Ngure Kamau Sahrawi: The war that world has forgotten

Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic President Brahim Ghali.

Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic President Brahim Ghali during President William Ruto’s swearing-in at Kasarani Stadium, Nairobi, on September 13, 2022.

Photo credit: Jeff Angote | Nation Media Group

The history of Polisario Front is an intricate one. The outfit dates back to 1971, when a group of young university students in Morocco came together and founded it.

Its birth officially began the secession war to kick out Mauritanian and Moroccan armies from Western Sahara, an area occupied by the indigenous nomadic Sahrawi but annexed by Spain and granted to the two.

A lot of water has gone under the bridge but the conflict goes on with no end in sight any time soon.  Mauritania withdrew but Morocco fights on.

When the war began, Nelson Mandela was on his seventh year of life imprisonment on Robben Island for the liberation struggle in South Africa. Zimbabwe (Southern Rhodesia) was under white minority rule.  Idi Amin had just taken over in a coup in Uganda. Namibia was under German rule and Angola and Mozambique under Portuguese.

In Europe, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was one huge sovereign union comprising 12 countries that are now autonomous. And we had East and West Germany as separate states.

Long-running conflict

The presence Sahrawi President Brahim Ghali at President William Ruto’s inauguration on September 13 had Kenya sucked into the long-running conflict. The invitation and public introduction and acknowledgement of the leader who came in blue flowing Islamic garb came as an afterthought, coming after all the other leaders had been introduced.

Although his official arrival, with full state escort, was befitting a head of government and met with loud cheers from the crowd, the newly sworn-in President Ruto did not recognise his presence alongside other leaders in the front seats.  His presence would only be acknowledged later after Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and his Tanzanian counterpart Samia Suluhu Hassan had spoken.

Recognition and autonomy

Sahrawi is a desolate territory with no arable land and a 700-mile coastline, making fishing the only economic activity. But its people have fought for recognition and autonomy for a long time. The conflict has condemned it to the periphery. But now, Kenya now finds itself right in the thick of it.

The UN has not recognised Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) but, since 1979, considers Polisario Front as the duly recognised legitimate representative of the people in the independence struggle. Algeria and Mauritania have historically backed the establishment of SADR, to the chagrin of its neighbour Morocco. So does Nigeria, under President Mohamed Buhari. Ironically, Nigeria fought a bitter civil war in 1967-1970 to stave off the proposed secessionist “Republic of Biafra”.

In the circumstances, it may be imprudent to keep the nomadic people of Western Sahara waiting any longer for the autonomy of their territory.  It seems no amount of force or cajoling, including a 1991 UN-brokered ceasefire, can stop the Sahrawi people from pursuing their goal of self-rule.

Mr Kamau is a human resource management specialist and author. [email protected]

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