A young Saharawi tea merchant has today died after having set himself on fire three days ago. His self-immolation was reportedly in protest of Morocco's economic restrictions imposed on Saharawis living under the yoke of Morocco's occupation of their homeland.
On 3 February 2019, a Saharawi named Ahmed Salem Laroussi set himself on fire near Guerguerat, a small town in the southernmost part of Western Sahara that is occupied by Morocco, and located 11 kilometers north of the border with Mauritania. The strip in between is part of the quarter of the territory that is controlled by Polisario Front, the UN-recognised political representation of the people of Western Sahara.
The news was reported by several Saharawi news outlets, such as Nuschatta
. WSRW has seen videos circulating of the Saharawi running in the street on fire.
Near Guerguerat, there is a small gap in the opening of the 2800km-long military wall Morocco erected across the length of Western Sahara - occasionally the scene for military showdowns between Moroccan and Polisario troops. The road connecting Guerguerat to Mauritania had reportedly been closed down since 24 January by Moroccan customs.
Laroussi, who tried to make a living by selling tea to Saharawi communities living in Mauritania, was as such prevented from making the crossing. His frustration over the treatment from the Moroccan officials led Laroussi to set himself on fire.
Small scale, black market merchantry is one of the only means for Saharawis to obtain a small income. In her end-mission statement of her trip to Western Sahara in late 2015, the UN's Special Rapporteur on the right to food Hilal Elver noted that the people of Western Sahara were not equally benefiting from the economic projects
that Morocco was undertaking in the territory. Around the same time, the UN's Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights highlighted that poverty continued to affect the Saharawi population disproportionately
and that it was not reaping the benefits of the considerable investments being made.
Ahmed Salem Laroussi was a 24-year old Saharawi from El Aaiun, the capital city of occupied Western Sahara. He was a known advocate of Saharawi self-determination and played an active role in peaceful protests in his hometown.
In a video
posted shortly prior to the self-immolation, the Saharawi recorded the following message. ('Badri' is apparently the name of the Moroccan customs officer who refused Larousssi permission to travel.)"My name is Ahmed Salem Laroussi. I am from El-Aauin. I am here since the 24th. I have been blocking this road. Why have I done this? Because I want a piece of bread. It was not me, who blocked it. It was Badri, the head of customs. Pardon you, and he was insulting « This part was so complicated to understand what he wants to say, but as I understood that, head of customs, is the one who was blocking the, and he has been there, yelling and using insulting words”
We, we don't know what to do. Should we go and steal? We really don't know what we should do. We go to prisons, should we sell hash? Cocaine?
Please find a solution for us! Show your solidarity with us. We just want to work. We just want a piece of bread."