The study of natural resources lends itself to theorizing the politics of nature and the politics of time. The space of Western Sahara, where both remain highly contested, provides an opportunity to consider the ramifications of resources in political conflict at different historical moments. Drawing from environmental histories of North Africa and the Sahara, as well as the anthropology of time, the author focuses on two historical moments. The first, from 1945 to 1972, concerns the discovery of phosphate deposits during the Spanish colonial period and the implications of this discovery for political authority in the Sahara more broadly. The second, contemporary moment is characterized by intensifying interest in plotting the future use and reserves of phosphates, with potential implications for the political futures of Western Sahara. These two moments are considered in three parts: the first situates the discovery of phosphates in Western Sahara within the regional process of decolonization; the second considers the configuration and reconfiguration of an urban space, Laâyoune, during these two moments of phosphate production; and the third discusses the contemporary dynamics of determining the future of phosphates in the present.
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