‘Africa’s last colony’ ready to return to war

Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic Ambassador to Kenya Bah el Mad Abdellah. PHOTO | BENSON GUANTAI |

What you need to know:

  • Western Sahara was annexed by Morocco for 40 years
  • Experts state lack of interest by key powers in the West to exert pressure on Morocco to allow the referendum on self-determination to take place.

Western Sahara has often been dubbed “Africa’s last colony”. Forty years after Morocco annexed and started its occupation of the country, its future and direction is still limbo.

Western Sahara opened an embassy in Kenya in 2006 after an agreement was signed to establish diplomatic relations.

After two years, President Kibaki’s government requested a temporary suspension of the diplomatic relations.

Following Uhuru Kenyatta’s election, Kenya re-established ties in December, 2013.

Abdi Latif Dahir spoke to Bah el Mad Abdellah, with the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic second ambassador to Kenya.

QUESTION: How would you define Western Sahara’s relationship with Kenya?

ANSWER: Our relationship is based on the value that Kenya represents to us as Sahrawis. Kenya, as an important member of the African Union and plays an active role at the international level in resolving conflicts.

Kenya’s principled stand on the Sahrawi people’s quest to self-determination and independence is also enough reason for us to establish an embassy here.

Q: 2015 marks 40 years since the signing of the Madrid tripartite agreement between Spain, Morocco and Mauritania, which essentially annexed Western Sahara. How does that affect the Sahrawi’s agitation for self-determination today?

A: In the beginning, Morocco centred its attention on the then Spanish Sahara, to which it began laying claim publicly. Lacking any legal basis for its claim, Morocco, which was then joined by Mauritania, requested the UN General Assembly to refer the issue to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

In its historic advisory opinion on 16 October, 1975, the ICJ found no legal ties between Western Sahara and the two countries at the time of the Spanish colonisation. Using this historical context, the Sahrawi people and freedom defenders all over the world are working together to find a lasting solution to this critical issue.

Q: Hundreds of thousands of Sahrawis were displaced and have lived in camps in southwest Algeria for decades. What’s the situation like there?

A: A large number of Sahrawis became refugees after Moroccan planes bombed civilian camps in the interior of Western Sahara with banned napalm and cluster bombs in 1976. The southwestern desert region near Tindouf offered a potential safe region in Algeria. Due to the harsh and extreme desert climate, the refugees are largely dependent on food aid. Food aid is however often irregular and insufficient; it’s an alarming situation.

Q: The UN seems unable to find a mutually acceptable solution to the problem. Why?

A: It is significant to underline in this regard that neither the UN nor any state in the world has recognised Morocco’s illegal annexation. The involvement of the UN dates back to 1963 when the territory was placed on the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories. The list included territories whose people had not yet attained a full measure of self-government. Besides, all the resolutions adopted by the General Assembly since 1966 have a common denominator, which is the recognition of the inalienable right of the people of Western Sahara to self-determination and the need for its implementation through a free and fair referendum.

Q: Experts state lack of interest by key powers in the West to exert pressure on Morocco to allow the referendum on self-determination to take place.
A: There is no doubt that this lack of interest plays a vital role in the resolution of this conflict. It is a shame and a matter of deep concern that four decades after the onset of the conflict, all efforts to find a solution have failed.

Q: How does the aftermath of the Arab Spring affect Western Sahara’s cause?

A: The slogans of the Arab Spring were based on self-determination, respect for human life, democracy, economic and social rights. These unprecedented developments in North Africa and the Middle East have demonstrated clearly that any solution in Western Sahara must reflect the will of its people if it is to be credible and sustainable, and if it is to foster peace, security and regional integration.

Q: The ceasefire between the Polisario Front and Morocco has been in effect for 24 years. Given the current political impasse, is there a chance that hostilities might resume?

A: As much as we are ready with good faith to find a lasting solution, we are also ready to defend our rights and to liberate the occupied territory. The reality is that the Sahrawi population inside the occupied territory of Western Sahara has for many years been subjected to serious human rights abuses, as documented by various UN and international human rights organisations. Morocco continues its exploitation of the natural resources of Western Sahara. If the international community doesn’t move with this issue and Morocco continues disobeying UN resolutions, then the Sahrawi people will use the only option to getting their rights, which is returning to armed struggle and declaring a national liberation war.

Q: Finally, what is the Sahrawi government currently doing to get Morocco back to the table for negotiations?

A: Morocco is refusing to cooperate with the African Union and its special envoy, former Mozambican president, Joaquim Chissano. The Sahrawi government stresses the fact that the joint endeavours by the UN and AU were and will remain the key mechanisms to solving this conflict.

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