Morocco failing at attempts to scupper SADC solidarity conference

Teachers protest for better work conditions in Rabat

It seems Morocco has tried everything to deflect attention away from SADC’s Solidarity Conference with the people of Western Sahara, due to take place March 25 and 26 in Pretoria. The extent to which Morocco has attempted to neutralise African efforts to find a resolution to the conflict and ensure the liberation of Africa’s last colony is a measure of its intransigence and desperation.

African Heads of State and Foreign Ministers from across the continent as well as some foreign dignitaries are due to attend the SADC solidarity conference with Western Sahara. Clearly this poses a threat to Morocco’s agenda, which has been to shut down any attempt to move the peace process forward. It is actively opposed to any involvement of the African Union in the peace process and is doing its best to neutralise any AU efforts to move the peace process forward.

Morocco’s latest trick was exposed last week when it issued last minute invitations to various African Foreign Ministers to attend its own conference on Western Sahara in Morocco on the exact dates of the SADC solidarity conference this week. The very idea that such a counter conference could scupper or eclipse the SADC  solidarity conference was a gross miscalculation.

The letter of invitation to the Foreign Minister of Mali, for example, to attend a conference in Morocco on the exact dates of the SADC conference was marked ‘urgent,’ and issued just 10 days ago. The letter even offered to pay all the travel expenses of the Minister if they would agree to attend the Morocco conference.

It is alleged by some regional officials that Morocco used financial incentives to get some African Foreign Ministers to change their decision to attend the SADC solidarity conference and go to Morocco instead. Countries such as Malawi, which is in dire financial straits after the devastation caused by Cyclone Idai, has reversed its decision to attend the solidarity conference after alleged pressure from Morocco.

The very fact that Morocco is working so hard to neutralise the SADC conference suggests that initiatives to express solidarity with the people of Western Sahara is indeed a significant threat to Morocco’s modus operandi. Despite being accepted as a member of the African Union in 2017, Morocco has shown no genuine commitment to relinquish its hold over the illegally occupied territory of Western Sahara.

Officials from the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) met with their Moroccan counterparts in December last year, brokered by the UN Envoy Horst Kohler. SADR had suggested confidence building measures such as the release of Saharawi detainees, the deployment of UN Human Rights Monitors in the occupied territories, an end to the violations of the ceasefire, and the end to Morocco’s illegal plundering of Western Sahara’s natural resources. Morocco refused to even discuss such measures.

But the current AU Troika established to deal with the Western Sahara issue are determined to come up with a new mechanism and roadmap to allow the AU to contribute more significantly to the UN process to ensure self-determination for Western Sahara. The Troika is comprised of President Fattah al-Sisi, President Cyril Ramaphosa, and President Paul Kagame. Sisi has publicly declared his solidarity with Western Sahara in the past, and Ramaphosa has called on Morocco to decolonise Western Sahara, and said that South Africa will use its mandate on the UN Security Council to advance the Saharawi quest for self-determination.

If Morocco was under any illusion that the AU would sit back and merely observe the UN process unfold without any type of active intervention and support to the process, it should think again. This month the Chair of the AU Commission and the AU Chair agreed on the urgent need to operationalise the AU mechanism on Western Sahara, and will call on the full cooperation of AU member states.

At the end of the day most African states have the historic memory of their own fight for liberation and self-determination from colonial occupation, and are not likely to deny solidarity to the people of Western Sahara for the same cause.

Shannon Ebrahim is the foreign editor for the Independent Media Group.