Western Sahara History Timeline

By | October 15, 2021

According to ezinereligion, Western Sahara is a non-independent state located on the edge of the Sahara in northwestern Africa. The whole country has been occupied by Morocco since 1979, but a separatist organization, the People’s Front Polisario, continues to fight for an independent, democratic state. Polisario is backed by Algeria and Libya, but Morocco is still striving to maintain its hold.

The country is predominantly covered by desert, and is divided into two regions: Saguia al-Hamra and Río de Oro. It has one of the world’s largest fishery reserves, but the country’s most important source of wealth is its extensive phosphate deposits.

FrentePOLISARIO estimates that about 1 million of the country’s residents are displaced. These are predominantly people from nomadic tribes who, with their social and cultural organization, differ from the related Tuaregs and Berbers.

The repatriation of the 200,000 people who have lived in exile outside Western Sahara for 22 years – especially in the area around the Algerian city of Tindouf – remains an unsolved problem.


5th century – The westernmost end of the Sahara has been populated by Moors, Tuaregs and Tubus since the fifth century. These peoples have arisen as a result of the millennial desertification that the area has been the subject of since the Neolithic. The presence of the early populations can i.a. detected using the cave paintings in Tassilih.

7th century – the migration of people from Yemen reached the area and mingled with the local people.

1100 – The first society is formed among the peoples of the Sahara.

1895 – Sheik Ma al-Aini founds the fortress of Smara, and from there he fought until 1910 the Spanish-French presence with the support of the Sultan of Morocco. But it bowed to European pressure and stopped supporting the rebels, who then extended their sphere of action to include Morocco. They even managed to threaten Marakesh. The French counterattack consisted of increasing activity in the “Spanish” territory as well as in the conquest of Smara in 1913. However, resistance continued until 1920.

1932 – The city of ElAaiún is founded.

1933 – Ma al-Aini’s cousin, Mohamed al Mamún, emir of Adrad, wins, forcing the colonialists to change tactics. The French occupied one of the rebel bases, the Tindouf oasis ; they advanced towards Algeria, Mauritania and Morocco, while Spanish troops captured Smara and defeated the rebels in 1934.

1956 – After Morocco becomes independent and the Southern Division is dissolved, Western Sahara faces Spain and the French Air Force alone, which in 1958 forces the resistance movement to retreat.

1967 – The people of Western Sahara found the Al Muslim movement and a year later the Front for the Liberation of the Sahara.

1973 – May 10. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia al Hamra and the Río de Oro (Frente Popular de Liberación de Saguia al Hamra y Río de Oro, Frente POLISARIO) was created by Mustafá Seyid El-Uali, who later died in battle. Guerrilla warfare and oppression have meant that a large part of the population lives in refugee camps in Algeria.

1974 – Spain, under pressure from the United Nations, agrees to hold a referendum on independence in Western Sahara.

1974 – The World Bank defines Western Sahara as the richest territory in the entire Maghreb region because it houses the richest fish banks in the world and because of its phosphate reserves. The latter rose to 1,700 million tonnes in the Bu-Craa area, but it is estimated that there may be a further approx. 10,000 million tons in the region.

1975 – Morocco demands sovereignty over the territory, and the case is brought before the International Court of Justice in The Hague. The court’s ruling fell into two sections, the first of which stated that certain historical ties had once existed between Morocco and Western Sahara. At the same time, however, the second paragraph of the ruling stated that this past could not change the fact that the people of Western Sahara now had the right to national self-determination. The next day, Morocco declared that the court had supported Morocco’s view, but it clearly did not – it supported Polisario’s demand for a referendum. Morocco ignores the court ruling and invades Western Sahara. 350,000 Moroccan settlers follow. Villages in Western Sahara are bombarded with phosphorus and napalm. The majority of the population is fleeing across the border into Algeria.

1975 – In an attempt to contain the defeat, the Moroccan king, Hassan II, organizes the so-called “Green March”. It was a propaganda campaign mobilizing 350,000 Moroccans crossing the border into Western Sahara to mark Morocco’s claims in the area.

1975 – The Spanish government promises to hand over Western Sahara to Morocco and Mauritania, but the people of Western Sahara proclaimed the Democratic Arab Republic (RASD) on February 27 the following year. This new African republic was born in Bir Lahlu, a place in the desert of Saguia El Hamra, a few kilometers from the Mauritanian border. A few hours before, the last representative of the colonial power had officially declared the Spanish presence over.

1976 – Polisario establishes the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. It is today recognized by more than 50 countries and is a member of the African Union.

