Lines on the map can be major points of conflict between nations. It has been happening ever since the first lines were drawn and it continues to happen today. These conflicts often turn violent as two states believe they hold the rights to the same land or one state simply wants land that they have no right to. Today politics can make these territorial disputes much more nuanced but they continue to play major roles in the politics of their region and the future of the lines on the map.
1. West Sahara
West Sahara exists on the northwest edge of Africa and is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean, Morocco, Mauritania and Algeria. It has a population of just under 600,000 which makes it very sparsely populated. The people tend to live in a few major cities while the rest of the territory is just desert flat lands.
West Sahara is a bit of left over from the colonial period, the UN calls it a non-decolonized territory on the “List of Non-Self Governing Territories.” However, both Morocco and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic claim to have control over the region. Both have laid claim to the territory since 1975 when the Spanish agreed to leave the area as part of the Madrid accords.
When the Spanish left in 1975, they left the territory under a joint administration of Morocco and Mauritania. A three-way war erupted between Mauritania, Morocco and the Sahrawi national liberation movement. The Sahrawi national liberation movement formed the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) with an exiled government in Tindouf, Algeria. The three-way war continued until 1979 when Mauritania withdrew and Morocco took control over most of the territory, including all major cities and natural resources.
The SADR and Morocco continued fighting until the UN negotiated a ceasefire in 1991. Under the ceasefire, Morocco controls two-thirds of the territory while the rest is under the control of the SADR with Algeria’s support. Today the territory remains in dispute as 37 states have formally recognized the SADR and it was welcomed into the African Union. Morocco’s claims have been supported by most of the Arab League and several African countries, but Morocco did leave the African Union after their acceptance of the SADR. As political trends change, states will give and withdraw their support for one side or the other.