Free Moroccan Trip for Black Press: A Political Maneuver About the Western Sahara 

There’s a sovereignty dispute under way between the government and residents living in a nearby desert territory.

Activists for the independence of the Western Sahara during an annual protest in November 2013
Activists for the independence of the Western Sahara during an annual protest in November 2013 Dani Pozo/Getty Images

Members of the black press who took an expenses-paid trip to Morocco last week were pawns in a politically motivated move by the Moroccan government in its dispute with the Morocco-occupied Western Sahara, a representative of the occupied region asserted to Journal-isms on Wednesday.

The occupied residents, known as Saharawis, have called themselves “the last colony in Africa.”

As reported Monday, a 14-person delegation from the National Newspaper Publishers Association, representing the nation’s black press, spent a week in the North African country as “part of series of no-strings attached government-sponsored trips by African American organizations to Morocco to give them a first-hand look at the country,” as Cloves C. Campbell Jr., chairman of the NNPA and publisher of the Arizona Informant in Phoenix, told Journal-isms by email.

“No limitations have been placed on what we can write or discuss and we’re under no obligation to write anything. This is the outgrowth of a trip Jesse Jackson took to Morocco in August during which he urged Moroccan leaders to reach out to Black organizations so that they can gain a better understanding of the country and the challenges it faces.”

However, Morocco has been in a decades-long dispute in Western Sahara, a mainly desert territory whose residents are of mixed Berber, Arab and black African descent.

“By the 1300’s, the Arabs ruled the region, causing conflict with the Berbers until the end of the 1600’s,” according to a history by the Joshua Project, a religious ministry. “The Saharawi are descendants of these two groups and their slaves. Until 1904 when Spain gained control, the Saharawi were threatened by Morocco’s desire to annex the Western Sahara region. Since Spain’s withdrawal in 1976, many Saharawi have fled to Algerian refugee camps, returned to the deserts, or joined the Polisario, which continues to demand independence.”

The brief history also says, “There is a long-standing conflict between Morocco and the Saharawi Polisario Front. Morocco claims the Western Sahara, but Algeria sides with the Polisario, hoping to later negotiate for an outlet to the ocean. Sovereignty in the area currently remains unresolved. . . .”

The United Nations has been seeking a settlement in Western Sahara since Spain’s withdrawal and the ensuing fighting between Morocco, which had “reintegrated” the territory, and the Polisario Front, supported by Algeria. The secretary general named a personal envoy for Western Sahara, Christopher Ross, to work on the dispute.

In an email to Journal-isms from Africa, Ahmed Boukhari, the Polisario’s representative to the U.N., told Journal-isms that Morocco’s bankrolling of the black-press trip had ulterior motives.