By William Hasty
Amid the desolation of the refugee camps that are ‘home’ to the Saharawi of Western Sahara, Africa’s ‘last colony’, “signs of hope”, writes the New Internationalist’s Paul Rigg, “tend to emerge from the grassroots rather than from governments”. For, although their government is unmoved by the plight of the Saharawi, Spanish civil society is anything but, fostering, through projects such as an annual international film festival (known as FiSahara), “the largest solidarity movement between two peoples anywhere in the world”. The latest, and arguably the most ambitious, manifestation of this friendship is the proposed “University of the Desert”, a research and learning institution which is to be situated in Tifariti, the “third place” between the refugee camps on the Algerian border and Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara. The university will cater to the needs of the Saharawi’s and form the core of a new infrastructure for a liberated Western Sahara. This project, which is supported by dozens of universities from Spain, England, Cuba and Algeria, is an example in practice of what Jonathan Darling, in his recent paper Thinking Beyond Place, refers to as a ‘politics beyond place’. Drawing primarily on the work of Doreen Massey, Darling considers the implications of “thinking space relationally”, encouraging the reader to pursue an “outwardlookingness” in their political thinking and everyday practices. While such a clunky neologism might struggle to find favour with the Saharawi people, it is clear that the ‘outwardlookingness’ of the Spanish, extending friendship and hope across space, and beyond place, certainly does.