Bitter as life, sweet as love and light as death. Words taken from the Saharawi saying about their teadrinking customs. The words reflect their traditional way of life and their perspective on life. In many ways it also reflects their circumstances in an occupied area and a refugee camp. This project is about the Saharawi’s life and struggle for freedom in what is called Africa's last remaining colony - Western Sahara. This project has been developing since 2011. The need for more travel is essential, but I see the pieces of this project being put together in two years.
Bitter as life, sweet as love and light as death. These words are taken from the Saharawi saying about their tea drinking customs. The saying reflects their traditional way of life and their way of looking at life. In many ways it also reflects their circumstances. This project is about a people's struggle for freedom from oppression and the rigth to self-determination in what is called Africa's last remaining colony - Western Sahara.
The area is located to the west of the Sahara desert, with borders to Morocco, Algeria and Mauritania. From Spanish colonial rule in the 1800s to the Moroccan occupation of the 1970s, the Sahrawi people have witnessed outside powers utilizing the areas extensive natural resources, while they themselves are put on the sidelines.
After sixteen years of war between Morocco and the independence movement, Polisario Front, about half of the Saharawi people were forced to flee to Algeria. A ceasefire between the two opponents was agreed upon with the involvement of the United Nations in 1991. In this ceasefire agreement, one of the main conditions was that a referendum would take place where the people of the area could vote for their own independence. This referendum has not yet taken place, twenty-five years after the ceasefire was signed. The Saharawi people still demonstrates peacefully for their freedom while the Moroccan occupational force increasingly tightens its grip on the area and the people who are living there.
The UN has an operation in the area. It is named MINURSO. This is one of the few UN operations that do not have the power to work with human rigths observation. The Moroccan authority argues that this kind of operation will affect their authority in the area. They have the French as allies and every time this issue is brought up in the UN, the issue gets muted and MINURSO does not get a human rights mandate.
These pictures stands as a witness to what kind of conditions the Saharawi people live under in the occupied areas. A boy of 13 years told his story; he was arrested for protesting against the occupation with his friends a few days prior. In police custody, he was given shock from wires attached to a car battery, beaten and threatened with rape. The police wanted him to be their informant. He refused and in the days after his arrest, he received notice that he was expelled from school, without any opportunity to go back.
Discrimination, marginalization and harassment is a big part of their everyday life. Moroccan settlers are lured to the area with promise of tax-free working and cheap real-estate. For one Saharawi there are four Moroccan settlers and police. This becomes the most evident under the peaceful protests, where Saharawi’s involved get beaten. Young, old, pregnant. This makes the population restless, and the area is tense.
But this is just half the story. To get to the other half I need to travel to Algeria, Tindouf. Located here is the refugee camp that about half of the Saharawi population fled to under the war. In this camp some have lived all their life. They know no other and the young is getting weary and impatient. There is no future in the camp. This project is about piecing together the lives of the Saharawi people and the ways they live today. This requires multiple trips to the occupied areas and the refugee camps in Algeria as soon as possible.
The biggest difference between Spanish and Moroccan rule is that the Spaniards occupied the country, while Moroccans also occupies the people. This statement was given to me by an old wise Saharawi; this expresses the importance of this project. The occupation has been present since colonial times and is still holding strong. Media is not paying it any attention and "everyman" has no idea that Western Sahara exists. This is the importance on a broader specter, but on a more personal level; this is my first born, my “hjertebarn” as we say in Norwegian. Directly translate to “heartchild”. This is a hard story to sell and my heart bleeds for these people and their right to tell their story.