At the western end of the Sahara desert, in a land that receives 4.5 cm of rain a year and where temperatures vary from 60 degrees C (150 ° F) in the shade to near freezing at night, lies a country called Western Sahara or Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR).
Western Sahara borders the North Atlantic Ocean, between Mauritania and Morocco.
The Saharawi Peoples
In this harsh, sun-soaked, sand-moving country lives a people called the Saharawi. Of semi nomadic decent they are a Berber/Arab mix. Their Arabic inheritance can be traced back to the 15th Century when tribes migrated from Yemen across North Africa and settled in Western Sahara. Later, the acceptance of Islam by the Berbers and the increasing strength of the Arabic culture gave the tribes people a predominantly Arabic bias. As a result of this mixture of tribes the Saharawi people and culture was born.
There are many shades of Saharawis, the majority are pale-skinned. In the camp schools some children have near- blue eyes and pale or reddish hair, but there are also Saharawi whose skin is the jet black of central Africa. Culturally, the darker skinned people have less status over lighter skinned. The people are warm, extremely hospitable and open to outsiders and other religions (at least for dialogue). The younger generation are increasingly rejecting Islam.
Of the 230,000 people that call themselves Saharawi, only approx 30,000 still live there. The rest have fled to Algeria due to war, famine and oppression. They live in refugee camps of faded canvas tents or mud brick huts that become like ovens in summer and which dissolve into mud in the rare years of rain. These camps have, however, been called the most organised and well-run refugee camps in the world. They’ve had over 20 years of practice. Life expectancy averages 45 years for men, women 47.
In the Saharawi tribal culture no tribe exerts power over another and each one is represented in an overall governing body. Disputes are handled either in a friendly way or by compensation according to Islamic law.
Struggles of the Saharawi people
When the Spanish abandoned the colony in the mid 1970′s, the Saharawi were on the verge of gaining independence due to the uprising of the Saharawi who had had enough of other people always ruling over them. Secretly the Spanish had signed an illegal agreement with neighbouring countries, Mauritania and Morocco, to carve up Western Sahara among themselves.
The Saharawi resisted in a guerrilla war that lasted 16 years, followed by another eight years of uneasy cease-fire. Only Morocco still demands that Western Sahara be incorporated into the Kingdom of Mohammed the 6th. The country is rich in fish and large deposits of phosphate, uranium and other mineral wealth. To this day Western Sahara remains occupied and continues in its struggle to become an independent nation.
There are known to be a handful of believers amongst the Saharawi, but no church has been planted as the believers are spread over four nations.
Prayer Guide for Western Sahara:
* For whole families, heads of households and men of influence to find Christ (Acts16:30-34).
* Isaiah 25:4 “For You have been a strength to the poor, a strength to the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shade from the heat”.
* Pray that the Saharawi would come to know this truth for themselves through Jesus.
* That the Saharawi, for many whom life is bitter, will discover the abundant life found in Jesus.
Background on Western Sahara (World Factbook)
Morocco virtually annexed the northern two-thirds of Western Sahara (formerly Spanish Sahara) in 1976, and the rest of the territory in 1979, following Mauritania’s withdrawal. A guerrilla war with the Polisario Front contesting Rabat’s sovereignty ended in a 1991 UN-brokered cease-fire; a UN-organized referendum on final status has been repeatedly postponed.
Economy of Western Sahara
Western Sahara depends on pastoral nomadism, fishing, and phosphate mining as the principal sources of income for the population. The territory lacks sufficient rainfall for sustainable agricultural production, and most of the food for the urban population must be imported. All trade and other economic activities are controlled by the Moroccan Government. Moroccan energy interests in 2001 signed contracts to explore for oil off the coast of Western Sahara, which has angered the Polisario. Incomes and standards of living in Western Sahara are substantially below the Moroccan level.
Statistics on Western Sahara
Population: 538,811 (July 2013 est.) World Rank #172
Note: estimate is based on projections by age, sex, fertility, mortality, and migration; fertility and mortality are based on data from neighboring countries.
Life Expectancy at Birth: 61.9 years. World Rank #189
Ethnic Groups: Arab, Berber
Languages: Hassaniya Arabic, Moroccan Arabic
Documentary about Sahrawi people directed by Carlotta Piccinini and produced by VisualLab – Video
Making tents in Western Sahara.