Ahmed Mohamed Sidi Aly has been a crucial part of AOAV’s Western Sahara programme since April 2006. During his last visit in London, we’ve asked him about his every-day challenges, AOAV’s work in Western Sahara and the country’s persistent struggles.
AOAV: As AOAV’s country manager in Western Sahara, what do you do?
Ahmed: My work starts from the strategic thinking of the programme and its setup. I lead the programme in different aspects, like assisting operations in dealing with the local authorities and helping them with all complications they might face in the programme.
On a day-to-day level, I’m managing the programme’s administration, management and reporting. I also work and liaise with our partners to ensure that AOAV’s relation with the local and international relations are maintained on a high levels. I’m sometimes also the spokesperson of AOAV in Western Sahara.
It’s not that easy to manage contracts in Western Sahara, mainly due to the complications of the political situation and the wide area that our work is covering. We are operating in remote areas where we are very far from workshops, stores and any other infrastructure. Our team is really doing a great job to keep our contractual obligations on track.
It’s not an easy job – but it’s very challenging.
AOAV: What are your biggest concerns?
Ahmed: My first priority is to ensure that the operation receives full support from all sides. The work we do would be challenging under normal circumstances: with normal contracts, under normal conditions. But in Western Sahara these problems, as I said mostly due to the political situation, are elevated to a whole new level.
AOAV: In terms of armed violence, what is the biggest problem in Western Sahara?
Ahmed: The main issue is the contamination by explosive remnants of war, especially cluster munitions. This is what we came to face when we started our programme in 2006. We thought that we will face a lot of mines in the Polisario-controlled area, but we ended up facing mostly contamination by cluster munitions. This has affected the local communities massively and doesn’t allow them to practice their normal daily life, which is based on grazing and livelihood activities.
Apart from that there is also a number of victims as a result of this, so we have set up a project for victim assistance. This project is in its second year and is very promising.
But I think the biggest concern will be Moroccan Wall. The wall has been constructed over more than 2,500km – and is heavily mined. Should this area ever be subjected to demining, the project will be immense.
AOAV: So your work won’t be done any time soon?
Ahmed: Definitely not. The sons of our sons will still have to face this challenge.
AOAV: Do you feel that since you’ve started working in Western Sahara, AOAV has made a difference? Is Western Sahara a safer place now?
Ahmed: Yes, we’ve come a very far way. AOAV is the first international NGO working in Western Sahara and the first humanitarian actor that has come to assist. We started our work doing a survey, where we mapped all the dangerous areas and after that we started clearance. When you compare the situation in 2006 to the situation today, you’ll see a huge difference.
There are not a lot of projects in areas that were so heavily contaminated. It’s great to see that we now have schools, housing and other infrastructure in these areas. There have been big changes: significant changes to the community as well as to the authorities.
AOAV: How did you start working with AOAV?
Ahmed: I came to join the humanitarian demining industry from a legal background. I graduated with a Masters in Human Rights and Democratisation in South Africa so in the early days of my career I was lobbying from human rights perspective and also from an International Humanitarian Law point of view. In the progress of my advocacy work, I met Simon Conway, the previous director of AOAV, then Landmine Action. He told to me: “Ahmed, if you want to do something for your country, you have to take care of our Western Sahara programme.”
So I found myself obliged to take this step – to the benefit of my country and my people.
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