Identity under construction by Elli Lorz

Western Sahara is the last remaining colony in Africa.Formerly a Spanish colony, it is bordered by Morocco, Mauritania and Algeria and was illegally annexed by Morocco in 1975.
This colonised territory, shaped by erosion over thousands of years, is now plundered. The desert is being segmented.In 1975 Morocco brutally occupied this territory and deported the vast majority of the Sahrawi population to refugee camps in the Algerian desert. The Sahrawi minority who remain undergo repression and are discriminated against regarding access to work or ownership of property.This territory is now like an open air prison for this minority.

Western Sahara is the last remaining colony in Africa.Formerly a Spanish colony, it is bordered by Morocco, Mauritania and Algeria and was illegally annexed by Morocco in 1975.

The UN regularly points to the Sahrawi people’s right to self-determination. Despite this reminder, a status quo prevails, allowing the Morrocan occupation to intensify day by day.

Using ‘fait accompli’ tactics, Morocco has demarcated a territory, defending it with a 2500km long wall. The occupation of this land is an effort to render the right of the Sahrawi people to a referendum of self-determination obsolete. Moroccan strategy involves militarization of the desert, exploitation of ressources, town planning, settlement campaigns for Moroccans and the wiping out of Sahrawi culture.Moroccan constructions in the desert are the tangible form of this territorial con ict which has been dragging on since 1975

As nomadism is forbidden, towns enforce a socio-political framework which leads to forcible assimilation and a monitoring of Sahrawi resistance.

“The occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of Its own population Into the territories it occupies” 

Fourth Geneva Convention, Article 49

The town of Laâyoune is the cornerstone of Moroccan policies for Western Sahara. The town has expanded rapidly despite its hostile environment (desert encroachment, limited water resources) From 6,000 inhabitants in 1975 to 200,000 today, and including only 10% of Sahrawis. By massively investing in the territory, Morocco tries to legitimise its colonization.

The brutal occupation by Morocco in 1975 expelled most of the Sahrawi population from its territory to refugee camps in the Algerian desert. The Sahrawis who remained in occupied territory are a minority subjected to repression by the Moroccan authorities. Human constructions constitute the spatial setting of the combat between a colonial power that regulates numerous aspects of daily lives on colonized people, and the means of resistance created against such regulation. Architecture is a spatial apparatus, a fundamental component of occupation and domination.

Being under constant surveillance by Moroccan security forces, Sahrawi activism is harshly repressed. Freedom of expression and assembly are severely restricted, human rights violated. The authorities deny entry to Western Sahara, or expels foreigners : journalists, human rights experts, jurists, activists, UN staff members. In this territory, one can be guilty of an offence for recognizing the existence of Western Sahara as a separate entity from Morocco and liable to imprisonment for jeopardizing state security at risk. Deciphering the landscape and urban planning is a way to bypass the lack of freedom due to police obstruction. This shattered nature carries within it the traces of man and his intentions.

Sakia El Hamra river, in the Haouza area. Some members of the Reguibat tribe live here. Their economy depends on the breeding of camels. Their traditional way of life, outside the city, constitutes a form of resistance to Moroccan occupation. During the winter months, Moroccan shepherds come from Beni Mellal (1000km North) to allow their sheep to graze. The grass being intensively exploited for a short time, the Sahrawi are left without pasture for the rest of the year. This intermittent occupation generates conflicts. In response, the Sahrawi set up stone markers to delineate their pasture spaces, but these boundaries are not respected.

About Elli Lorz

Having graduated from the Beaux-Arts School of Valence (France), Elli embarked on a one year documentary project, cycling from Paris to Abidjan. Alternating between photo, video and drawing, she documented DIY cultures. This project resulted in awards in festivals, and various photo exhibitions (Les Rencontres d’Arles, Lille 3000, Dak’art biennale in Senegal).Since 2015, Elli has mainly focused on a long-term project based on the influence of town-planning in Africa’s last remaining colony: Western Sahara. This project was presented for the first time in 2017 during the Nuit de l’année, Rencontres d’Arles festival and selected as « Coup de coeur » of the Jury by Fisheye magazine.

