Trouble in Morocco

Protesters from Rif movement ‘Hirak’ chant during a demonstration against corruption, repression and unemployment in Imouzren, Morocco, June 11, 2017. The neglected Rif region has been rocked by social unrest since the death in October of a fishmonger. Mouhcine Fikri, 31, was crushed in a rubbish truck as he protested against the seizure of swordfish caught out of season and his death has sparked fury and triggered nationwide protests. FADEL SENNA / AFP

Recently, Morocco sought to rejoin the African Union after years of voluntarily staying out of the Union. Morocco stayed out of the Union because it was censured for occupying Western Sahara. Western Sahara was a Portuguese colony, which the Portuguese abandoned those years ago after the colonels revolution in Portugal freed both Portugal and its colonies from oppression. Hardly had Portugal left Western Sahara when Morocco occupied the territory. The Sahrawi Arab Republic was disallowed from ruling over its territory by the force of Moroccan arms. Polisario Front is the military wing of the Sahrawi Republic fighting for the liberation of The Sahrawi Republic from the yoke of Morocco. What did Portugal lose that Morocco wanted to gain?

Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic was a profitable colony for Portugal being an abundant source of phosphate used in fertiliser and explosive manufactures. It is reported that Morocco earned some US$200 million in phosphate export from the territory last year.

Naturally, one of the ways of fighting Morocco and forcing it to give up its control of Western Sahara is to fight its exploitation of phosphate from the territory. Both the African Union and the United Nations support the Polisario Front in this struggle. It is in the line of this struggle that a South African court ordered that the ship Cherry Blossom be detained when it made an unscheduled stop in the South African port of Port Elizabeth. The ship was carrying five million US dollars worth of Moroccan phosphate for delivery to New Zealand agri-business. Polisario had requested South Africa to do this in May this year claiming that the phosphate did not belong to Morocco but to the people and government of Western Sahara.

Morocco protested against what it termed an assault on world-wide legitimate trade and promised to fight to get the ship released to go on to New Zealand to deliver its cargo of phosphate. New Zealand also pitched in to assert that the phosphate was legally purchased from Morocco and that it was a legal over-reach on the part of the South African court to stop legitimate trade in international waters. Both Morocco and New Zealand asserted that politics was being allowed to interfere with free trade.

How did Morocco wangle its way back into the African Union after it had left the Union in protest against being prevented from occupying Western Sahara? Why did it need to get back into the African Union? The first question is much easier to answer than the second question. Sometime in the last months of 2016, various delegations of Morocco visited the capitals of African countries including Abuja in Nigeria and Pretoria and Cape Town in South Africa.

Rumour, that constant companion of politics and diplomacy, has it that Ghana-must-go bags of money changed hands in these travels. In no time at all, the motion of re-admission of Morocco was moved in Addis Ababa and it was passed. Once more Morocco was in the African Union and the liberation of Western Sahara was further postponed into the future.

As stated earlier 55,000 tonnes of phosphate mineral rock had been detained by court order in South Africa. This cargo had been illegally exported from occupied Western Sahara in April for delivery to the New Zealand fertiliser company Ballance Agri-Nutrients Limited. On June 15, “the Court determined that the claim should proceed to a full trial, noting that the Sahrawi government had prima face ownership of the cargo.” In coming to its decision the court noted that the Moroccan company did not claim to have mined the phosphate with consent of the people of the territory. They did not claim to have mined it on behalf of the people. After all, most of the people of the territory live in refugee camps in Algeria. It is, therefore, untrue for Morocco to claim that they are mining and selling the mineral for the benefit of the people of the territory. And both the government in exile of Western Sahara and the liberation movement Polisario Front oppose this claim of Morocco.

Both the New Zealand company and Morocco refused to defend the case and so handed victory to the Western Sahara government and the Polisario Front. The New Zealand company withdrew because it did not wish to undermine UN Resolution Process and International Law. “We do not have the slightest doubt of our capacity to prevail on the merits of the facts and the rule of law in an unbiased forum. However, we have reluctantly come to the conclusion that participating in any trial before this forum would give further credit to a process without any legal legitimacy.”

This is the language of transition justice, a new area of justice in which both victim and victor, both oppressed and oppressor can go home with something. It is an area of justice discovered towards the end of the 20th century so that coloniser and colonised can have something to take home without the coloniser/oppressor/victor confessing its guilt and accepting to pay compensation. The colonised/oppressed/victim would stop moaning and accept the control of things going forward. Only let those who stole for so many years, those who oppressed for so many decades keep what they stole. It is the language of no victor, no vanquished. It is the end of the zero-sum gain where winner takes all.

How will this decision affect the future of the Western Sahara and the liberation work of the Polisario Front? It was in South Africa that transition justice first had its trial. Twenty years into the arrangement anger, dissatisfaction and a desire for revenge stays on the side of the colonised/oppressed/victim. On the other side, smugness and we-told-you-so resides on the side of the coloniser/oppressor/victor. This means that in a situation of colonisation and oppression a clear zero-sum solution, winner takes all victory of the colonised/oppressed is the best. No grey areas. Black or white, winner takes all, loser loses all.

Well, history retorts, that’s what happened in Haiti and look where they are after two hundred years!

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