doxa.comunicación | 26, pp. 13-34 | 14

January-June 2018

Digital communication of Spanish NGOs in support of Western Sahara Laura de Cos Carrera and Luis Mañas Viniegra

ISSN: 1696-019X / e-ISSN: 2386-3978

1. Introduction

Western Sahara was a Spanish territory from 1884 until 1976. Within the context of decolonization of the African continent, Spain made a commitment to hold a referendum to decide the future of Western Sahara in 1975 under the auspices of the UN (Martín Beristain and González Hidalgo, 2012: 49). This led to a conflict with the annexationist claims of Morocco that ended with the signing of the Madrid Agreements, giving the northern part of Western Sahara to Morocco and the southern part to Mauritania. On February 27, 1976, the Sahrawi people proclaimed the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, which started an armed conflict, pitting three sides against each other for 12 years that resulted in the majority of Sahrawi civilians fleeing toward the Algerian desert where Tindouf refugee camps were constructed. In 1979, Mauritania decided to end the occupation of their part of Western Sahara, but that part was immediately invaded by Morocco who claimed they had a legitimate right to the land, defending the territory with the construction of eight defensive walls in the desert to avoid the return of Sahrawi refugees to the territory (The Observer, 2012: 40).

In 1988, a peace process was initiated that was led by the UN and the Organization for African Unity (OAU), and it was accepted by both parties. A treaty was signed in 1991 that included a ceasefire, the deployment of the UN Security Council in the area, and a transition period toward a referendum of self-determination of Western Sahara, the outcome of which would determine its independence or its integration into Morocco.

Despite the fact that the final date for the referendum was in 1992, discrepancies over the Sahrawi origin of some members of the census (Entrialgo, 2011: 16) led to a stalemate in negotiations. Currently, Western Sahara is a non-autonomous terri-tory with decolonization pending (Um Draiga, 2013). Furthermore, the UN does not recognize the sovereignty exercised by Morocco (UN, 2006: 11), considering it to be an occupying country (Soroeta Liceras, 2005), and it is the last existing colony in Africa (from Currea Lugo, 2011).

Meanwhile, the Sahrawi population has lived in the area occupied by Morocco, where systematic violations of Human Rights has been reported (Amnesty International, 2016: 11), or they have lived in refugee camps, where almost 165,000 people (UNHCR, 2016) depend on international humanitarian aid and continue to wait for a resolution.

The media has great power in determining what issues have an informative interest (Shaw, 1979), and since there has been no significant progress for decades, the media’s attention to the situation of the Sahrawi people has declined over the years. Consequently, we find ourselves in a context in which many people, especially young people, are unaware of the exist-ence of the conflict in Western Sahara, despite the fact that in Spain there are numerous Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) that encourage the dissemination of this information. Therefore, this research analyses the communication man-agement of Spanish NGOs that support the Western Sahara.

1.1. Digital communication of Spanish NGOs

NGOs come into existence with the aim of promoting cooperation for development based on the awareness of the public and/or the implementation of projects (Latorre Tapis, 2001: 103), without forgetting the importance of stimulating and promoting the processes of social change and citizen participation (Marí Sáez, 2016: 155). To achieve this objective, these organizations, which are included in the so-called third sector, must understand communication as a strategic function