The Spanish left their last colony in the Western Sahara region 1976. Ever since then the territory has been claimed by different actors: Mauretania held the area around Dakhla, then Morocco claimed and overtook the huge sand pit. The Sahwari tribes, Berber-Tuareq nomads that formed the POLISARIO movement claim to be the original inhabitants of the Western Sahara region. For decades they’ve been trying to establish their own nation. After violent confrontations that ended in an open war, they stake their claim on a U.N. mandate.
Nowhere else have we felt is more eager to emphasize their national pride than this part of Morocco. Nowhere have we seen so much construction, renovation and development. In the days leading up to the festival that celebrates the Marche Verte, the day in 1975 when 300,000 Moroccans showed their solidarity to one united Morocco and marched, unarmed, towards south. Their solidarity was a demonstration that the Western Sahara belongs to the kingdom.
But the Western Sahara region around Dakhla is a place not in peace but in a state of ceasefire for the last 18 years. The Sahwari people–allegedly 160,000 live in refugee camps transformed into permanent tent cities–have been marginalised and displaced along the Algerian border at Tindouf. Yet they still fight for their freedom and right to establish their own country.
Look up your foreign ministries site and most likely you’ll find travel warnings for the area: Don’t go there, and if you do, definitely don’t travel at night. The risk of getting kidnapped is high. The Al Qaida of the Maghreb is present and seeks tourists actively for the purpose of displacing them.
Most tourists in the area, especially along the coastal strip, probably don’t feel any of that apart from the nuisance of police and military checkpoints asking you 20 times a day to show your passport and give them a vast list with detailed information containing personal data, name of parents, destination, vehicle make, registration number, etc. Due to the massive presence of Moroccan forces and surveillance a terrorist act seems to be very unlikely in this area.
There is a huge parking lot 25 km outside of Dakhla where a bunch of elderly part-time adventurists came to live in their camping wagons during the European winter time. The place is simply called «Kilometer 25» (speak: Kilomètre vingt-cinq»). Old men setting up their satellite dishes upon arrival, women walking the dog or even a cat on the leash, and couples preparing European cuisine. It feels like a small village in France or Germany. A bubble filled with tranquility and the ease of the European life(style). No signs of any phantom menace, it’s a whitewashed and peaceful holiday cover. The fact that they are still surrounded by a desert known to be a conflicted territory makes all this seem weird and out of place.