AU takes Morocco’s side in W. Sahara dispute

Sunday February 5 2017

Moroccan King

Moroccan King Mohammed VI arrives at the Elysee Presidential Palace in Paris, on February 17, 2016, for a meeting with the French President. Morocco quit the AU in 1984. PHOTO | AFP 

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The dubious notion of “African solutions for African problems” played up a week today at the summit of the African Union heads in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Morocco quit the organisation in 1984 after AU’s predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity, recognised the independence of the Western Sahara and awarded it membership as Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, SADR.

Morocco was at war with the Polisario Front, a rebel movement of Western Sahara people — they call themselves Sahrawis — that wanted independence from Spain, the colonial ruler.

With decolonisation in vogue, Morocco in 1957 claimed the territory.

Eight years later it demanded and got from the UN General Assembly the classification — it remains — of Western Sahara as a non-self-governing territory.

It’s on record, a UN fact finding mission noted the people of Morocco, Mauritania and the Western Sahara had historical cultural, economic, linguistic, ad infinitum, ties.

However, the political realities in the territory called for a referendum.

People there deserved a referendum to decide if they wanted independence or amalgamation with Mauritania or Morocco.

There was no referendum. Spain, hurrying to off load colonial baggage, turned over the territory to a joint Morocco-Mauritania administration.

The Polisario Front, with Algerian support—the latter’s regional rivalry with Morocco at play—was at its fighting peak and forced Mauritania to relinquish its share.

Morocco gobbled that. It controls two thirds of the territory.

Since the conflict started, the UN has formulated four settlement plans.

But, whenever an issue is resolved, another crops up. Morocco qualified as a master of “another issue” manufacturing.

Hence, the only UN achievement is a 1991 ceasefire. Internationally, the SADR seems to have an upper hand.

Thirty-seven states recognize it; Morocco, the Arab League and Turkey.

The UN and the AU have piles of resolutions, all in favour of self-determination.

In Addis Ababa though, 39 of the 54 AU bloc voted to re-admit Morocco, the biblical Prodigal Son style — no contrition required.

The rationale was the readmission would contribute to resolving the conflict, with Morocco in “the family.” The SDR officials swallowed that.

Foreign Minister Mohamed Salem Ould Salek said Morocco will now be questioned by African leaders why it’s opposed to a referendum.

Notable opponents of the readmission were Algeria and South Africa, with good reason: there’s no guarantee Morocco will abide by AU and UN resolutions?

A plausible scenario is Morocco, African and foreign states friends are scheming to remove the Western Sahara issue from the UN’s ambit and into the AU arena.

There diplomatic wheeling and dealings favour Morocco.

It’s the continents sixth largest economy and has been “buying” friends.

At the summit, King Mohammed VI remained mute on a pledge: “We shall not give up one inch of our beloved Sahara, not a grain of sand.” The SADR is all but buried.