General issues: Spanish colony 1905-1924
Country name on general issues: Rio de Oro
Currency: 1 Peseta = 100 Centimos 1905-1924
Population: 40 000 in 1900
Political history Rio de Oro
Rio de Oro is located in northern Africa. In the mid 19th century Rio de Oro is populated by the Sahrawi, a largely independent Berber people. The Sahrawi are a tribal people – the tribes having changing political allegiances – some with the sultanate of Morocco. 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. A claim going back to 15th century treaties between Spain and Portugal. 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. Rio de Oro is proclaimed a Spanish colony in 1900.
The borders are agreed upon with France in successive treaties signed in 1900, 1904 and 1912. To the north of Rio de Oro the Spanish extend their presence when they annex the territory of Saguia el Hamra in 1904, acquire the protectorate of Cape Juby – the southern part of the protectorate of Spanish Morocco – in 1912 and settle in Ifni in 1934.
Spanish control over Rio de Oro – and neighboring Saguia el Hamra – is, at first, only nominal and de facto limited to the capital of Villa Cisneros. From the 1920’s, 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, and in 1924 integrated with Rio de Oro. Having met, at times, with tribal uprisings from the Sahrawi tribes – particularly in Saguia el Hamra – the territories are brought under Spanish control by 1934.
Administratively, in 1924, Rio de Oro and Saguia el Hamra are grouped together as Spanish Sahara – at times also called Spanish Western Sahara. A further administrative change is effected in 1946 when Spanish Sahara and Ifni are grouped together as Spanish West Africa. In 1958, Spanish West Africa is dissolved – Spanish Sahara becomes a Spanish province. The constituent part of Spanish Sahara – the colony of Rio de Oro and the territory of Saguia el Hamra – are now de jure transformed into districts of the newly formed province.
Rio de Oro is a desert country. During Spanish rule, the population depends on pastoral nomadism and – on the coast – fishing.
The Spanish, in 1975, withdraw from Spanish Sahara leaving the country in disarray. Currently, the country – now commonly called Western Sahara – is disputed. The larger part of Western Sahara is controlled by Morocco. A government in exile – the government of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic – resides just across the border in Tindouf in Algeria.
Postal history Rio de Oro
The first stamps of Rio de Oro are issued in 1905 – a set of definitives with the portrait of king Alfonso XIII. Subsequent sets of definitives are issued every few years until 1922. The stamps are inscribed ‘Colonia de Rio de Oro’, with exception of the last set which is inscribed ‘Sahara Occidental Rio de Oro' ‘Western Sahara Rio de Oro’. The stamps of Rio de Oro are, from 1924, superseded by the issues of Spanish Sahara.