Book Review: The Western Sahara (The Washington Papers)

The Western Sahara (The Washington Papers), by David Lynn Price

It’s interesting to read a short book like this that seeks to present a very obviously slanted view of a somewhat neglected and forgotten corner of the world.  To be sure, I am interested in Western Sahara [1], but this interest is rare and few Americans know much or care much about the area.  Indeed, even the African nations involved tend to keep the matter low-key, and the whole Western Sahara mess itself appears to have resulted from a series of secret diplomatic deals between different parties that has never fully been sorted out to anyone’s satisfaction, least of all the people in the area.  To be sure, few people would care who ruled the area if it did not have a massive amount of phosphate, but mineral wealth seldom brings happiness to the people involved in an area and that is true here.  If the book has little kind to say about the desires of the Saharawi people themselves to be independent, it certainly does put a pro-Morocco slant on a problem that has been unresolved for longer than I have been alive, and that does not look like it will be resolved any time soon.

This book is a short one at less than 100 pages.  It begins with a preface and then an introduction that discusses the territory, people, and economy of Western Sahara (1).  After that the author discusses the local nationalism and Spanish politics that were involved in Spain’s withdrawal from the area in the 1970’s (2).  This led to a series of rival claims over the area from Morocco, Algeria, and Mauritania (3), as well as the rise of a native nationalist pressure group formed from expatriate Marxist students (4), the usual troublemakers in our contemporary world, which drew an obvious response from the nations around them to try to crush them, make peace with them, or co-opt them depending on their own strength and their own goals (5).  The author also discusses the external influences on the Western Sahara problem from the Arab world, Africa, Europe (mainly Spain and France), the Soviet Union, and the United States, after which the author offers some conclusions with a hope for mediation and economic cooperation, after which there are two appendices as well as some references, and with that, the author is done.

In reading a book like this, it is obvious that a lot of attention must be paid to who is creating the book and for what audience.  This particular work was created by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in 1979 during a period of rising tensions in the Cold War, and it is unsurprising that the plight of the people of Western Sahara is viewed in that light.  Morocco was a valuable American ally during the Cold War and certainly used its status as a relatively enlightened Muslim monarchy to gain a lot of money from the West, including France and the United States, even if it did not do very much good with that foreign aid as far as its own people is concerned.  The book has a marked anti-POLISARIO and anti-Algerian slant to it, which is unsurprising when you think of POLISARIO as a Marxist organization, but still transparently obvious.  My own perspective is hostile to Marxism, but also generally favorable to the desire of little peoples to escape oppression, which tends to make me somewhat sympathetic to the Sahraoui people themselves, even if I would wish them to have better leaders than those who want to lead them from any side at present.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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