of an uneasy peace between Morocco, Algeria, the Polisario Front, and the United Nations; all of whom promote a different plan for Western Sahara's future.  Before we can understand the propositions for Western Sahara's future, we must first look to its past and the power and influence many others have exerted on this region.

Before European Colonization
To understand the history of Western Sahara, one must look to Morocco's past.  Controlled at different times by many different empires, Morocco also witnessed periods of great independent prosperity.  Once encompassing not only its current boundaries, but also parts of modern Algeria, Mauritania, and Western Sahara.  This is one of the many roots from which Western Sahara's modern conflict arises - Morocco believes its past control of the area sets the precedent for modern authority over Western Sahara.

French Influence 
Europeans systematically expanded their control over Africa throughout the 1800's and with northern Africa's proximity and trade relations with Europe, the region was considered prime real estate. Morocco was able to hold out for a long period, but by the early 1900's it too was under French control.  However, Morocco's neighbor and rival, Algeria, had fallen to French authority in the mid-1800's.  By the time Morocco had succumbed to French control, Algeria was already a primary colony and had a large and growing French population.  Although both were governed by France, any disputes were likely to be decided in favor of Algeria over Morocco.  Sure enough, land once dominated by Moroccan kingdoms was ceded to Algeria, fueling animosity that still exists to this day.

Spanish Colonization
While Western Sahara had traditionally been a part of Morocco, Europeans rarely concerned themselves with traditional borders and Spain ended up with control of Western Sahara.  With Morocco's territory split and France & Spain exerting their influence in the region, Western Sahara was now ripe for controversy and plenty of it would witnessed in the next century.

Tomorrow, we'll look at how the fall of colonialism led to a multi-nation fight over Western Sahara's future.

Thanks for reading!

Image copyright: By Flad and others (see history of original file) Seryo93 (derivative) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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