Western Sahara: The Forgotten War

This series is the definitive film history of Western Sahara. The territory is the subject of a long-running battle between the independence movement Polisario and the kingdom of Morocco. The conflict is the unfinished final act in the long drama of Africa’s decolonization; underlying it is a profound disagreement over the identity of the Saharawi people, and their relation to the Moroccan monarchy. The series tells the whole story, from 19th-century colonization to present-day stalemate.

1 – A Question of Sovereignty
This film gives the background to the conflict. Western Sahara was a neglected colony of Spain from the late 19th century until the fire of anti-colonialism swept across North Africa in the early 1950s. After Morocco gained independence in 1956, the new King Mohammed V wanted to integrate the Spanish Sahara into a Greater Morocco, but died before he could realise his vision. We follow his son, Hassan II, who tries to carry out his father’s plan, but is resisted by the emergent Polisario Front struggling for an independent territory. As Spain quits its colony, Morocco prepares to fight for unity with Western Sahara.

2 – The March to War
November 1975: as thousands of Moroccans assemble on the border of Western Sahara for the so-called Green March, the Spanish evacuate the capital. Spain agrees to partition Western Sahara’s territory between Mauritania and Morocco, thus betraying the Saharawi dream of independence. Following the invasion, Morocco tries to take military control amid fierce fighting with Polisario. Saharawi refugees flee the assault, and seek refuge in the Algerian desert. Yet Morocco fails to secure victory and in 1988 both sides accept a UN peace plan – though the fighting flares up again.

3 – The Forgotten War
The story since the 1991 ceasefire. A UN-sponsored referendum should have allowed the Saharawi people to vote on whether they want an independent Western Sahara, or integration into Morocco. But the vote was endlessly delayed by wrangles over which of the territory’s inhabitants were truly Saharawi, and therefore eligible to vote. The refugees in Polisario’s desert camps, meanwhile, had to endure more wretched years of exile in Algeria. This film intercuts their personal experience with the UN’s attempts to broker successive deals between the Moroccans and Polisario.

3 x 50 mins, international distribution, 1999

Luis Espana, Adrian Pennink, Christopher Mitchell

Executive Producer
Christopher Mitchell