Daily Nation (Nairobi) | 24 November 2008
AU brushes aside colonialism under its nose
- Protesters take part in a demonstration in support of self-determination and independence for the Western Sahara in downtown Madrid November 15, 2008. (Photo: Reuters)
The European Union is veering toward condoning colonialism. Worse, the African Union hardly notices. Meanwhile, the United Nations limps in pursuit of Morocco-occupied Western Sahara’s de-colonisation.
Last week, Cosatu, a confederation of trade unions in South Africa, sounded the alarm about EU’s move that might undermine Western Sahara’s de-colonisation. Few noticed.
An event unnoticed outside Spain nine days ago also reminded the world a colony still exists in Africa. The demonstrators marked the day in 1975 when the late Morocco’s King Hassan led thousands of his subjects on a “Great Walk” to “reclaim” Western Sahara. It’s a northwest Africa former Spanish colony and before that a collection of tribal chieftains.
Incidentally, so full of himself, the King once made a group of foreign journalists, including this columnist, enter his palace in Rabat through the “servants” gate.” He then lectured them on Morocco’s historical embodiment of Western Sahara.
The estimated 8,000 people marched in Madrid behind a banner reading “For free and independent Sahara.” Another foretold, “Let’s avoid another war.” That’s a reference to increasing tension between Morocco and Algeria.
Algeria opposes Morocco’s three decades occupation and hosts nearly the entire Western Sahara’s original population as refugees. All this might appear unrelated to the EU. Not really!
Mid-last month, the EU and Morocco entered into a free-trade deal. The agreement, though, would not only increase trade, but also political and cultural cooperation. The deal contains an interesting phrase, “crisis management operations.”
The problem is that the deal doesn’t explicitly exempt Western Sahara. Interestingly, the United States has a similar pact with Morocco. It excludes Western Sahara. The EU has a similar deal with Israel. That, too, excludes occupied Palestinian territory. Why double standards?
As Cosatu noted, were EU to negotiate with Morocco “as the occupying power, it would give an unfortunate sign of support to Morocco’s claim over the territory.” That would “also lead to the EU damaging the UN’s efforts to decolonise the territory.”
Polisario Party, which runs, in Algerian exile, the government of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, holds the same opinion. The Sahrawi Republic is a member of the AU, which led Morocco to quit.
At best, Morocco’s claim to Western Sahara remains dubious. Spain decided to cut its losses in Africa in 1974. The International Court of Justice rejected Morocco’s claim. Amidst all this, Spain, Morocco and Mauritania signed a secrete deal that allowed the latter two to split the country. Polisario fighters, with Algeria’s support, chased Mauritania out, but they weren’t a match for Morocco.
So far, the UN has passed 100 resolutions on Western Sahara, all providing for self-determination. The latest on October 21 reiterated that position. A 1991 UN-brokered ceasefire provided for a referendum to that end. Morocco weaselled out.
Commemorating his father’s “Great Walk,” on the eve of Madrid protest, Muhamed VI praised Morocco’s armed forces - read sabre rattling at Algeria - castigated that country for breaking relations, including closing the border, and proposed autonomy for Western Sahara. The late Ethiopia’s Emperor Haile Selassie demonstrated, in dealing with Eritrea, how easily such autonomy evaporates.
In the latest developments on Western Sahara, the AU hasn’t raised a finger, considering Morocco’s sympathisers include the United States, France and Britain. The AU chair, Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, emulates a predecessor 32 years ago, Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam of Mauritius. He discussed continental issues as often as the Dodo, his country’s bird of years long gone, spoke.
Western Sahara is, as a de-colonisation issue clearly a UN baby. However, what’s wrong with the AU adding its weight and in particular castigate the EU for undermining the world body? Moreover, if the AU can’t stand up for one of its members, of what use is it?