Book Review: War And Refugees: The Western Sahara Conflict

War And Refugees:  The Western Sahara Conflict, edited by Richard Lawless and Laila Monahan

This book is not a particularly long one, but it is a good effort in demonstrating the broad level of interest that at least some academics have in the often-forgotten conflict in Western Sahara.  The book was written in the 1980’s, and so there is a lot that has gone on since then in the area, but although the book is more than thirty years old not a lot has changed about the situation of Western Sahara within Morocco.  The area still suffers from poor infrastructure and a focus on security matters, there has still been no definitive peace between Morocco and POLISARIO, there still has been no referendum on what it is that the people of Western Sahara themselves actually want as far as whether to govern themselves or be a part of one or the other nations around them.  Morocco still faces economic problems and the area is still a postcolonial mess that has never been resolved, quite possibly because many of the people or groups involved are unwilling to address the concerns of others or to face up with the decades of trouble that have found their way to the neglected and obscure part of the African coast that this work discusses.

This book is about 200 pages long or so and it is divided into nine papers in three parts.  After a list of contributors and an introduction by one of the book’s editors, the first part of the book discusses matters of nationalism, frontiers, and decolonization (I).  The first paper argues that Western Sahara is a case of a disaster of decolonization, and it is hard to argue with that grim prognosis (1) given the fact that Western Sahara’s status is still in dispute more than 40 years after the Spanish left.  After that there is a paper on the International Court of Justice and how it has ruled on the Western Sahara problem (2), as well as  discussion on the origins of Saharawi nationalism (3).  After that there are a couple of papers dealing with the war, the Maghreb, and world powers (II), one of which discusses the role of world powers in providing support to one party or another (4), and the way that the prolonged war has harmed Morocco in many ways (5).  Finally, the rest of the book contains papers that deal with refugees and human rights (III), including papers on the disappearances in Western Sahara (6), the origins and organization of Saharawi refugees (7), some lessons and prospects from their fate (8), and a paper on the women of Western Sahara (9).

This book, like many books on subjects of international relations, has a variety of essays and papers written by a wide variety of writers with a wide variety of perspectives.  As is frequently the case when one reads about international relations, people come to a subject like the Western Sahara conflict with certain research interests in mind and certain perspectives and those perspectives shape the work that results, making some of these essays rather tangentially related to others.  As a reader with a good deal of interest in the subject but not a profound knowledge in the goings on of Western Sahara, I found much of interest in these essays despite the fact that they presented very small snapshots of a much larger conflict.  It has been the unfortunate fate of Western Sahara, like many areas, to have been but lightly affected by colonialism, have a small and poor and nomadic population, and only be of interest to those who would want to rule it because of the value of the resources that are on the land, while no one seems to think to ask the people of the area themselves what they want to do with their land and the resources on it.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, History, International Relations, Military History and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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