Western Sahara: The Roots of a Desert War

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Western Sahara: The Roots of a Desert War

By Tony Hodges
Lawrence Hill, 1984
416 pp. $19.95
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A British journalist and scholar with deep roots in Africa, Hodges has produced an epic history of the Western Saharan region and the evolution of the current conflict. Starting with the nomad "sons of the clouds" in the first millennium B.C., he covers many centuries of tribal warfare in the Sahara and Morocco; a variety of colonial forays involving Spain, Portugal, France and Britain; the brief period of something like colonial "control," starting in the late 19th century and culminating in the period of "pacification" from 1934 to 1974. Against this backdrop, he describes the political and military development of the current war over the Sahara, in which Morocco is pitted against the Saharan liberation movement and its Algerian and Libyan allies. The author clearly sympathizes with the Polisario insurgents (whom he characterizes as the most effective African liberation movement to date) and his very careful sorting of the issues balances full-fledged Saharan nationalism against the rather desperate Moroccan appropriation of a unifying political issue as well as a disputed territory. He argues quite convincingly that the Polisario's tenacity and fighting prowess as well as their allies' resources ensure that time is on their side. The weakest aspect of his account is his consideration of Morocco's unpalatable options: an unending and expensive war or a rending peace that might perhaps engender more costly civil conflict.