Accepted paper:

Mobile pastoralism in the Western Sahara conflict: tenacious against the odds?


Alice Wilson (University of Sussex)

Paper short abstract:

The paper considers how mobile pastoralism, which, since the 1950s, has been steadily on the decrease in Western Sahara, has nevertheless continued to play a role in the development of the Western Sahara conflict, especially in its phases since the ceasefire.

Paper long abstract:

Mobile pastoralism amongst Sahrawis (from Western Sahara) had already decreased before the outbreak, in 1975, of the conflict between Morocco and liberation movement Polisario over Western Sahara. Those Sahrawis who, from 1976, went into exile in Polisario's refugee camps in Algeria were further separated from mobile pastoralism through lack of access to animals and pasturelands, and Polisario's political aspiration to change the notion of Sahrawis as Bedouin "ill-equipped" to claim statehood. Meanwhile, in Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara, Morocco moved in Moroccan settlers, encouraged new industries and developed new infrastructures, changing the territory's pastoralist associations. Mobile pastoralism in Western Sahara thus might seem to be in long-term decline. The conflict, however, has arguably intensified a targeted engagement with mobile pastoralism or associated practices, both amongst annexed and exiled Sahrawis. From exile, Polisario developed and still possesses its own camel herds. Since the ceasefire, both Morocco and Polisario have sponsored new settlements in their respective pasturelands within Western Sahara, as if battling to claim pasturelands and mobile pastoralists. Sahrawis on both sides use the pasturelands as spaces to sidestep state power, annexed Sahrawis to stage protests or leave cities when feeling unsafe, and exiled Sahrawis to engage in activities that are sanctioned by Polisario in the refugee camps. Finally, those with resources in both populations can invest in animal herds as a means of reducing their dependence on their respective state powers. Mobile pastoralism continues to be important for these populations and their governing authorities, perhaps even especially because of the conflict.

panel MMM09
The emerging world of pastoralists and nomads (IUAES Commission on Nomadic Peoples)