As a young adult throughout the 1980s news reports frequently highlighted the civil wars in postcolonial Angola and Mozambique. The various warring parties were well known to me. Lesser known was the battle going on in an inhospitable Subsaharan chunk of northwest Africa, but the name of the liberation group had the ear catching name “Polisario”. I venture to say that most of my western contemporaries have had the same experience of having heard of them but having no idea of who they are and what they fought for.
Well now, 40 years later I am here. This area was a Spanish colony throughout the 20th century until, bowing to UN pressure Spain relinquished it to a joint power sharing arrangement between neighbouring Morocco and Mauritania. War erupted between them and the native Sahrawi people joined the conflict as a nationalist movement calling themselves Polisario. Mauritania dropped out of the war leaving Morocco and Polisario to fight it out since 1979. A cease fire was brokered by the UN in 1991 and it remains in force to this day. Morocco administers a majority of the country and all of the infrastructure. There is an internal borderline that separates the Moroccan controlled area from the sparsely populated barren Polisario controlled section to the east.
The “would be” capitol of Western Sahara is the city of Laayoune. Founded by the Spanish in 1938 it is a more pleasant African city than I expected but overall bereft of any major tourist sights.