Le Matin, the Moroccan pro-government newspaper, reports that the last parts of the el-Wahda camps in El Aaiún have been destroyed. The el-Wahda, or Unity, camps, were erected in haste in 1991 and the years thereafter, to temporarily house several tens of thousands of Moroccans Sahrawis who were bussed in to stuff voter rolls in the Minurso referendum on Western Sahara's future. Conditions were tough from the outset, and none the happier because people had been brought there on orders of the goverment, uprooted from traditional homes in southern Morocco.
It is therefore both symbolically and perhaps politically significant if these slums have now, as the normally not-too-trustworthy Matin reports, been replaced with more decent living quarters. The paper states that some 11,000 sheds have been destroyed and new housing provided to approximately 40,000 of the camp's inhabitants, as part of a major infrastructure and housing program across Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara, which has several such camps.
As parts of a hearts-and-minds strategy in the Sahara, this is solidly sound politics, and something Morocco must regret not having started much earlier. On the other hand, by any other count, it is yet another morbidly wasteful expense on the Sahara conflict (money pours in here for blitz building, but 35 million other citizens are not getting housing...), and it is a case of patching up self-inflicted wounds. The damage in Sahrawi sentiment and popular psychology already done, buying back lost sympathy hardly constitutes net gain -- yet gain it is. But whatever the case, if true, this should mean a little less suffering for a group of people unfairly hostage to a conflict outside of their control, and it is something Sahrawis and Moroccans alike should be able to applaud -- for once, in agreement.