Profit Over Peace In Western Sahara

Hagen, Erik and Mario Pfeifer, eds.,   Profit over Peace in Western Sahara: How commercial interests undermine self-determination in the last colony in Africa .  Sternberg Press, Berlin, Germany. 2018. English and Arabic.  Hardcover: ISBN 978-3-95679-405-6.    The book can be ordered h from the publisherat: http://www.sternberg-press.com/index.php?pageId=1834&l=en&bookId=728&sort=year

Review by Theresa Wolfwood

“We hope most of all, that this little book will be a humble contribution to the people of Western Sahara as they seek to determine their own destiny by the simple means of a free, democratic vote. “  From the editorsUntitled

“This publication is edited by Erik Hagen and the artist Mario Pfeifer, who has been researching the region since 2011 and provides visual material for the book. Erik Hagen has followed the issue of resources in Western Sahara since 2002, both as a journalist and as a campaigner for the organization Western Sahara Resource Watch. An essay by lawyer Jeffrey J. Smith examines the 2017 landmark judgment in South Africa concerning a bulk vessel carrying conflict minerals from the territory.” Publisher’s note

The library of books about Western Sahara is pretty slim, so this new book is a welcome addition and provides a succinct background and up-to-date   reports and analysis of the relationship of global corporations and powerful governments to the continuing oppression of the Sahrawi.

(See www.bookreviews,bbcf.ca for reviews of these two earlier works on WS:  San Martin, Pablo. WESTERN SAHARA: the Refugee Nation. 2010. University of Wales Press, Cardiff, Wales.  and  Hodges, Tony. WESTERN SAHARA: The Roots of a Desert War. Lawrence Hill & Co. USA.)

Photographs, maps and excellent reference notes add to the vivid veracity of this straight forward account of a little-known global disgrace.

The European Union has consistently ignored the rights of Western Sahara by dealing with Morocco and tacitly allowing its imperialist behaviour. Why? Although the UN and other international bodies uphold the right of self-determination for the oppressed citizens living under Moroccan rule and those stranded in refugee camps in Algeria for decades, profit remains the driving power.

In Erik Hagen’s chapter “EU: Fish before Peace” he explains that, “Morocco has the closest ties to the EU of any African state. “  The reasons are many, Morocco’s strategic position so close to Europe and its gateway to the Mediterranean, are the basis of migrant and drug control, exchange of intelligence and overlapping maritime issues.  EU is also Morocco’s largest trading partner, no doubt the main source for the military and policing equipment used by Morocco to enforce its control of occupied Western Sahara and to maintain the berm-wall that faces Algeria to prevent Saharawi from returning home. France and the ex-colonial occupier, Spain, are the major powers in the EU when it comes to policy making about Morocco and Western Sahara.  One Brussels politician is quoted as saying that they know international law, but here they follow Spain.

One of the world’s richest fisheries lies off the Atlantic coast of Western Sahara. The European interest in this resource is well-documented by Hagen with a detailed historical record  to the present when Morocco has never provided any evidence to support the feeble excuse that resource extraction benefits “the local population”.  Off shore fishing is a lucrative industry for European companies.

Another situation supposedly of local benefit is the vast wind farms erected by Morocco in Western Sahara’s desert lands. Dear to the heart of environmentalist unable to make a connection between their much praised renewable energy darlings to the misery of people who gain no benefit from these showcases.  The printed exchange of letters between WSRW (Western Sahara Resource Watch) and Siemens, the German multi-national company, is worth the price of the book alone.  Siemens makes the wind mills used.­-

In the chapter entitled Siemens: A Case Study on Corporate Conversations, the editors write, “We offer you an insight into this conversation without additional comment”.   Indeed, the letters need no extra comment. WSRW provides to all activists the models of well-documented, well-researched and tenacious exposure of corpate irresponsibility and Siemens provides other companies (I am sure Nutrien has studied them) examples of corporate ability to write flowery prose that pays and nothing in many words.

Mentioning Nutrien, the Canadian company recently formed by the merger of Potash Corp and Agrium, which continues to ignore international law on commerce in occupied territory as it imports phosphate rock from Western Sahara, mined by a company owned by the Moroccan government and as the Canadian government conveniently ignores its obligations to the Geneva Conventions on War by allowing this lucrative resource exploitation.

In the chapter “Plunder Intercepted: The legal case to seize globally trade phosphate from occupied Western Sahara”, Jeffrey Smith, a Canadian legal expert,  has contributed a chapter on how another government reacted very differently to the export of phosphate, this time to New Zealand.  Smith chronicles how the government-in-exile of Western Sahara successfully had the cargo of phosphate detained in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, where it stopped to refuel.  Then the high court of South Africa upheld international law and the ship and its cargo were seized. The details read like a thriller and Smith has provided an excellent summary. He also includes the use of international law to stop ships with phosphates from using the Panama Canal on route to Canada.

He concludes with a powerful reminder of what this gem of a guide to resistance to global iniquity is all about, “Few people have waited longer than the Sahrawi for the basic right of self-determination to be made available. In the Panama and South Africa cases they continued to build for themselves a unique legal road to achieving such justice.”

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