In resistance to occupation, pro independence messages and drawings of the Sahrawi flag, daily cover the walls. Graffitis are rapidly censured by the police and Moroccan settlers. Like palimpsestes, they symbolize the Moroccan attempt to make their inalienable right (the referendum for self-determination) invisible.

Some kilometers away from the « Sand wall ». Smara is both a garrison town and the hotbed of resistance to Moroccan colonization. Every evening pacific demonstrations led by local Sahrawi women are violently repressed. To retaliate, Sahrawi youths in turn block the streets and throw stones at the police, using the construction material at hand.

This unbuilt land, rare for downtown Dakhla, is used on a regular basis for confrontation between Sahrawi and « Dakhilis » (Moroccan settlers).

The former border in Tay village appears to have been erased between Western Sahara and Morocco. Instead of the border post, patriotic posters celebrate the royal family and the Green March annexion in 1975.

This territory is divided by the 2720 km long wall. Heavily mined, and equipped with sophisticated surveillance. This « Sand wall » being a « fait accompli » may be an irreversibe turning point of this occupation. This barrier marks the border of Moroccan occupation. It separates Sahrawi families on either side

Due to the presence of 7 million land- mines, the desert is a permanent threat to civilians. The military use stone sign postings as they have no bearings in this unfamiliar desert.

Military observation, close to the border post with Mauritania. In a reflection of ongoing tensions with the Polisario occupying the No man’s land in between the two borders, Moroccan authorities deployed new security forces in the Guerguerat region in 2017.

A new road built in no time, adorned by Moroccan ags, leads to a dead end, the future solar panel site « Noor Boujdour ». King Mohamed VI aims to launch the largest solar power plant project in Africa including two power stations in Western Sahara. The agreements signed during the COP22 to authorise the Saudi rm, ACWA Power to run this site for 20 years constitute a violation of international law. Commercial agreements signed with Morocco fuel this conflict by offering jobs to Moroccans, and providing revenue for the Moroccan government.

In recent years, road exportation has intensi ed towards Morocco and West Africa. The main route linking Tangiers to Dakar was constructed in the way of mobile sand dunes. A system of fences erected along the road prevents sand blocking traffic. Illegal agricultural and seafood exportations rely
on this road.

Many shanty towns dotting the coast- line are frequently inhabited by shermen from Morocco. The output from Moroccan sheries originates mostly from Western Sahara, whose coastline provides one of the world’s richest shing grounds. The plundering of these seas provides massive revenue.

In December 2016 the European Court of Justice ruled that no commercial agreement signed with Morocco can include Western Sahara, as it is considered « a distinct and separate territory». The European Commission has since strived to bypass this ruling abetted by Morocco.

Western Sahara owns large phosphate rock reserves. In Boukraa, the mining village, Moroccan workers are accommodated in high quality housing whereas Sahrawi workers live in a shanty town based on the old Spanish quarters.

The village of Imlili counts just one inhabitant, a Sahrawi. He is employed as an ambulance driver. His job is like the village, ctional.

The village of Chtoukane was built in 2000-2001. Private housing, shops, school, mosque, playground – all uninhabited. These ghost towns offer an absurd landscape in the middle of the desert although their purpose is mainly to occupy territorial space. Later on, enticing settlement campaigns will lure Moroccan migrants to live here, in the desert.

Bir Guendouz is the last city in the extreme south to benefit from the Moroccan « new development model of the southern provinces » since 2015. The ambition is to transform this village into a symbolic economic hub with the launching of a neighbouring fishing port project. This village until then deserted, has spread in no time, and successful settlement campaigns attracted Moroccan families, workers, and small investors. However the demand exceeds the offer. Disappointed, a group of Moroccan migrants have been holding a sit-in protest for weeks, demanding housing or land.

A load of paint intended for the new constructions of Bir Guendouz spilled in the desert. This stain expresses visually the impalpable violence produced by the civil occupation. This conflict unfolds without gunshots. The raging of the bulldozers, and the Moroccan civil occupation are the main weapons.

 

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