Sidi Mohamed Dadach: "A hero in the Shade"

Sidi Mohamed Dadach, president of CODAPSO ( born in 1957 in Guelta, Western Sahara, which would be declared as Spain's province number 53 in 1958) is known as The Sahara's Mandela, or by some friends as Mandela "in poor version". In the three days that I shared Dadach's day to day in Badajoz, in the country which abandoned the Saharawi in a cruel and illegal manner, I never saw him as the Sahara's Mandela, but as Dadach of the Sahara, a unique person with integrity and a hidden strength in a body mistreated by tortures, with enormous scars and a slight limp.

Nevertheless, this man's strength is clearly visible in clean and intense eyes which penetrate us when speaking with a clear and accurate speech of those who know the necessary way to finally achieve peace.

24 years in prison in total, 23 consecutive years of which 14 were with a death sentence, indescribable and shame humanity. Dadach was 16 years old in 1973 when he joined the Polisario Front to combat the Spanish occupation, in 1975 Morocco invaded Western Sahara and  Dadach was captured in 1976 by the Moroccan army. Two years later he was forced to be a soldier in the morocco army under the threat of a death sentence, he tried to defect and return to the Polisario, attempt which he failed returning anew to prison.  

In 1980 he was sentenced to death, a sentence which was withdrawn 14 years later, he knew freedom in the XXI century, but continues to be a prisoner in the largest outdoor prison in the world, the occupied territories of Western Sahara. During more than one decade no one knew whether he was alive, one of the many disappeared Saharawi.

He suffered physical and psychological tortures in a systematic manner, scars of which are visible.

We go walking to the river, and talking .... Dadach's tranquil and low voice accompanies our walk, with painful memories, references to friends, surprises and deceptions, sufferings and joys.

During 23 years he could not leave his cell after 17:00 hours, it was closed from 17:00 and 09:00 hours.. "nowadays when that moment arrives I find it necessary to go and walk, I have been for more than two decades without seeing or hearing a child , a woman, without seeing life" he tells me.

At 4:30am in the morning the guards would arrive, I heard their steps, bang bang bang they were coming to execute the sentenced to death. I never slept before then, I could only be reconciled to my sleep until after the executions, already morning after the mosque calls, at that moment I slept ... until 09:00

I don't want to talk about that, I want to forget a while... his lost gaze and the pain I see in his eyes still have no description, the words I know can not describe it.

After a little while has passed and by the river Guadiana ( in arabic "my river" ) sitting in the grass he continuous remembering.

My cell was two meters by one fifty. It had a hole in the floor for doing the necessities, it was very dirty they didn't give me anything to clean it. There were lots of cockroaches and other insects and it smelled very bad, one day I had a visit from a man from the Red Cross. When he entered my cell he nearly vomited and asked to speak in the prison's yard, he could not support the smell and the dirt.

There was a hole in the wall of my cell, like a window, but very small, I could see nothing through that hole only another wall. I was more than two decades without seeing the moon, the stars ... we have to stop again, the memories take him to places he can't share, again words fail. He remembers that he managed to get a piece of mirror and with that small piece he tried to see the stars.

One time a bird got in the cell through this hole, a fat bird, very fat... I hadn't eaten meat for a long time, we only had a dirty coffee in the morning with a bit of hard bread and after rice, cous cous, beans or lentils, very occasionally 40grm of meat...  I looked at the fat bird that flew around my cell without being able to escape, I could eat it... I gave it a little water and a few bread crumbs, I caught it and I freed it, letting it fly again through the hole, I thought it was a omen of good news.

In prison there were many violent prisoners with tattoos all over their body, I learned to live with them, in the morning, in the yard I greeted everyone, sbah el jair (good morning) and stretched their hands.

There were also communist prisoners, one of them, their leader, helped me write letters and made sure they got outside to Amnesty International and other organisations.

I was always alone in my was safer. I was a lot of time alone ... I would sing in a low voice... and Dadach starts to hum a tranquil but hard melody, the lyrics speak of Independence.

We got to the last day of my visit, I spent Eid Al Adha (muslim easter) with Dadach y other Saharawis, we killed a lamb according to the tradition and shared many cups of tea. Tea was also present on the last day of the interview which I had asked for.

Dadach, the human rights activist, the man who is called the Sahara's Mandela, who could also be called Gandhi, the truth is that for me he is Dadach, simply Dadach and I'm convinced that this description is enough.   


-There are more than 50 political prisoners in Moroccan prisons, the arbitrary detentions continue, kidnappings and tortures, the international community remains silent,  in your opinion, what actions can be set forth to demand the release of the prisoners?

In my opinion, it is necessary to strengthen international pressure for the release of the political prisoners.

Organizations, associations and people that support the Saharawi cause and the respect for human rights should organize and develop protest actions in each country in front of the Moroccan embassies and consulates exhibiting photographs and posters demanding the immediate release of them all. There are political prisoners with life sentences.

I further propose, that they write letters demanding the release, not only addressed to the United Nations, but to the European Union, the Minister for Justice in Morocco and all the foreign embassies with representation in Rabat, as is the case of U.S.A, France, Spain, Portugal etc       

The sending of letters is essential to increase the International pressure.

-The prisoner conditions and that of the prisons do not meet any international agreement or accord subscribed by the Kingdom of Morocco. Is it possible that some day Morocco will respect international rights and comply with what it signs?

