Will the AU force Morocco to comply with its principles?

The credibility of the African Union is at stake unless it imposes on the Kingdom of Morocco to comply with the Constitutive Act regarding its continued occupation of parts of SADR territory.

By Deich Mohamed Saleh*

It is heartening to note that Africa has strong guardians, faithful to principles, values, and people’s aspirations. The strong opposition within the African Union of many member states, led by Algeria and South Africa, to granting the apartheid regime of Israel observer status in the bloc has raised widespread concerns about adherence to the values and principles enshrined in the AU Constitutive Act. This recalls Morocco's accession to the African Union four years ago, considering its occupation of parts of the territory of the SADR a flagrant violation of the Constitutive Act.

Our Founding Fathers left it clear that as long as Pan-Africanism organization born out of the suffering of its people, it must serve their struggle against colonialism, oppression and apartheid. In his iconic speech at the 1963 founding meeting of the Pan-African, the ambitious Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah warned that “The unity of our continent, no less than our separate independence, will be delayed, if indeed we do not lose it, by hobnobbing with colonialism… Is it not unity alone that can weld us into an effective force, capable of creating our own progress and making our valuable contribution to world peace?”

The Kingdom of Morocco invaded the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) on the eve of the latter’s independence from Spain in 1976, in flagrant violation of international law, especially since this move came a few days after the International Court of Justice issued its advisory opinion rejecting the allegations of the occupier in Western Sahara. This occupation also contradicts the Kingdom’s request to include Western Sahara in the United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories in 1963, pending decolonization through the exercise of the inalienable right of the people of the Territory to self-determination and independence.

Since then, the people of SADR have lived divided, with part under occupation who are subjected to worst types of oppression and genocide, whereas the other part strike harsh conditions in exile. In addition, the occupying state of Morocco has spared no effort to plunder as much of the territory's natural resources as possible over forty-five years. Some of the looting proceeds serve the policies of the occupation, such as bribery to gain international support.

The SADR's struggle for liberation has been met with broad and far-reaching solidarity within Africa from the outset, with the continental organization serving as a springboard to gain maximum momentum. African solidarity had an international impact, as the recognition of the Republic exceeded eighty countries around the world, in addition to the advanced political positions at the level of governments, parties or civil society. The then Organization of African Unity (OAU) could turn the table on the occupying state of Morocco by charting a course for a just and lasting solution.

The key turning point in this path was the OAU's recognition of SADR's sovereignty and embracing its struggle, followed by its admission into the organization in 1982. The heads of state and government went further, to wisely lay the foundations for an agreed settlement between the occupying state of Morocco and the SADR based on respect for the right of the people of Western Sahara to self-determination and independence. The SADR’s continental prestige was reinforced by being a founding member of the AU in 2002.

It is worth recognizing the courageous positions and the great concessions made by the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic in the interests of the unity and supreme interests of Africa, and in fulfilling its commitments within the African Union. The SADR could, under difficult circumstances, make advanced strides in institutional building and the upgrading of society's policies. Its experience has also proven to be a major stabilizing factor in the region.

Resolution 104 of the 19th OAU Summit in 1983 provided a framework for the joint UN-OAU efforts that led to the Settlement Plan Agreement for holding a referendum in which the people of Western Sahara could choose between independence or integration with Morocco. The UN Security Council approved the said settlement plan in 1990, after which a ceasefire was established in 1991, followed by the deployment of UN and OAU peacekeeping forces.

However, once the Security Council took over, all that momentum faded because of double standards that have guided the UN's addressing of the question of Western Sahara since the territory being listed as a non-self-governing territory. The occupying state of Morocco took advantage of the UN' indifference to resolving the issue to renege on its commitments to the settlement plan and end it up with the collapse of the 1991 ceasefire last November and outbreak of a new war between the two member countries. It was expected that the AU would play a more active role in the question, in view of the inability of the UN, but things turned upside down in the African Union, where the occupying state of Morocco was admitted in 2017, in full infringement of the principles of the Constitutive Act, stipulated in articles 3 & 4, which are territorial integrity, respect of borders, and non-interference in the internal affairs of a member state. There is no doubt about the huge bribes offered by the occupying state of Morocco to secure a vote. Although the bottom line remains bargaining over values and principles, so that justice and progress are not achieved.

The 1991 ceasefire, which is an integral part of the UN-OAU Settlement Plan for a referendum on self-determination, was totally torpedoed by the occupying state of Morocco through its act of aggression on the liberated territories of the SADR on 13 November 2020. Thus, the aggressive act Morocco has undermined the whole peace process in Western Sahara and plunged again the region into a spiral of tension and instability. In this regard, the SADR, as a member of the African Union, has full right to demand for the application of articles 3 and 4 of the Constitutive Act.

The decision of the 14th Extraordinary Summit on "Silencing the Guns" December 2020 heralded a breakthrough in the AU position regarding Morocco’s occupation of the territory of the SADR. It called on the relevant organs such as Troika Mechanism and the PSC at heads of state level to act to contain escalation in the region. Thus, the Council’s 984th meeting of March 2021, chaired by the Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta, marked an important shift forward by calling on “the Kingdom of Morocco and the SADR to engage in dialogue, create a conducive environment for direct and candid talks, with no preconditions and in line with Article 4 of the AU Constitutive Act and the relevant Provisions of the PSC Protocol.” Unfortunately, the occupying state of Morocco still turns its back on this call; even the executive bodies, such as the Troika and the Chairperson of the Commission, have not yet moved a finger.

Once the ceasefire was breached, the occupying state of Morocco launched a massive crackdown on Sahrawi activists who demanded an end to its occupation of their homeland. Also, the occupying state of Morocco has deliberately targeted the liberated territories of the SADR, using UAVs to kill civilians and destroy their properties. They targeted even the commercial traffic of neighboring countries while in transit through the liberated territories of the SADR, leaving casualties.

Morocco's accession to the African Union before fulfilling its obligations under the Constitutive Act was a huge mistake that the organization is now paying a heavy price for. Despite the optimism that accompanied the move, considering it an opportunity for reconciliation between the two member states, it became clear after four years that the opponents of this accession had their fears correct. The occupying state of Morocco still insists on its occupation of the territory of the SADR and seeks to limit the relevant African Union organs' involvement in the matter, in particular the PSC. The Kingdom of Morocco will remain a source of real threat to the stability and security of North Africa unless it abandons its expansionist and provocative policies towards its neighbors.

The UN's lack of will in implementing international legality in Western Sahara has doomed its mandate to failure, which has led to a new escalation of tensions in the region. Faced with this situation, the African Union, as the main stakeholder, must assume its full responsibility in restoring maximum momentum to end the prolonged occupation of the territory of the SADR by the Kingdom of Morocco.

The big challenge for the AU now is fending off the occupying state of Morocco's attempts aiming to overturn the Constitutive Act and resolutions with impunity. Will African stand up for principles?

Deich Mohamed Saleh* 

*He served as Director of the President's office and Ambassador to Zimbabwe

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