Controversial business: green electricity from Western Sahara

Controversial business: green electricity from Western Sahara
Controversial business: green electricity from Western Sahara

Western Sahara is a hotly contested region: not only the neighboring countries, but also a number of companies benefit economically there – German companies are also doing controversial business.

By Alexander Bühler, SWR

The road through the no man’s land is three kilometers long from the Mauritanian border station to the Moroccan one. One of the few roads that run north to south in the region runs through the desert. And this is exactly where the Sahrawis, the inhabitants of Western Sahara, set up a road blockade. In doing so, they paralyzed border traffic. The trucks, which otherwise transported goods from Morocco to Mauritania and countries further south such as Senegal or other goods from southern Africa to Europe, could no longer continue.

A conflict that has lasted for decades remains unsolved

To understand what is going on on the western edge of Africa on the Atlantic coast, it helps to look at the map: The area between Mauritania and Morocco declared itself independent from the Spanish colonial power as Western Sahara in 1975, but was then largely annexed directly by Morocco . Contrary to international law: Hardly any country recognizes the rule of Morocco there, including the European Court of Justice. There has been resistance against the Moroccan occupation among the population for decades.

And with the blockade, the Sahrawis hit the Moroccan state where it hurts the most: on the wallet. They also resist the economic exploitation of their homeland. A wind farm project with German participation has also come under fire: the Boudjour wind farm, in which Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy is participating. According to a press release from Siemens’ Spanish subsidiary, the company will deliver 87 turbines for wind power plants and service them for five years. The operator intends to use it to generate over 300 megawatts of electricity annually. Siemens Gamesa has contacted the SWR so far not commented on this matter.

Renewable energies straight from the desert

And that is by no means all that Morocco wants to generate in terms of green electricity: 850 megawatts are to be generated by wind power alone. Two of the five large wind farms were built for this purpose in the occupied territories; especially with turbines from Siemens. Together with solar systems, this should soon cover half of Moroccan energy needs. Siemens has even built its own factory for wind power technology in the northern part of the country.

A billion-dollar project that the Italian company ENEL Green Power is running with the Moroccan NAREVA. And that in turn is a subsidiary of the royal holding company SNI, which, according to the Spanish newspaper “El País”, owns 30 percent of the entire economy in Morocco.

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“Looting of Natural Resources”

For Lahcen Dalil, a Sahrawi journalist from the port city of Laayoune, it is clear that the presence of foreign investors in no way resolves the conflict. “Every foreign company legitimizes and perpetuates the Moroccan occupation,” he says. “The main reason for the occupation is economic, it is about the plunder of natural resources.” And that would benefit the Moroccan king, not the Sahrawis – and probably not most Moroccans either.

In fact, the list of German companies can be continued. HeidelbergCement claims that it has a grinder in Laayoune through its subsidiary Ciments du Maroc. There is a wind power plant on the site that supplies the company with electricity. HeidelbergCement has also opened up SWR-Inquiry not yet expressed on this subject.

The organization “Westersahara Resource Watch”, a human rights organization founded by Sahrawis, criticizes the economic commitment of Siemens and others: Only the help of international companies makes the occupation profitable for the Moroccan state, she complains in a statement. “You therefore share responsibility for the situation that is now escalating, in which Morocco feels secure enough to open up its illegally built trade route militarily and thus break the ceasefire agreement.”

MDR Thüringen-Das Radio reported on this topic on February 6, 2020 at 3:00 p.m.

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