The kingdom of Morocco does not comply with what it signs. It does not respect what is written in the paper, it is only a set of documents whose guidelines are not applied.  

The tortures, kidnappings, the subhuman conditions in which the Saharawi political prisoners live continue to be the same, there is no difference despite Morocco's propaganda.

Whenever The EU pressures Morocco in any way for the release of the political prisoners and with human rights  issues, Morocco counter attacks with threats of massive entry of illegal immigrants, with the opening of Ceuta and Melilla and the free transit of thousands of sub-saharans who want to cross the Mediterranean.

-In your opinion, what should be the principal demand of the international community regarding the question of Western Sahara?

The Sahara conflict is political and military; the Polisario Front has been during more than 16 years at war with Morocco and also during a short time with Mauritania... until the signing of the ceasefire in 1991 and the entrance of MINURSO. All the infringements and sufferings of the Saharawi in the occupied territories as in the refugee camps are the direct result of this occupation and it's only going to end when a permanent solution for Western Sahara is implemented.  

The mayor part of the organizations, associations, and civil movements in Europe are reduced to humanitarian aid, it is not focused in the political support to achieve the self-determination.

The Spanish organizations and solidarity movements are the ones who send the most humanitarian help to the refugee camps, all these organisations, associations and civic movements should demand the Saharawi people's self-determination from the Spanish government who is still the administrator in jure (in law) of the territory, and also the same from the Spanish king. I ask our Spanish friends to make this demand to achieve an immediate solution for our people who have been suffering for more than 40 years. Without doubt, we need the humanitarian help, but above all what we need is political support to put an end to our suffering. They cannot limit their help to just humanitarian aid.

I ask that the organizations, associations and civic movements to rethink their forms of solidarity and start to develop ways of political lobbying for the self-determination of Western Sahara, so that a fast end to this conflict is possible.

There is not one country that recognises the Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara. The African Union has positioned itself, publicised reports and recommendations for a fast solution to the definite decolonisation of Western Sahara. In the United Nations General Assembly the South African president recently declared the need to schedule a date for the self- determination referendum.

The acceptance of the Polisario Front by the Swiss Federation as adherent to the Geneva Convention, in June of this year, confirms its recognition as a liberation movement of the Saharawi people.

All these facts are a help in the development of the pressure tactics on the government of Morocco.

There are no Saharawi in the occupied territories or refugee camps that accept an autonomy plan, the only solution is self-determination.

It is our wish that this problem is resolved peacefully, I don't want to go to war, but if the impasse continues no one can predict what will happen.

I was recently in a meeting with a senior official of the Polisario Front and I asked him this question, if it is a possibility that we have to return to war with Morocco, his reply was that it is possible.

We do not have people living in the liberated zones, the manoeuvres and military training continue as do the renewal of military armament precisely because we are prepared for this eventuality.

I say this so that you are conscious that the situation cannot continue like this, and that's why again I ask the international community and friends of the Saharawi people to pressure as much as possible and develop as many actions as possible to put pressure in order to avoid us being forced to return to war. A war that is not good for anyone.   

- We are speaking of the Saharawi in the refugee camps and the occupied territories, and the Saharawi in the diaspora?

There is a growing number of Saharawi in the diaspora, a direct consequence of 40 years of occupation, the political stagnation, and desperate situations in the occupied territories as much as in the refugee camps.  

It is not normal that there are so many Saharawi out of their country; it is evident that it is an abnormal situation. These are not the migrants that abandon an independent country with the only purpose of improving their economic lives, like in most countries nowadays.

These are people escaping the suffering, the stagnant politics, their stagnant lives.

The departure of these Saharawi to the diaspora is the result of the Moroccan repression and the suffering in the refugee camps.

The responsibility and unity of all the Saharawi, the ones who live in the occupied territories, refugee camps and in the diaspora is indispensable to achieve a solution to the conflict.

For example in the occupied territories we organise and participate in demonstrations, in sit-ins and other forms of peaceful protest demanding the self-determination, we denounce the violations that the Moroccan authorities commit and we denounce to the international community that there is no freedom of expression in the occupied territories, there is no respect for human rights, the kidnappings continue, arbitrary detentions, and torture, the suffering of the Saharawi people.

As a consequence of the Moroccan occupation there are Saharawi victims of forced disappearances and political prisoners.

I would like to make a call to the saharaui diaspora and ask them what they are doing to denounce the situation in the occupied territories and the refugee camps

Their help cannot be limited to providing humanitarian or economic aid to our people.

What are you doing here in the diaspora? Are you only here to improve your lives and resolve documentation issues? Or also to denounce what is happening in our country?

You should not waste time seeking to improve own personal interests in Europe, your presence in Europe is the result of the occupation and the theft of your country. You are living in countries where no one speaks your language; they don't have your traditions, your food, your climate, your memories and your families. You should never forget that reason why you are in this situation is because of the occupation and you have to fight by all the means available, so that you can return to your country.

Better that no one you know what to do to demand the self-determination and the end to the occupation, know how and what you can do  in each country, if it is demonstrations or other ways of fighting and reporting.

The road is clear and the destiny too, we should not lose time in things that will not change our future, our situation, we have to focus on achieving self-determination.


Isabel Lourenço

Badajoz, 23, 24 and 25 of September 2015          


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Author`s name Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey