The Conveyor Belt to Nowhere: Identity and Resistance at a Western Saharan Phosphate Mine from 1973-1976

Sarah Gilkerson
Sarah Gilkerson,
PhD Student, Department of History, UC Davis

Sarah Gilkerson is interested in Touareg and Sahrawi history, forced migration, the Sahara Desert and Trans-Saharan studies, memory studies and Human Rights, phosphate and uranium mining, International Law and Justice, Refugee History, and Environmental History. As a doctoral student at UC Davis, she has cultivated a relationship between activism and academia while undertaking fieldwork in the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic refugee camps in Algeria as well as language immersion and volunteering with Dar Si Hmad in Agadir, Morocco and Tangier, Morocco.

She is currently focusing on the history of the Fosbucra’a mines in the Western Sahara and the failed Sahrawi independence movement from Spain and Morocco using both legal hearings and oral testimony.

Thursday, May 11, 2017
12:00 - 1:00PM
2203 SS&H (Andrews Conference Room)

Click here to register (Deadline: May 9, 6pm)

This article addresses the connection between identity, memorialization, and natural resources in the Western Sahara protracted refugee crisis. During the political transition years of 1973, Sahrawi miners extracted the largest amount of phosphates from Fosbucra'a while the Sahrawi separatists—called the Frente POLISARIO—began to campaign for independence. Their hopes were destroyed in 1975 when Spain signed the Madrid Agreements, granting the Kingdom of Morocco authority over the Sahrawi and their natural resources. As this agreement was in direct violation of the 1975 International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) advisory opinion in favor of the Sahrawi, war broke out between Morocco and the newly formed Sahrawi government forcing Sahrawis to flee to refugee camps in Algeria in 1976. This article is organized from 1973-1976, bookended with the two largest acts of sabotage the Sahrawi promulgated against Spain and then Morocco. The centrality of the phosphate mines responds to a lack of legal and historical research addressing the connections between the power dynamics of the colonial administrations, resistance, and natural resources, which continues to impact the landscapes and psychologies of the Sahrawi people in their forty first year of exile. This analysis extends to understanding the current legal structures and local struggles over oil exploration by Moroccan and American companies from 2001 to present, which cannot be understood without a deep grounding in the sale and sabotage of phosphates as this industry has had a profound impact on the Sahrawi independence movement and Moroccan politics.