“There is no other choice but self-determination,” says a lady interviewed in a new documentary about Western Sahara made by 31-year-old English independent film-maker and journalist, Dominic Brown. She is the wife of one of the many activists belonging to Western Sahara’s indigenous population, the Saharawis, who have been imprisoned and tortured for campaigning for independence for Africa’s last colony.
According to the documentary, called La Badil (literally “ no other choice”), the Saharawis have been discriminated and systematically robbed of their resources by Morocco since a Moroccan invasion of Western Sahara in 1975 that was carried out in agreement with the colonial power Spain. Because, as a speak over in the documentary says, “Western Sahara’s abundance of natural resources provides vital revenue to the Moroccan state.”
La Badil is a documentary about the daily life of the indigenous population – the Saharawis – in Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara. The film focuses on both Gdeim Izik, where Moroccan troops attacked a peaceful protest camp in October 2010, killing several people and detaining and torturing many more, and on the daily lives of the Saharawis.
Through footage filmed undercover from the major towns in occupied Western Sahara, as well as through interviews, the documentary portrays the Saharawis as being virtually under siege in their own country by Moroccan troops, as being beaten up and tortured for even daring to show the Saharawi flag in public, and as being discriminated against by the Moroccan authorities, companies and Moroccan settlers.
“They [the Moroccans] are reaping all the benefits from our country’s riches. The Saharawis get nothing,” as one person says in the film. “They [Moroccan police] storm our houses and kidnap our children. We are really suffering here,” says another.
But while conflicts elsewhere are more or less regularly covered in the Western media, the Western Sahara conflict is all but forgotten. “The media were almost silent when the [Gdeim Izik] uprisings occurred compared to in Libya and Tunisia, because of the blockade the Moroccan authorities imposed” as a young activist points out in the documentary. This media blockade has meant that the Saharawis have begun uploading mobile phone footage to YouTube to try and bring attention to their situation.
And this is exactly the reason why the film was made, Dominic Brown tells me. “I decided to make the film because the situation in Western Sahara is one that very rarely gets the media coverage that it deserves. Especially here in the UK, most people have no idea about what is happening there. More and more people are taking cheap flights on Easyjet to Morocco, but they don’t realise they are contributing in some way to the oppression of the Sahrawi.”
But as the documentary also points out, powerful countries such as the USA and France – and the EU as a whole – are by no means neutral. On the contrary, they are aiding and abetting Morocco in its exploitation of Western Sahara’s population and their resources by e.g. accepting Morocco’s proposal to have Western Sahara remain a Moroccan province, by denying the UN the ability to monitor the human rights situation in Western Sahara, by supplying arms to Morocco, and by illegally dealing in goods and fishing quotas from the occupied territories of Western Sahara.
“I hope that the film will open more peoples eyes to the plight of the Sahrawi, and also show how there are many vested interests involved (eg. France and their trade deals with Morocco), that are preventing the people there getting justice,” says Dominic Brown.
The message from those interviewed in the documentary to the populations and governments in the West is certainly clear: help us achieve independence from Morocco. “We just demand freedom like all people around the world,” says one lady. “We are asking for organisations in Europe to help us, both government and non-government,” pleaded another.
Dominic Brown has previously made an undercover documentary about the independence struggle in West Papua called ‘Forgotten Bird of Paradise’ that was shown on the BBC as well as screened at film festivals in 10 countries. He will be entering La Badil into film festivals as well as approaching broadcasters. In the meantime the film can be purchased here: http://www.dancingturtle.co.uk/shop/labadil.php or seen here: http://www.labadil.com/film/
By Peter Kenworthy, Africa Contact
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