The Green March: Morocco’s Shame
Vitalio Angula Omeima Abdeslam and Catherine Contantinides
Towards the end of October 1975, 350 000 Moroccans, under instruction from King Hassan II, gathered in the southern most city of the territory of Morocco, Tarfaya, to prepare for the Green March – a political and military expedition into the territory of Western Sahara. An event that Hassan dubbed, “the re-claiming of the motherland”.
On 6 November 1975, King Hassan gave an instruction for the ‘Green March’ to begin. The 350 000 Moroccans escorted by 20 000 troops began a forceful entry into the territory of Spanish Sahara with a view to annex the country.
Moroccan claims to the territory of Western Sahara are hinged on an International Court of Justice judgment that was issued on 16 October 1975 “that there were historical legal ties of allegiance between ‘some and only some’ Saharawi tribes and the Sultan of Morocco”.
However, the same advisory from the International Court of Justice categorically states that “there were no ties of territorial sovereignty between the territory of Spanish Sahara and Morocco, or Mauritania, at the time of Spanish colonisation.”
The court further argued that “the indigenous population (the Saharawi) were the owners of the land, and thus possessed the right to self-determination”.
Western Sahara is a desert territory measuring 266 000 square kilometres. It is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the west, Morocco, to its north, and Algeria and Mauritania to its east.
A former Spanish colony, “the Green March caught Spain in a moment of political crisis”. General Franco of Spain had taken ill and the neighbouring Portuguese government under Vasco Goncalves had just experienced a devastating coup.
Drawing lessons from their neighbouring state, the Spanish did their best to avoid being toppled in a similar fashion.
According to a historical account on Wikipedia, “Despite the overwhelming military and logistical superiority of the Spanish armed forces based in Western Sahara in relation to the Moroccan armed forces, the Spanish feared that the conflict with Morocco could lead to an open colonial war in Africa, which could put Francoist Spain into question and lead to abrupt political change or social instability and disaster.”
The Wikipedia account continues that, “following the Green March, and with a view to avoid war and preserving as much as possible of its interests in the territory, Spain agreed to enter direct bilateral negotiations with Morocco, bringing in also Mauritania, which had made similar demands”.
“Under pressure from Morocco, Spain also agreed that no representatives of the native population would be present in the negotiations that resulted in the 14 November Madrid Accords.”
On the days preceding the Madrid Accords, Morocco shamefully entered the territory of Western Sahara carrying pictures of their King, the Quran, as well as flags representing Morocco, Jordan, the USA and Saudi Arabia.
The Spanish troops still positioned in the area were given instructions not to attack in order to avoid a bloodbath.
The march continued for four days until 9 November at which point the volunteers were called back after advancing 10 kilometres into the territory.
As the volunteers returned to Morocco, the military contingent of 20 000 Moroccan troops wreaked havoc in the territory, killing whatever they found in their way.
Moroccan soldiers poisoned water wells, killed animals and executed or imprisoned the Saharawi’s they found on their way.
This is the sad history of the Green March which has displaced over 163 000 Saharawi who are confined to living in refugee camps alongside the border the country shares with Algeria.
Forty-five years later, almost half a century, Morocco’s illegal occupation of Western Sahara still persists.
Morocco must accede to the legitimate demands and inalienable right to self-determination for the people of Western Sahara.
Morocco has no valid claim to the territory and the kingdom continues to demonstrate its contempt for international law.
This contempt has given rise to protests in the Guerguerat buffer zone where Saharawi protestors are currently demonstrating against the illegal plunder of their country’s resources by the Moroccan regime.
Based on Southern Africa’s own struggle and fight for freedom, Namibia and South Africa must continue to stand in support of the Saharawi cause.
Namibia and South Africa must continue to be advocates of change for the continent and for the world.
We cannot align ourselves to a state that continues to illegally occupy and colonise a fellow African state.
The people of Southern Africa must stand strong on their historical position, policy and fight for self-determination for the last colony on the African continent.
The Saharawi people are the forgotten people of Africa and will become a scar on the conscience of Africa if we do not mobilise all our time, effort and resources to ensure we unshackle the chains that have held Western Sahara in bondage.