Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Africa Must Not Forget Innocent Saharawi
January 31, 2017
Mabasa Sasa in Addis Ababa—
Zimbabwe Herald

Africa’s sole colony is the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic. Some know it as Western Sahara.

All these many years after the rest of the continent gained its independence, this tiny corner of North Africa remains under colonialism.

But that is not the full horror of the matter: SADR is under occupation by another African country — Morocco.

Over the centuries, different peoples have occupied this territory, much-like with the rest of the world.

Around the 8th century, historians tell us, Arab expansionists gained control of the area and within 300 years their influence had spread across much of Morocco and the Iberian Peninsula.

Another power of the time, the Mali Empire, collapsed roundabout the 12th century, allowing Morocco to establish authority over much of the Western Sahara.

Morocco fought off Portuguese imperialists up to the 1500s.

This proud empire was divided at the Berlin Conference, with France and Spain taking over the territory.

As the “winds of change” swept that part of the continent in the 1940s and 1950s, nationalists — under the banner of the Polisario Front — fought a bruising war with Spain in a bid for independence.

By 1975, Spain had realised that the game was up and negotiated independence with the Polisario Front.

Morocco was expected to be the good neighbour. It was already a stable nation, it could have given its newly independent neighbours a helping hand in the heady early days of freedom.

After all, back in 1777, Morocco became the first country in the world to recognise the United States as an independent nation; and by 1786 the two had signed the Moroccan-American Treaty of Friendship.

Surely, if it could stretch such a welcoming hand across the Atlantic, it could do the same across the border.

But good neighbours are not as easy to find today as they were.

Morocco claimed sovereignty over the SADR, prompting the United Nations to intervene.

The UN mission’s conclusion was that the people of the SADR did not want to be under Moroccan occupation and wanted their independence restored. For them, neither Spanish nor Moroccan imperialism would do.

The International Court of Justice upheld this wish and agreed with the SADR’s right to self-determination.

This did not matter to Morocco and they deployed their troops even as Spain was pulling out. Morocco could not deploy troops when SADR was under Spanish colonisation. They could not deploy troops to free the land.

They could deploy troops to colonise their neighbours.

Mauritania also briefly moved in but left the territory after a short occupation. And so from Spanish colonialism the people of SADR entered Moroccan imperialism and formed a government-in-exile in Algeria.

In 1982 the then-Organisation of African Unity, working through the able leadership of Brigadier Hashim Mbita and the African liberation committee, admitted SADR as a member.

(NB: as I write this, African leaders are preparing to receive the Hashim Mbita Volumes as part of that historical body of work that informs the principles of the AU. Surely, can they with one hand accept these volumes while with the other extending a welcoming hand to Morocco)

In 1984, Morocco left the OAU in protest. Morocco wanted African leaders to sanction its colonisation of a fellow African country. For more than three decades, Morocco has insisted on its “right” to colonise another African country.

For years Morocco has not been a member of the continental bloc.

For years Morocco has rejected UN-proposed referenda because it knows that any vote will clearly show that the people of SADR do not want to live under their rule.

Today, as nearly 200 000 Saharawi live as refugees. They live in abject poverty as Morocco imposes dominion over their phosphate mineral rock, uranium and oil.

As all that happens, many African leaders are ready to readmit Morocco as a member of the AU. Never mind that nothing has changed. Never mind that Morocco uses napalm and white phosphorous against people who are simply asking for their freedom.

Are African leaders in awe of Morocco because since 1950 it has been the second-largest recipient of American money in Africa?

Is it because African leaders are easily bought off? Is it because African leaders simply don’t know the difference between principle and expedience?

Kwame Nkrumah taught us that the freedom of one African country is meaningless while another remains oppressed.

Let us not forget that valuable lesson.

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