ON July 28 last year, I penned a piece — “Saharawi, Zambia: May the truth be known!” In a world where untruths, half-truths and outright hoaxes abound, it was difficult to come to terms with the contents of a story I had come across regarding the diplomatic ties between Saharawi (Sahrawi) Arab Democratic Republic and our northern neighbour, Zambia.Just before the African Union’s Kigali Summit, the writer read that Zambia had cut diplomatic ties with the SADR.
Since most of the stories were from the Morocco World News websites and others like Sahara, it seemed like a likely impossibility, although an Africa News report alleged that Zambia’s decision to part ways with Western Sahara had been “announced by Zambian foreign minister Henry Kalaba shortly after the Polisario Front Movement appointed Ibrahim Ghali as the new leader, to replace Mohamed Abdel Aziz, who died in May.”
North Africa Post in its July 10, 2016 story said more or less the same: “Zambia announced the withdrawal of its recognition of the Polisario’s self-proclaimed republic, the same day the separatist group announced the election of Algeria’s henchman Ibrahim Ghali as a new Secretary General and president of the auto-proclaimed SADR . . . Zambia’s support for Morocco’s territorial integrity comes at a pertinent moment as Lusaka prepares to take the rotating presidency of the African Union.”
Obviously, Morocco welcomed the move, but this was the beginning of the end since the struggle to emancipate Western Sahara by the Polisario Front was part of the narrative that all progressive nations, Zimbabwe included, fought for.
According to a statement by Foreign Affairs Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi during last year’s Africa Day, Africa could not forget that the Saharawi remained the continent’s last colonial vestige, colonised by another African state: “To this day, our brothers and sisters in Western Sahara still wallow under occupation from a fellow African country.
“The case of Western Sahara remains an albatross on our collective conscience. There is need to give the much needed impetus to the long journey for self-determination of the Saharawi people,” Minister Mumbengegwi said.
We mourned for Western Sahara, Zambia and other unnamed African nations that had reportedly revoked their diplomatic ties with the SADR. We also mourned for the African Union, and questioned the depth of unity of purpose in the continental bloc, since this was a departure from its founding principles.
The OAU/AU’s founding fathers had that understanding that as long as one of them was under the shackles of colonialism, then Africa was still in bondage.
But the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic’s ambassador to Zimbabwe Mr Mohamed Chiej Saleh Ali’s response to the issue then, was reassuring. He said in a statement: “The Government of the Saharawi Arab Democratic has not yet received any official notice from the Government of the Republic of Zambia and we read the news only in the Moroccan media.
“The Republic of Zambia is one of the first African countries which recognised the Saharawi Arab Democratic on 12 October 1979, just a few years after the struggle of the Saharawi people sparked in Western Sahara against Morocco occupation, and also one of those countries which defended strongly the right of Saharawi people to self-determination dictated by its history and principles in defending the right and freedom of peoples.”
Ambassador Ali added: “In international law, the recognition by state to other state is a sovereign decision, but is irreversible. We believe that the history of Zambia in supporting the freedom of the peoples and the long struggle of its people against colonialism is higher than following the ambitions of Morocco, the occupier of Western Sahara, the last colony in Africa, especially today, when Africa today looks forward to eradicating any kind of colonialism in the continent and live in peace and prosperity.”
But all this is now is water under the bridge, for Morocco was readmitted to the AU after 33 years.
Morocco’s King Mohammed VI was buoyed by the readmission as he said: “It is so good to be back home, after having been away for too long! . . . The massive, outspoken support Morocco has received is proof of the solid bonds that unite us.” For, 39 out of the 54 African Union Member States voted for Morocco’s readmission. That Western Sahara has been annexed to Morocco since 1975 was forgotten.
There are also reports that Western Sahara welcomed the latest development as a “positive step for the people of Western Sahara”.
