Day one goof? Confusion as President Ruto wades into Morocco-Sahrawi stalemate

President William Ruto with Morrocan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita

President William Ruto with Morrocan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita at State House Nairobi on September 14, 2022.

Photo credit: Courtesy | PSCU

What you need to know:

  • Without giving an explanation, President Ruto removed tweet that said “Kenya rescinds its recognition of the SADR”

There was confusion on Wednesday over whether Nairobi had cut ties with the contested Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) in Western Sahara after Kenya's new president announced the break but then deleted his tweet.

President William Ruto, a day after he took power, said on Twitter after meeting Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita, that "Kenya rescinds its recognition of the SADR and initiates steps to wind down the entity's presence in the country".

President Ruto said Kenya would wind down the mission of the SADR in Nairobi and back Morocco, a first for a member of the African Union.

But he later removed the tweet without giving an explanation.

The announcement had come barely a day after the leader of the Polisario independence movement, Brahim Ghali, attended the swearing-in ceremony of Dr Ruto as president in Nairobi.

The Algerian-backed Polisario Front wants an independent state in the Western Sahara, a vast stretch of mineral-rich desert which Morocco considers part of its own territory.

Bourita had delivered a congratulatory message from Morocco's King Mohammed VI, Dr Ruto said, adding that the two nations had agreed on improved ties "in areas of trade, agriculture, health, tourism, energy, among others".

"Kenya supports the United Nations framework as the exclusive mechanism to find a lasting solution of the dispute," Dr Ruto said of the Western Sahara issue in another tweet that remained on his account late on Wednesday.

A former Spanish colony, Western Sahara sits on the western edge of the vast eponymous desert, stretching along the Atlantic coast.

When Spain withdrew in 1975, Morocco sent thousands of people across the border and claimed it was an integral part of its territory.

The following year the Polisario Front declared a Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), with support from Algeria and Libya, and demanded a referendum on self-determination.

Since then, 84 UN member states have recognised the SADR.

But a stalemate ensued, and Morocco built razor-wire-topped concentric sand walls in the desert that still ring 80 percent of the territory that it controls.

Under a 1991 ceasefire, the UN, which considers the Western Sahara "a non-self-governing territory", deployed a peacekeeping mission.

The international community has long backed a referendum to be held to decide the territory's status.

But Morocco rejects any vote in which independence is an option, arguing that only granting autonomy is on the table for the sake of regional security.

Last month King Mohammed demanded in a speech that Morocco's allies "clarify" their stances on the issue, calling it "the prism through which Morocco views its international environment".

The African Union recognises the Sahrawi Arab Republic as a member.