Spanish Sahara

Spanish Sahara

Spanish Sahara





Quick reference

General issues: Spanish colony 1924-1958, Spanish province 1958-1975

Country name on general issues: Posesiones Españolas del Sahara Occidental, Sahara Español, Sahara

Currency: 1 Peseta = 100 Centimos

Population: 76 000 in 1970

Political history Spanish Sahara

Establishing Spanish Sahara

Postal history Spanish Sahara

Please click on the image to enlarge

Spanish Sahara is located in northern Africa. Spanish Sahara is a Spanish colony formed in 1924 from the Spanish possessions of Rio de Oro and Saguia el Hamra. Rio de Oro has been a Spanish possession since 1884. As the ‘Scramble for Africa’ is at its height in the second part of the 19th century, the Spanish, in 1884, settle in Villa Cisneros and claim the territory between Cabo Blanco and Cabo Bojador as a Spanish protectorate. The Spanish claim is awarded at the 1885  Berlin conference, where the colonial powers divide their respective spheres of influence in Africa. Thus, in 1885, the Spanish formally establish the protectorate of Rio de Oro, which is proclaimed a Spanish colony in 1900. The adjacent territory of Saguia el Hamra is annexed by Spain in 1904, based on a treaty with the French – the major colonial power in northwestern Africa. The borders are agreed upon with the French in successive treaties in 1900, 1904 and 1912. The colony of Rio de Oro and the territory of Saguia el Hamra are administratively integrated in Spanish Sahara in 1924.

Establishing colonial rule

Spanish control over Spanish Sahara, in 1924, is largely nominal. The Spanish have long been established only in the capital of Villa Cisneros. It is from the 1920’s that the Spanish make an effort to bring the territories under effective colonial rule. To the south, La Agüera is founded in 1920 – initially administered as a separate colony. La Agüera is integrated with Rio de Oro in 1924, thus becoming part of Spanish Sahara. Having met at times with tribal uprisings from the Sahrawi tribes – particularly in Saguia el Hamra – all of Spanish Sahara is brought under Spanish control by 1934.

Changes in the colonial administration

Western Sahara - The 'Moroccan Wall' running from north to south separating the Morocco and SADR controlled parts of Western Sahara

Western Sahara – The ‘Moroccan Wall’ running from north to south separating the Morocco and SADR controlled parts of Western Sahara

In 1946, Spanish West Africa is formed as a level of administration integrating Spanish Sahara with Ifni – the other Spanish colony in the region. Cape Juby – the southern part of the Spanish protectorate of Spanish Morocco – is de facto administered as a part of Spanish West Africa – although de jure it retains its status as a separate political entity. Spanish West Africa is dissolved in 1958. Spanish Sahara and Ifni become provinces of Spain and Cape Juby is returned to Morocco. At this occasion, the constituent parts of Spanish Sahara – Rio de Oro and Saguia el Hamra – de jure lose their status as a colony and territory to become districts of the province of Spanish Sahara.

Spanish Sahara is a desert country. The indigenous people are the Sahrawi – a Berber people. During Spanish rule, the small population depends on pastoral nomadism and – on the coast – fishing. The only natural resource is phosphate, which, from 1962, has been commercially exploited.


The call for independence grows stronger in the 1960’s and, from 1973, the Polisario Front starts a guerrilla war. Spanish Sahara has, however, from the 1950’s, also been claimed by Morocco – a claim based on alleged allegiances of the Sahrawi tribes to Morocco. Mauritania equally holds claims to part of Spanish Sahara. In 1975, the Spanish withdraw from Spanish Sahara – ceding the southern part to Mauritania and the northern part to Morocco in 1976. Polisario continues its guerrilla war in what is now commonly called Western Sahara. In 1976, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic – SADR – is proclaimed by Polisario – the government in exile residing in Tindouf just across the border in Algeria.  The continued war causes Mauritania to withdraw from Western Sahara in 1979 – Morocco filling the gap. In 1991, a cease fire is agreed upon by Morocco and Polisario. By then, Morocco is in control of the larger part of Western Sahara – the smaller part of the country is controlled by Polisario. Most of the exiles still reside in Tindouf, but the de facto capital is now Tifariti in the SADR controlled part of Western Sahara. A solution to the problem has yet to be found.

Postal history Spanish Sahara

Postal history Spanish Sahara

1953 – Woman musician

The first stamps for Spanish Sahara are issued in 1924 – a set of definitives inscribed ‘Posesiones Español del Sahara Occidental'[1]‘Spanish possessions in the Western Sahara’ . Between 1926 and 1941, all stamps issued are provisionals. In 1943, a further set of definitives is issued – inscribed ‘Sahara Español’ as are subsequent issues. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, Spanish Sahara issues resemble the contemporary issues in Spain and other Spanish possessions. From 1960, the issues are inscribed ‘España’ in a larger font and ‘Sahara’ in a smaller font. The last stamps of Spanish Sahara are issued in 1975.

The stamps of Spanish Sahara have, from 1950 to 1958, been used in the Spanish protectorate of Cape Juby. Stamps issued by Spanish West Africa have, from 1949 to 1952, been used in Spanish Sahara concurrently with the issues of Spanish Sahara.

The stamps of Spanish Sahara have been superseded by those of Morocco. Stamps have appeared inscribed ‘Republica Saharaui’, ‘Sahara Occidental’ or ‘Sahara Occ. R.A.S.D.’ – presumably issued by the SADR government in exile. These are not listed in the catalogs.

For an overview of the political and postal developments in the form of a diagram, please refer to the country diagram of Spanish Africa.

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2 Responses to Spanish Sahara

  1. William Smith

    I think it would be helpful to add information that the SADR has its de facto temporary capital at Tifariti in SADR territory and to locate Tifariti on the Western Sahara map. This could also be done in the Morocco profile. Wikipedia has an entry for Tifariti including a map with its location in Western Sahara.

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