What happened considering Ambassador Ali’s July 2016 remarks to the writer: “Morocco’s intention to join the AU was in the context of dragging Africa in divisions again, but Africa denied Morocco’s request and sent to it a very clear message that it is welcome only if it gives up its occupation to the Saharawi Republic and recognises the organisation of the referendum of self-determination of the Saharawi people?”
In view of the latest developments, some people might have failed to understand the strong sentiments expressed by President Mugabe. The Zimbabwean leader refused to be silenced by the 39 votes, as he bemoaned after the AU Summit this week: “I think it’s lack of ideology. They (the African leaders who backed Morocco) have not had the same revolutionary experience as all of us and there is too much reliance on their erstwhile colonisers . . .”
His observation cannot be doubted because “The ‘star’ of Africa at summit — Mugabe” written by The Herald’s political editor, the late Tonic Sakaike on July 8, 1980 tells of the then Prime Minister attending the OAU’s 17th Summit of Heads of State and Government in Freetown, Sierra Leone where Saharawi was on the agenda.
Reported Sakaike: “. . . Three key issues dominated the deliberations. These were the application by the Polisario Front for recognition as the OAU’s 51st member . . . On Thursday evening, members of the Polisario Front were camped in the corridors of the conference hall, waiting to be beckoned in to take their place in the chamber.
“Their optimism followed news that 26 Member States had thrown in their lot with the organisation and backed its admission. But the Polisario Front had reckoned without the power of Arab threats. When the Arabs rallied behind Morocco in opposing admission and threatened to quit the OAU, the hopes of the Polisario Front were, for the first time being dashed. A compromise along the lines suggested before the summit by Nigerian President Shehu Shagari, diverted the delegations from the path of confrontation . . .”
It’s now names and history, but as President Mugabe said on Tuesday, “We will still fight and see whether in fact Morocco is abandoning its occupation of parts of Saharawi. You see, as things are at the moment Saharawi claims that Morocco is occupying part of its territory and Morocco has been denying (this).
“Morocco has been even going ahead saying there is no opposition to the people of Saharawi coming together with Morocco, which is a matter which has been twisted.
“And the matter, mind you, has gone up to the United Nations. It was decided that if Morocco argues and claims that Saharawi indeed is not opposed to being part of Morocco, let there be a referendum . . . But anyway that is a quite a blow for some of us, we believe in rules, in the principles and we have wanted to see Morocco declare at least, that yes, we have given up the claim of occupation,” said President Mugabe.
South Africa’s ruling African National Congress party was also baffled by what Africa had done to the people of Western Sahara.
ANC national spokesman in a statement issued on January 31 said: “The African National Congress (ANC) notes the regrettable decision of the African Union (AU) to readmit the Kingdom of Morocco to the organisation.
“The 54-member bloc voted overwhelmingly to readmit Morocco following a lengthy debate at the 28th AU Summit in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa on Monday. Thirty-nine of the 54 states approved Morocco’s return to the AU.
“This decision represents a significant setback to the cause of the Sahrawi people and their quest for self-determination and independence in the Western Sahara. The Western Sahara is one of Africa’s last remaining colonial outposts . . . The ANC notes that this decision paves the way for the Kingdom of Morocco to take their place amongst the community of nations and to enjoy the benefits of AU membership — while the Sahrawi people continue to suffer under an unjust occupation of their ancestral land.
“By readmitting Morocco the AU is tacitly endorsing the longstanding occupation of the Western Sahara. Morocco has to date failed to comply with successive UN resolutions on the issue of the Western Sahara, most importantly the holding of a referendum on self-determination . . .”
The puzzle remains to be solved considering that there are reports that Morocco’s readmission was based on its financial muscle.
It is alleged that it will now bankroll the AU like what Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi was doing. This sounds sinister.
So, the rebels backed by nato forces kill Gaddafi, and five years down the line, Morocco, an occupying force is readmitted into the continental body, just for its money? Sometimes Africa never ceases to amaze you!