Wall of Shame

“The Berm”, Western Sahara…Never heard of it? Neither did we, until we planned a trip from the North of Morocco to the West of Mali. The Moroccans built a huge wall of sand known as “the Berm” which runs for 2700 kilometers from Tata in the south of Morocco all the way to Guergarrat at the border with Mauretania. It is littered with mine fields along it’s base and heavily guarded by the military. What’s the story then?


The Berm seen from the air.

The province of the Western Sahara was once the colony of Spanish Sahara. When Franco died in the mid seventies Morocco’s King Hassan ordered 350,000 men to walk all the way south trough the Western Sahara. Based on some rather tenious claims, and with the Coran in their hand, they chased more than 160,000 Sarahawi away.  Sarahawi is the collective name for all the Western Sahara tribes. The Sarahawi established the Sarahawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) as their nation, and were recognized internationally. A war ensued between the Polisario (a collective western Sahara liberation front) and Morocco. The Polisario were backed by the Algerians and Mauritania eventualy chose the side of the Sarahawi.

Morocco built “the Berm” to keep all the original tribes out and effectively dividing the Western Sahara in two parts. Today the Western part is occupied by Morocco and the Eastern side is still fighting for independance. The border between Morocco and Algeria is still closed, and to get from the Western Sahara to Mauretania you will have to cross a 10 km mine field trough no mans land! Who wants some adventure?

The top picture was taken on one of the many Moroccan control posts guarding the Berm near Smara in the North of the Western Sahara. We were invited to spend the night in the camp with the three very young soldiers. They were happy to see some new faces because they are stationed there for six months in a row sharing an improvised underground living quarter. It was a long night with lot’s of stories and lot’s of tea before we continued our journey to Mali. Time to say goodbye to the guards of the Berm with their machine guns. My weapon of choice was a Leica M7 rangefinder, a Voigtlander 15mm lens and a few rolls of Fujichrome.

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