Africa's Last Colony

Algeria's Polisario Front and the Western Sahara

Indigenous Sahrawi people react during the funeral of Western Sahara's Polisario Front leader Mohamed Abdelaziz in Tindouf, Algeria June 3, 2016. Ramzi Boudina / Reuters

Last week, Mohamed Abdelaziz, the secretary-general of the Polisario Front independence movement in Western Sahara, passed away at the age of 68. Abdelaziz helped found the movement in the 1970s and served as the president of the Saharan Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), the government-in-exile that the group founded in Tindouf, Algeria, since 1976.  He was in the middle of his 12th consecutive term as president when he died this week.

The Polisario quickly announced an interim replacement—Khatri Addouh, a longtime aide to Abdelaziz and the current head of the Polisario’s National Council—as well as a 40-day mourning period before a permanent successor will be named. In the rush to figure out what Abdelaziz’s death might mean for a resolution to the protracted conflict between Morocco and the Polisario, observers have overlooked what his death says about the Polisario itself and, by extension, what it might tell us about

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