Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Saharawi Autonomy: AU ‘Robbing Peter to Pay Paul!’
March 29, 2017

Ibrahim Ghali was appointed leader of the Polisario Front after the death of Mohamed Abdel Aziz in May last year

Sharon Hofisi Legal Letters

HISTORY is a science that manifests the future, but is predicated upon the accomplished events, and is ultimately shaped by the present occurrences. History is, and shall remain a matter of dates, people and places. Two issues define the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic’s (SADR) sovereign status — the independence from Spain in 1975, and the AU’s readmission of Morocco.

The Saharawi’s future sovereignty is undoubtedly built upon these two events. Seemingly, the continued Moroccan control is evidencing a SADR in stillbirth, while the re-admission is suggestive of the ‘regionalised’ end of the Saharawi’s right to self-determination.

Independence and sovereignty are two centripetal forces for any state the world over. Both promote and protect cultural homogeneity, the recognition of state and government by other States, and the ability to participate as a sovereign entity in the global society.

Spain had enabled the Saharawi Republic to be part of the free African countries that could assert their sovereignty. The AU is tarrying in this regard. Africa’s apex regional bloc is not showing commitment to asserting the independence of the Saharawi Republic.

This, together with the re-admission of Morocco without the condition precedent steeped in Saharawi independence, and menacing failure to openly deliberate on Morocco and Saharawi-a solid 42 years after its independence, amounts to a centrifugal force that is dividing Africa.

By depriving the SADR of the pearl that is its independence, the AU is like “robbing Peter to Pay Paul”. While Morocco and those countries who voted for its re-admission may not politically buy into the Saharawi’s continued clamour for ‘another’ independence, they should do so under the law of nations, which binds the global society.

Law simply describes the rules that bind a society. Africa is a society that should not sacrifice the right to self-determination at the altar of political or state-centric convenience.

The narrative of Saharawi’s autonomy in Africa was bequeathed by Spain. Spain colonised the SADR in 1884. The Year 1965 saw the United Nations calling for the decolonisation of Western Sahara. For Zimbabweans, the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) was being declared.

The BBC News Monitoring shows that the Polisario Front was founded in 1973 to fight for SADR’s independence. By 1975, Morocco defied an international Court’s ruling on the need to uphold SADR’s rights to self-determination.

What has perhaps not been adequately addressed by the AU is the political diatribe that the AU obtained from re-admitting Morocco. Let us first consider what is politically axiomatic.

The AU simply allowed Morocco to carry on from where Spain left off. What did this mean for the whole of Africa?

Two things. First, the AU was conveniently condoning irregular and unlawful acquisition of sovereign territory. The Territory is acquired through occupation, accretion, and cession. Morocco annexed the SADR.

Strong arguments can be made that Spain did not cede the Saharawi to Morocco in 1982. We may not restructure the order of events that saw the re-admission of Morocco, but the AU may need to

Second, it meant that the competing interests of Spain and Morocco were legitimised at a regional level. Spain came, conquered and restored that autonomy. Morocco took over, continues to threaten the Saharawi’s sovereign status. The unformulated position of the AU on the SADR may even affirm Morocco’s acts of irredentism-considering that the Saharawi Republic is conveniently referred to as part of Western Sahara.

The above factors are enormously centrifugal to the realisation of Saharawi independence or unity. This business unusual is bordering on regional impiety, which makes Africa’s long walk to independence appear artificial.

Morocco itself can affected by the centrifugal forces. A State that has a people that want self-determination may eventually break up into several units.

The AU and Morocco should take a leaf from the former Soviet Union (SU) which experienced the effect of ethnic centrifugal forces.

Morocco, from its country size, may not break up into 15 independent countries as was the case in the USSR, but the handwriting is on the wall for the AU.

It is being weighed on the scales of regional stability.

One brief disclaimer is in order. This article seeks only to illuminate how a regional bloc’s institutional role shapes its decision-making in competing sovereignty paradigms. In this vein, any allegations of inefficiency could be obviated by declaration or communiqué from the AU on the Saharawi’s future.

Africa-the descendants of the Biblical Ophir, have to craft a counter-strategy to self-made centrifugal forces. Judging by the fact that right to self-determination became a standardised right when Africa was fighting liberation wars, it should affect the whole of African states. The starting point which must evoke the AU’s urgent and strong action, which should prompt an equally Moroccan response. The AU should tap from the UN’s peace initiative that led to a truce between Morocco and the SADR’s freedom fighters in 1991.

The AU should urgently ensure that the referendum that was supposed to have been done in 1991 is done. The referendum would put to rest the issue of the SADR’s independence.

Mauritania should be at the forefront in this endeavour. It renounced its claim to SADR in 1979. Morocco then annexed the part that was once under Mauritania.

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