The local people are the so-called “Sahara people”. The earliest settlers of the present-day lands of the Western Sahara were the Bafori agricultural people . They were later replaced by peoples speaking the Berber language, who later mixed it and brought it closer to the Arabic language. The adoption of Islam in the 8th century played an important role in the development of relations between the peoples of the Sahara, and later also between the countries in this region – Morocco, Western Sahara, Mauritania, Algeria and their neighboring countries. Trade began to develop, and soon whole caravans passed through the lands from Marrakesh to Timbuktu in Mali. During the Middle Ages, the peoples of the Saharan region controlled what is now the Western Sahara. Bedouins from the Beni Hassan Arab tribe invaded and reached the western parts of Africa in the 14th – 15th centuries. Berber tribes adopted Hasan-Arab and mixed Arab-Berber culture. According to Countryaah.com, Western Sahara is one of the two countries that start with letter W.
In the first half of the 20th century, after an agreement between the European colonial powers at the Berlin Conference in 1884, in the division of conquered Africa, Spain gained control over the Western Sahara and made it its protectorate during some wars against the local tribes. Decolonization was delayed due to political and social pressure from Spain, which later began rapidly liberating its colonies. After attempts not to decolonize Western Sahara, Spain loses and begins to slowly retreat. At the same time, Morocco and Mauritaniabegan to claim that the then Spanish Sahara was part of their lands and had been unjustly taken from them during colonization. In 1975, the UN rejected the claims and insisted on full freedom for the country. On May 6 of the same year, 350,000 unarmed Moroccans entered the Moroccan city of Tarfaya and waited for orders from King Hassan II to invade the Western Sahara.
Days before the death of Francisco Franco on November 14, 1975, Spain signed a secret treaty with Morocco and Mauritania as it prepared to abandon the colony. Morocco took the northern 2/3 of the territory, and Mauritania – the southern part. After 3 months Spain gave up its colony, even the Spanish graves were opened and after exhumation the Spanish bodies were taken away. In 1979, under pressure from the nationalist organization Front Polisario, Mauritania withdrew from Western Sahara and Morocco occupied the entire territory of the former colony. In 1991, hostilities between Morocco and the local population stopped due to the arrival of a UN peacekeeping mission known as MINURSO.
Attempts at a referendum began in 1992. The choice should have been independence or formal accession to Morocco. However, the plans were quickly shelved. To this day, despite the negotiations, there has been no referendum. At the heart of the conflict for him is the fact that Morocco does not want to recognize the freedom of Western Sahara and the country of the Front Polisario. Both sides blame each other for delaying the referendum. According to the “Front Polisario”, every inhabitant of Western Sahara should have the right to vote, and according to Morocco, only people from the “Sahrawi” tribe should vote.
Attempts by the UN to find a common solution to the issue that both sides agree to fail. According to UN data from 1999, 85 thousand people have the right to vote. Nearly half of them are in the Moroccan-controlled part, while the others are scattered in Mauritania or in refugee camps. The Polisario Front accepts this list as well as the previous one from 1974, but Morocco refuses to recognize both. According to the NATO delegation, the referendum would have been won by the cause of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR).
A US document known as the “Baker Peace Plan” was presented to the UN in 2000. According to it, the former Spanish colony became either independent or autonomous. There is also the possibility of official accession to Morocco. According to him, everyone from Western Sahara has the right to vote. Both sides in the dispute reject it, though the plan comes close to Morocco’s. Morocco’s king declares referendum ‘overdue’. In 2003, a second plan, called Baker 2, was drawn up and accepted by the Polisario Front.
Today, Baker 2 is politically abandoned, and Baker himself left the UN in 2004 a few months after attempts to negotiate the plan with Morocco failed. Morocco’s new king, Mohammed VI, refuses to hold any referendum and concludes: “We will not give away an inch of our precious Sahara, not a grain of sand.” Instead, he proposed internal autonomy for the country within Morocco’s borders. Most politicians in Morocco agree to hold a referendum.
The UN has no other plan for Western Sahara after the failure of Baker’s. In 2005, former UN Secretary Kofi Annan reported increased military activity in the lands of Western Sahara on both sides – there were demonstrations and protests after he announced in February 2006 that there was a plan for partial autonomy, but it has not yet been announced to this day, and the Moroccan government explains that its preparation is not so easy.