1976 – Several countries officially recognize the new nation, but nonetheless, war with Morocco and Mauritania broke out. A few years later, Mauritania, which was on the verge of bankruptcy, decided to end the war and sign a peace agreement with POLISARIO. In contrast, Hassan’s troops increased their war effort with French and North American support.

1976 – The western part of Cap Blanc, a peninsula with rocky shores and sandy beaches in West Africa on the border between Western Sahara and Mauritania, has been occupied by Mauritania since 1976. The peninsula houses the world’s largest population of the endangered seal monk seal.

1979 – Mauritania withdraws from its southern third of Western Sahara, which Morocco immediately annexes.

1980 – July. POLISARIO’s military progress made it possible to achieve a diplomatic victory at the OUA summit in Freetown. At the meeting, twenty-six African countries declared their official recognition of the RASD as a legitimate representation of the people of Western Sahara.

1980 – November. The UN called on Morocco to withdraw its forces from Western Sahara.

1980-1981 – Fifty countries maintained diplomatic relations with the RASD. The military offensive continued, and in March 1981, the city of Guelta Zemmur was captured.

1981-1987 – To stop attacks by the Polisario, Morocco builds a 2,200-kilometer-long wall down through Western Sahara. The wall divides, together with one of the world’s largest minefields, the land into two parts.

1985 – November 14. The UN Decolonization Committee recognized the right of the people of Western Sahara to self-determination.

1988 – March 26. A peace plan gained support from the United States when Deputy Secretary of State Richard Murphy declared in the Senate that the United States did not recognize Morocco’s sovereignty in Western Sahara. He added that the conflict should be resolved through negotiation. Both Morocco and POLISARIO agreed that a referendum should be held in Western Sahara where the people could choose between independence or affiliation with Morocco.

1991 – December. The UN special envoy to Western Sahara, Johannes Manz, resigned, reflecting on the difficulties facing the decolonization plan.

1996 – 170,000 people from Western Sahara live in refugee camps in the Tindouf region – a desert area in Algeria, near Western Sahara. Here, POLISARIO has organized schools and other services.

2001-03 – Significant deposits of gas and oil were discovered in the sea off the coast of Western Sahara in a 210,000 km2 area. Morocco entered into an agreement with the French Total Fina Elf and the North American Kerr-McGee on the extraction of the deposits, despite the fact that the UN can adopt reprisals since Morocco – in theory – has no administrative power over Western Sahara. The Saharans accused Morocco of concluding these agreements with key members of the Security Council in order to legitimize and secure its invasion of the country. In May 2002, RASD entered into an agreement with the British-Australian company Fusion Oil to assess oil deposits.

2001 – October. King Muhammad VI completed his first voyage in Western Sahara after his accession to the throne. The visit coincided in time with the conclusion of an agreement between the Moroccan government and French and North American oil companies on exploration off the coast of Western Sahara. President Abdel Aziz characterized the visit as a provocation and declared that the peace process was complicated. The visit took place around the anniversary of the ” Green March “.

2002 – October. Algeria rejected the Baker Plan and instead proposed that the UN administer Western Sahara. Kofi Annan put forward four different proposals for resolving the conflict: continue with the agreement plan according to which a referendum on independence is to be held; continue with the Marcoplan with minor changes; enter into territorial division negotiations; or withdrawal of Minurso, which will mean the final collapse of the peace process after it has cost 560 million. Euro and 11 years of fruitless defaults.

2004 – On January 30, Polisario celebrates its 30th anniversary, and on the same day, the UN routinely extended Minurso’s mandate in Western Sahara to April 30.

2005 – In July, the Dutchman Peter van Walsum is appointed as the UN Secretary – General’s personal envoy and embarks on a tour of the region.

2005 – In August, Polisario released 404 Moroccan prisoners of war, some of whom had spent more than 20 years in captivity in the refugee camps.

2007 – February. Read The Forgotten War in Western Sahara by Ulla Holm. Download the free pdf file here. (right click and save)

2008 – February. There is a 3rd year Intifada taking place in the occupied Western Sahara. Morocco has made sure to close the country thoroughly, so also for that reason the international attention to the situation is very small. But for the young people of Western Sahara and the many thousands living in refugee camps, an incipient revolt is simmering.

2008 – February 22. Western Sahara’s exile government POLISARIO accuses the shipping company J. Lauritzen of complicity in the theft of natural resources from the occupied parts of the country. A dry cargo ship that is part of the Danish shipping company J. Lauritzen’s fleet is today expected to arrive at the Port of Tauranga in New Zealand with a cargo of phosphate from Western Sahara.

Western Sahara History Timeline