Spain and descolonisation I

Compensation to Spain is the door to a solution to the Sahara conflict
Border crossing point between Morocco and Mauritania. The photo shows numerous Moroccan flags and trucks.

AFP/FADEL SENNA  -   Border post between Morocco and Mauritania in Guerguerat, located in Western Sahara, on November 24, 2020, following the intervention of the Moroccan Royal Moroccan Armed Forces in the area

In every colonial process, the same phenomenon occurs in one way or another: the colonising country has extracted wealth, has committed abuses whose victims demand compensation, has restricted the development of indigenous cultures and goods; but, at the same time, it has invested in infrastructure, built houses, schools, clinics; in a word, it has induced the economic and social progress of the colonised population.  

Consequently, when decolonisation takes place, when the coloniser leaves and the indigenous population assumes its own destiny, it is essential that it be compensated, indemnified. The same applies to the colonised population. Fair compensation is the best reasonable basis for intelligent and prosperous decolonisation. Coloniser and colonised have lived together for decades or centuries; they can continue to live together, in other ways. So it was with Spain in its colonies in the 19th and early 20th centuries; so it was with the European and American metropolises with their colonies in Africa, Asia, America and Oceania.  

PHOTO/AFP - A Sahrawi man holds a Polisario Front flag in the Al-Mahbes area of Polisario-controlled Western Sahara
PHOTO/AFP - A Sahrawi man holds a Polisario Front flag in the Al-Mahbes area of Polisario-controlled Western Sahara

The complete decolonisation of the Sahara will take place when the countries involved, together with the representatives of the indigenous population, sit down to discuss the corresponding compensation applicable to both sides: colonisers and colonised. Spain and France, on the colonial side; and Morocco, Algeria and the Saharan population, on the colonised side (Spanish Western Sahara and French Eastern Sahara).  

Geopolitics for Spain 

The main problem for Spanish foreign policy in the coming years is likely to be regional geopolitics in the Western Mediterranean and North Africa. Relations between Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Algeria, the United States, Britain and France will dominate foreign policy.  

The epicentre that can give stability and projection to this policy is to be found in Western Sahara. As long as the Sahara issue remains unresolved, Spain will not be able to shake off the heavy legacy of the colonial dispute, and the factors of instability will weigh on foreign policy, whatever government Spain presides over. 

Neither in the current coalition government, nor in the governmental alternative of an agreement between the Popular Party and VOX for the next general elections, is there a homogenous vision of foreign policy, regional geopolitics and the problem of Western Sahara

The PSOE does not have the same vision on Morocco-Algeria-Sahara as its ally in government, Podemos, and its parliamentary supporters from Esquerra republicana and the Basque and Catalan pro-independence movement. And in the opposition bloc, neither the Popular Party holds the same position as VOX on this issue, nor within the PP itself is there unanimity on the treatment of Morocco and the Sahara issue

PHOTO/REUTERS - Boudjdour refugee camp in Tindouf, southern Algeria
PHOTO/REUTERS - Boudjdour refugee camp in Tindouf, southern Algeria

The Spanish government's constant and repeated failure to fulfil promises made to partners, allies and neighbours is due not only to the current prime minister's dilettantism, but also to the institutional incoherence of the political and strategic vision.  

It is therefore urgent to adopt a homogeneous vision of Spain's strategy. And this cannot be done either through referendums, or in parliament, or by leaving it to the so-called ad hoc groups of experts, university professors or civil servants on duty, to do so. State issues must be treated as such, and it is necessary that the real power players - institutional, political, financial, industrial, scientific - work to elaborate and adopt it. 

The Western Sahara issue has left Spanish institutions with a number of burdens that must be overcome. The first of these is related to the process of separation of the territory from Spain; with two chapters, the status of the territory until separation, and the way in which Spain ceased to be present. Both are related to the signing of the Madrid Tripartite Agreements between Spain, Mauritania and Morocco.  

The second has to do with Spain's responsibility, if any, to the international community for this decolonisation process.  

The third is Spain's leading role, if any, in resolving the pending problem.  

One of the current obstacles to finding a solution to the problem lies in the role of the United Nations. The fact that the Sahara issue remains on the Decolonisation Committee's "list of Non-Self-Governing Territories" is a brake rather than an accelerator for a solution. In the more than thirty years that the UN and the Security Council have monopolised the forum for resolving the problem, since the 1991 Agreements, not one iota of progress has been made.  

Perhaps the time has come to emulate Margaret Thatcher and ask the UN to exclude Western Sahara from the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories on its Decolonisation Committee. The "Iron Lady" did so in the 1990s, which allowed her to negotiate directly with Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping the return of Hong Kong to China, which was formalised in 1997. Spain could do the same and renegotiate with the actors involved in the conflict, Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania and the Polisario Front, the final status of its former colony. 

PHOTO/ARCHIVO - Border crossing between Algeria and Morocco
PHOTO/FILE - Border crossing between Algeria and Morocco

However, if we continue to emulate Britain on the return of Hong Kong, or Portugal on Macao, the question of compensation inevitably arises. Quantifying them is not an easy task, because a number of facts come into play that need to be addressed. Among others, the following should be noted: 

  • For the Franco-Spanish military actions undertaken against the population of the Sahara in 1958 and the Southern Liberation Army active in the region after the proclamation of Moroccan Independence. 
  • For the victims and damage caused by the Spanish war in the Sahara between 1957 and 1958, including the Ifni War. 
  • For the expropriations and seizures of Spanish property in the Sahara, which had to be abandoned in 1975. 
  • For the infrastructures created by the Spanish government in the Spanish Sahara, including scientific research and mineral prospecting. 
  • For seizures made against Sahrawi citizens who left the territory forced by the war. 



There are claims on several sides. It is a question of listing the claims and pending demands, in order to renegotiate the final status of the former Spanish colony, so that the claims of the parties are satisfied; without forgetting the claims that the Polisario is asking for the consequences of the fishing agreements signed between Morocco and the European Union.  

The final issue is not the monetary quantification of the corresponding compensation at all levels, but the laying of the foundations of a General and Global Investment Programme in which all the actors in the decolonisation process must participate, to allow the total development of the Sahara region, coordinated, identified and integrated into an Autonomous Territory attached to the Kingdom of Morocco, and territorially coordinated with the republics of Mauritania and Algeria.