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Western Sahara

Official Country Name: Western Sahara
Region: Africa
Population: 244,943
Language(s): Hassaniya Arabic, Moroccan Arabic
Literacy Rate: NA

Weastern Sahara is either a country unto itself or a part of a kingdom, depending on whom is asked. The entire land has been under the direct control of the Kingdom of Morocco since 1979; it was known as Spanish Sahara until 1975 when Morocco took over the northern twothirds of the former colony and Mauritania took the southern one-third. Mauritania withdrew in 1979, leaving Morocco in complete control. Morocco hopes it will be a permanent part of its country in the twenty-first century and often refers to the location as Moroccan Sahara.

Many of the indigenous people, the Saharawi, revolted years ago and began a long, armed conflict. The fight has been lead by the Polisario Front (Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro), which takes much of its name from major geographical boundaries of the territory it claims for itself. Tindouf, in western Algeria, has served as the headquarters of the Polisario. Many international organizations, such as the World Food Programme (WFP) and The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), have been trying to oversee the basic needs of the thousands of Polisario in exile, including trying to keep a basic educational system in place within refugee camps. The United Nations, through special envoys from the secretary-general, has also been encouraging Morocco to further its efforts to help the indigent population with their fundamental human rights. A referendum for the inhabitants to choose their government has been shelved often but may happen within the early 2000s. It has been delayed, though, on basic issues such as what characterizes an eligible voter. Eventually this vote for self-determination should define Western Sahara.

The territory's estimated population, as of 2000, was 244,943 people. The primary languages include Hassaniya Arabic and Moroccan Arabic. With only about one-fifth of the land being used consistently for pasture or crops, many of its people are nomadic. Morocco has stretched its educational system throughout the mainly desert land. The formal educational system follows the Moroccan model in which, in public schools, the education is free from the primary to the university level.

Morocco has begun to adapt its curriculum for greater use of the Koran, the Islamic holy book. Arabic is the first instructed language, but French is taught beginning in the third grade. Preschool is two years long, with six years of primary school and three years of preparatory school—which is considered basic education—and three years of high school. High school graduates are given a Baccalaureat degree, which allows for entrance to or the right to take an entrance exam for a Moroccan university. There are no major universities within Western Sahara.


The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The World Fact-book 2000. Directorate of Intelligence, 1 January 2000. Available from http://www.cia.gov/.

—Michael W. Young

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