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A university in the Sahara desert

The envisioned University of Tifariti is to be situated on a small strip of desert land in Western Sahara (arguably controlled by the Democratic Arab Republic of the Saharawi). It represents the initiative of some dozen universities from around the world – among them the universities of Berkley, Leeds, Pretoria, Managua, as well as a number of universities in Algeria, Cuba and Spain – which have agreed to unite efforts in order to establish a higher education institution that meets the needs of the local Saharawi people.

A former Spanish colony, the territory known as Western Sahara was occupied by Moroccan troops in the 1970s, forcing thousands of Saharawi to flee into exile to neighbouring Algerian refugee camps. For the past 30 years, UN efforts in the area have helped raise literacy rates from one of the lowest in Africa to a level as high as 90 percent. Also, up until now, Algeria and Cuba have hosted several thousand Saharawi students, providing funding through every stage of their education.

Caught between a Morocco-occupied territory, on one side, and Algerian refugee camps, on the other, the University of Tifariti will be by far the most extensive institutional commitment to the Saharawi quest for independence.