Thursday, 26 November 2009

HIGHLIGHT: Saharawi poetry

Saharawi poetry is a highly evolved and sophisticated artform. Poets are held in high esteem and confirm a culture that has been built on deeply rich oral traditions. Historically, and still in the present, poetry has been the primary vehicle for transmitting the culture, collective memories and values of the desert nomadic Saharawis. Their poetic tradition is expressed in both classical Arabic and Hassaniya, their spoken language, and covers a complex range of styles and genres to express themes such as landscape, love, battles, religious praise and more. Spanish colonialism and the elevated numbers of Saharawis who have studied in Cuba, since exile began, have given rise to new generations of Saharawis who opt for Spanish over Arabic to express themselves.
The following poems are an example of this culture. For more poetry, visit the website.

Chejdan Mahmud


I am one of those
two faced believers,
who fill up on whores
and eat in the name of God.
They gallop in the clouds
as if fed up of earth
and paint sirens
with the false smoke of eternity.
That?s it. As I say:
some cling
onto de belief that a devotee
is a walking poem.


Yo soy de aquellos creyentes
que tienen doble cara,
se sacian de las putas
y comen en nombre de Dios.
Galopan en las nubes
cuan hartos de la tierra
y pintan sirenas
con el humo falso de la eternidad.
Esto es todo. Ya lo digo:
hay alguien que se aferra
a creer que un fiel
es un poema andante.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

NEWS: Saharawi activists stopped at airport - again!

There has been a lot of "development" in the occupied Western Sahara territory in the last few weeks. Detentions, disappearances, abuses and tortures are not unfamiliar to the Saharawi but they have presented a force and brutality that has previously been reported  during the war between Morocco and the POLISARIO Front from 1975 until 1992 (when UN peace-keeping initiative MINURSO was established).

These arrests and detentions of Saharawi human rights activists on grounds of "treason" have been considered as a direct reaction to the UN-led efforts last August, when representatives of Morocco and the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic came together in Austria to commence peace talks to end the diplomatic stalemate. Van Loon reported only on Tuesday on that the recent arrests in August of the Oxford 6, in September of the 7 Saharawi human rights activists in Casablanca, and most recently of Saharawi "Gandhi" Aminatou Haidar may be efforts on part of Morocco to scupper these negotations, but may very well backfire.

It may backfire, but in the meantime, Saharawis in Morocco are not safe. In August, Talk Together was trying to bring the youth of those peoples together that are in conflict with each other, such as Morocco and Western Sahara. Six bright Saharawi students were chosen to attend the programme but were stopped at the last minute when they were about to board the plane in Rabat to London. This encounter was followed by intimidations, detentions, abuse and torture.

The students that were soon to be known as the "Oxford Six" have since endured physical and emotional abuse up to a point that has become unbearable; a point that forced them to consider the leave their family and friends leave their home country at the age of 19 and 20 to live in an unfamiliar country and culture with an unknown future as asylum-seekers.

And then this happened:
[T]wo young Sahrawi activists, Hayat Rguibi and Ngaya El-Haouassi, were prevented from traveling to Great Britain. They were detained at the Mohamed V airport in Casablanca this morning at 10:00 and interrogated by security services. Both said their passports and tickets to Great Britain were confiscated by Moroccan airport authorities. They claim to have received abusive treatment. Moroccan authorities are refusing to let them travel abroad.
(ASVDH, November 19, 2009)
I have difficulty expressing my shock, my sympathy, my outrage. I have difficulties to allow myself to imagine what they go through, what they have to endure, for fearing that it would grab me by the throat and strangle me. But we have to face and mention these injustices, make them known as oblivion and ignorance is our cruelest enemy.

Monday, 16 November 2009

STATEMENT: Morocco expels Saharawi "Gandhi" from Western Sahara

UK charity Sandblast condemns Morocco’s most recent act of human rights violations against the Saharawi people following the arrest and detention of leading human rights activist Aminatou Haidar on Friday, Nov 13, at the El Aaiun Airport in Western Sahara. Ms. Haidar was returning from a visit to the United States where she received the Civil Courage Prize from the Train Foundation in recognition of her peaceful advocacy for human rights of the Saharawi people. The Moroccan authorities subsequently expelled her to Lanzarote 24 hours later.
Since October 6, fifteen well-known human rights defenders from Western Sahara have been arrested, detained and interrogated. Seven of them, known as the Casablanca 7 are being tried in a military court for acts of treason after visiting their relatives in the Saharawi refugee camps in SW Algeria. These Saharawis have been targeted for speaking out against the repression of the Moroccan occupation in their homeland and advocating their self-determination rights as recognized by the UN charter and over a 100 UN resolutions. In August, the Moroccan authorities prevented six Saharawi youths from traveling to the UK to participate in the Oxford-based programme Talk Together, which promote dialogue between youth in areas of conflict.

