The Western Sahara’s resource curse

Background: Natural resources

The resource curse, or the paradox of plenty, refers to the fact that many states do not prosper from an abundance of natural resources, but instead suffers from conflict, inequality and low economic growth. This is the case of Western Sahara.
14. september 2016

I kategori

I kategori:
Phosphate exploitation 2015

Exported amount of phosphate:      1,410,000 tonnes

Value of exported phosphate:          $167.8 million

Estimated revenue to OCP:            $90 million


Value of international food aid

provided for the Saharawi                 

refugee camps in 2013:                  $24 million


Illegal business

The desert state Western Sahara are rich on natural resources such as phosphate, fisheries, gas, salt and possibly oil. All resources that Morocco either extracts or investigates. Morocco’s claim over Western Sahara is not recognized by the UN or any state and its argument to claim sovereignty over the territory was dismissed by the International Court of Justice. According to international law the population of a country has permanent sovereignty over natural resources. Meaning that the Saharawi has the right to the control of Western Sahara’s natural resources as well as any wealth produced from it. Hans Corell, former Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs of the United Nations, stated in 2002 that an occupying power is allowed to extract and explore natural resources of the annexed territory, if, and only if, two conditions are met. 1. The exploitation is under consent with the people of the territory. 2. The exploitation is in regard with the needs and interest of the territory of the people. Corell also concluded that the contracts that Morocco has signed with foreign companies on the extraction and exploration of natural resources, was not in itself illegal. However, were these companies to actually conduct exploration or exploitation, without the consent of the Saharawi – it would be illegal. These companies and others since, has been or are exploiting Western Sahara’s natural resources and none with the acceptance or consent of the Saharawi people. The official representative for the Saharawi – Polisario - has repeatedly stressed that the purchase of Western Sahara’s resources is prolonging the illegal Moroccan colonization. However, Morocco and a large number of companies are ignoring their legal and ethical responsibilities in the hunt for profit in Western Sahara.

The EU has on more than one occasion undergone trade agreements with Morocco which include the Western Saharan territories. In December 2015 the European Court of Justice ordered an annulment of a trade agreement between the EU and Morocco, because the agreement included West Saharan waters. However, the EU-commission has appealed the European Court ruling on Western Sahara. 

“The right of peoples and nations to permanent sovereignty over their natural wealth and resources must be exercised in the interest of their national development and of the well-being of the people of the State concerned.”

The United Nations general assembly 14th of December 1962


Phosphate and oil

Western Sahara possess large quantities of Phosphate, only surpassed by Morocco itself. Phosphate are used in fertilizers and is paramount in the worlds agricultural production. There are no substitutes for phosphorus in agriculture, and a peak in phosphate is presumed to occur in 2075, meaning that the demand will outgrow the production. All trade and production of phosphate in the occupied territories goes through the Moroccan state-owned company OCP, who are the world’s leading exporter of phosphate. According to OCP they own a 28% share of the world markets sale of phosphate. All revenue goes to the Moroccan kingdom. The phosphate is extracted from the Bou Craa mine in the northern part of Western Sahara and is transported to the capital El Aaiun, from here it is shipped to all corners of the world. A large number of companies import phosphate from the occupied territories, particularly two Canadian companies, PotashCorp and Agrium Inc. are importing large quantities of phosphate. 

Western Sahara might have reserves of oil along its 1110 km coastline. In 2001 Morocco engaged in oil exploration and the state owned company ONHYM has signed contracts with eight companies on oil exploration in the occupied territories. For now, the companies are mainly doing preoperational work such as exploratory drilling and seismic analysis. None of the involved companies has consulted the Saharawi, who repeatedly has protested the oil search. Most of the companies are Europeans. Currently the key players are Kosmos Energy, Cairn Energy and Glencore. If these companies should succeed in finding oil, it could cause a severe escalation of the conflict, as has been an occurring case throughout modern history. 


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