On the sovereignty of Western Sahara and Morocco’s occupation

Daily News/Tanzania

08 April 2016

Makwaia Wa Kuhenga

WHEN we reflect on liberation struggles against colonialism in Africa, we see that colonial powers have never been inside Africa, but have come outside the continent. In East Africa, an erstwhile colonial power was Britain as much as France was in West Africa.

But the thought that a country in Africa can ever be a colonial power over another African country appears strange if not far-fetched. But it has happened with Morocco’s claims over the territory of Western Sahara as part of the Kingdom of Morocco.

The entire international community has roundly rejected this claim. At the end of last month, this newspaper had a pleasant surprise for me when I read a news item on its page dedicated to news about Africa.

Rang the headline: US DOES NOT RECOGNISE MOROCCO’S SOVEREIGNTY OVER WESTERN SAHARA. Re-read the item with me: Washington: The United States of America does not recognise the so-called sovereignty of Morocco over Western Sahara, considered by the US as a “non-autonomous territory pending decolonisation, congressmen have stressed here.

The story went on: “The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission dispelled any doubt about the position of the US government on the Western Sahara issue at hearing devoted to the status of Western Sahara.” Declared Democrat John Conyers before American politicians, NGOs and international bodies attending the hearing: “We must be clear: the US has not recognised the sovereignty of any state over the territory of Western Sahara considered as a non-autonomous territory pending decolonisation.”

Conyers, who also co-chairs the Sahrawi caucus at the US Congress called on the US government to support the Security Council’s proposal to provide the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) with a human rights monitoring mandate.

Another US official, Co-President of the Tom Lantos Commission, Mr James Mc Govern enjoined: “Western Sahara is last colony in Africa whose people has been awaiting the self-determination process since 25 years.”

He added: “Despite the US-Morocco ties, respect for human rights takes first place over any other interest because this principal represents a key component of security in the region.”

If I have extensively quoted the stance of US congressmen over Western Sahara is simply to underpin my pleasant surprise that there are people in the United States whose conscience is uncompromised when it comes to the liberty of a people, but they do not come up with the same stance when it comes to the question of Palestine.

We will come back to this factor at the end of this perspective. What is important here is that the rest of Africa and the international community such as the European Union have been unambiguous in their support for Western Sahara’s independence and sovereignty.

According to reports, the European Union (EU) has also been critical in its relationship with Morocco over the latter’s continued occupation of Western Sahara.

But the African Union (AU) has gone even further. It has granted Western Sahara full membership of the all-African body. Majority of African countries, including Tanzania, have recognised the Sahrawi Republic as a sovereign state and the state of Western Sahara (SADR), has a full embassy in Dar es Salaam and a number of other African countries.

These steps are an unambiguous message to Morocco that its occupation of Western Sahara is wrong and a gross violation of the rights to independence of another people.

As I am writing, vivid memories of the Sahrawi people in their liberation struggle come to mind as I visited them in some part of their territory in the 1980s as a guest of the Polisario Front, the liberation movement engaging Morocco in its continued occupation of Western Sahara.

It is a rather long time since then, but what I am most gratified is that the Sahrawi people have won the support of not only Africa, but the rest of the international community on their indelible right to independence and self-determination.

The stance of the United States has lifted my spirits even higher but with a limitation. How much I wish American leaders extended the same stance to the question of Palestine as they are showing on the rights of the Sahrawi people.

What is now Israel was not there before 1948. What exited then was Palestine in map and reality. That Israel was created by force of arms abated by the British Balfour Declaration is an undeniable factor proved by historical record.

If Israelis have a right to exist as a free people, so Palestinians deserve the same right. What is happening to Palestinians today is heart-rending to all human being everywhere. Their Israeli neighbors are daily brutalising them.

Why not have a separate state for the people of Palestine to live side-by-side - and not a local authority as it is today - which reminds one of the old Bantustans of the erstwhile former apartheid South Africa?

It will be good news indeed for us to hear American congressmen voice as much concern on Western Sahara as on Palestine.