Sandblast founder, Danielle Smith, who advocates the human rights of the Saharawi people through arts and culture, is calling upon the British government and civil society to take concrete actions to put pressure on the Kingdom of Morocco to end the violations it is committing against the Sahrawi people.
“It is no longer tolerable and hasn’t been for a long time for the international community to stand by silently while Morocco systematically violates the fundamental human rights of the Saharawi people to freedom of expression, association and movement”, Ms. Smith stresses.

She affirms that her charity is “seriously worried about the lack of any provisions to protect human rights by the UN peacekeeping forces in Western Sahara”. Ms Smith believes the abuses against the Saharawi civilians will escalate and become more violent following the speech of King Mohamed VI on November 6, which commemorated the 34th anniversary of the Green March. In it the king unambiguously stated that anyone who does not declare their loyalty to the Moroccan kingdom will be considered a threat to national sovereignty and integrity and will be treated as a traitor.

Sandblast calls “upon the Moroccan government to end its violence against the Saharawi people and allow the conflict in Western Sahara to be resolved peacefully and justly in conformance with international law.”

Saturday, 14 November 2009

EVENT: Folk Rock triple bill

Only a few days left...


Sandblast’s triple bill benefit gig "From 3 Corners of the World" feat. ZEEP, Henry Blake and Luzmira Zerpa & Family Atlantica
on Nov 22 @ 7.30pm

Come for a great night out and a meal at CARGO and hear the fabulous tropical folk band ZEEP, the talented New Zealander guitarist and singer Henry Blake and Venezuelan vocalist Luzmira Zerpa with her  explosive Afro-Latin Family Atlantica ensemble.
Henry and Luzmira have already been to the refugee camps in the Western Sahara and collaborated with Saharawi artist Aziza Brahim, shortlisted for the 2009 Freedom to Create Award. ZEEP hope to go out  to the camps with the UK contingent participating in the "Running the Sahara" event in February 2010.

The benefit gig and "Running the Sahara 2010" are helping to raise money for the Saharawi Artist Fund, which promotes collaborations between Saharawis and artists worldwide and finances projects in the camps to provide the skills and resources for the refugee to gain a voice and income through the arts.
For 2010, we hope to raise £50,000 for a professional mobile recording studio and train Saharawis to use it.
To learn more about the projects the Saharawi Artist Fund facilitates, visit the website and meet Florie Salnot on Nov 22 and learn about her jewellery-making workshops from plastic bottles which she ran for 20 Saharawi women in the camps in April 2009.

Buy your tickets now at for only £10 or for £12 at the door. Donations are welcome.

See you at CARGO, The Sandblast Team

MUSIC: Aziza Brahim for Freedom to Create Prize

News from Danish organisation Freemuse reached us that Saharawi singer Aziza Brahim, who recently performed at the Southbank Centre here in London, was shortlisted for the Freedom to Create Prize.

This prize seeks to award artists from all over the world whose ability to support and sustain the expressiveness and creativity of a people is exemplary. Aziza's music reflects the pains and hopes of her people, the Saharawi; negotiating ideas of freedom and narrating the story of those Saharawis living in the occupied territory and those living in exile. Her album, Mi Canto, drew the committee's attention to Brahim's talents and the importance of her music as a window to the rich Saharawi culture.

Aziza Brahim will perform at the awards ceremony at the V&A in London on Wednesday 25 November 2009. The winners for the Main, Youth and Imprisoned Artist Prize categories will be unveiled at this occasion. 

Sandblast congratulates Aziza for being shortlisted and crosses all fingers and toes!

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

TRAVEL ADVICE: Caution, not fear

Today, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office issued a newly revised travel advice for Western Sahara. Some of the first-time participants of Running the Sahara 2010 may have already come across it...and are worried.

Not to go into great length of the advice, the FCO highlights various safety issues (other than swine flu) that we do not want to diminish in its relevance and seriousness. However, we would like to put them in perspective. There is no question, that Western Sahara is a disputed territory. After all, this is one of the reasons, why we invite you to visit the camps with us and see for yourself what this issues means to the people that are affected by it. However, "Running the Sahara" takes you to the refugee camps in the SW Algerian Sahara NOT the Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara, which changes the situation for you ever so slightly. 

All caution will be taken to keep you away from the danger zones at and around the 2,500km long berm that divides the Western Sahara into the occupied territory and the desert, in which hundreds of thousands Saharawi refugees are forced to live. The refugee camps in the latter region are backed and protected by the Algerian government. It is the government of the People's Democratic Republic of Algeria and the relevant British embassy that will be of relevance for us if so necessary.

A few other points that were raised: 
- travel and medical insurance    
- visas

    Travel and medical insurance
    As with any travel to place that are exotic or nearby, it is wise to get travel and medical insurance. This isn't different with Algeria or Western Sahara.

    For questions on the acquisition of a visa, please contact