Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Tribute to Fallen Polisario Leader Mohamed Abdul-Aziz
June 7, 2016
Makwaia Wa Kuhenga Correspondent
Tanzania Daily News

A majority of African countries, including Zimbabwe and Tanzania, have recognised the Saharawi Republic as a sovereign state and the state of Western Sahara (SADR) has a full embassy in Harare and Dar es Salaam and a number of other African countries.

BREAKING news: “The leader of Western Sahara Independence Movement has died after a long illness. Mohamed Abdul-Aziz (68) was Secretary General of the Polisario Front, which fights for an end of Moroccan rule in Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony annexed by Morocco in 1975.”

This was the sad news that confronted watchers of international news on global television networks last week. But it was even most grievous news for combatants of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO) and the people of Western Sahara who are resisting Moroccan occupation of their country.

For us in the rest of Africa, coming to terms with the news of the passing away of a leader of liberation movement reminded us of the passing away of leaders of similar stature such as Samora Machel of Mozambique, Augustine Neto of Angola and other who were facing up to colonial rule of their respective countries.

It brought to the fore the popular battle cry of those days in the fight against colonialism, minority rule and apartheid in Africa. That battle cry was: Aluta continua — the struggle continues.

This is the least the people of Africa can say to come to terms with the passing away of a leader of a liberation movement which is battling a strange form of colonialism, one African country colonizing another.

For 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 could ever be a colonial power over another African country appeared 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.

A couple of months ago, 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.

Went on the item: 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 a 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 Saharawi 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 McGovern, enjoined: “Western Sahara is last colony in Africa whose people have been awaiting the self-determination process since 25 years ago.”

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

Now before me is a document on country reports on human rights practices issued by the Department of State of the United States. It details, among other things, Moroccan violation of human rights including torture and inhuman treatment of Saharawi people in Western Sahara.

According to reports, the European Union (EU) has also been critical of 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.

A majority of African countries, including Zimbabwe and Tanzania, have recognised the Saharawi Republic as a sovereign state and the state of Western Sahara (SADR) has a full embassy in Harare and 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 write this, vivid memories of the Saharawi 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 Polisario Front, the liberation movement engaging Morocco in its continued occupation of Western Sahara.

It is a long time since then, but what I am most gratified about is that the Saharawi people have won the support of not only Africa, but the rest of the international community on their 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 Saharawi people.

What is now Israel was not there before 1948. What existed 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 do the Palestinians. What is happening to Palestinians today is heart-rending. Their Israeli neighbours are daily brutalizing 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 former apartheid South Africa? It would be good news indeed for us to hear American congressmen voice as much concern on Western Sahara as on Palestine.

Coming to terms with the news of the passing away of the Saharawi leader, memories of my sojourn in the Sahara Desert with the people of Western Sahara, taking coffee with them in their tents in the desert causes me a heartache.

The people of Western Sahara should all be united in the face of the sad news of the death of their leader to continue the struggle.

There is nothing as precious as independence. Fighters in the Polisario Front should close ranks to liberate their motherland; they should reject all attempts at driving a wedge aimed at dividing them against their common goal: freedom of Western Sahara.

A Luta Continua!
— Daily News Tanzania

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