Seteolu: Morocco Has No Claim On Western Sahara

President Muhammadu Buhari has pledged Nigeria's support for the people of Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR)

President Muhammadu Buhari has pledged Nigeria’s support for the people of Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR)

Dr. Oludele Seteolu teaches at the Department of Political Science, Lagos State University (LASU). Against the backdrop of recent uproar by Moroccan delegates and subsequent walkout during African Development Week, which has again brought to the front-burner the status of Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), also known as Western Sahara, the former scribe of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) told KAMAL TAYO OROPO that Morocco’s claim on Western Sahara is inconsistent with respect for self-determination of a people.

The status of the Western Sahara is still in contention 40 years after Morocco officially annexed the territory. What options are left in resolving the impasse?

The Western Sahara is about the last column in free Africa, and the African Union has the responsibility to secure its independence. You will recall that the Western Sahara question is a fallout of the struggle of the Polisario Front and somewhere along the line, the international community exerting pressure on the Polisario Front to abandon the guerrilla war for negotiation. From that moment, Morocco, which I see as a neo-imperialist power, has attempted to subvert every negotiation and effort on the Western Sahara. It is my impression that the North African countries are not serious about the agitation for self-determination of the Saharawi people. And I suppose that the African Union should be more emphatic about the question of these people. Morocco must come the understanding that the right of the Saharawi people cannot continue to be denied.

On its part, Morocco insists that the Western Sahara is part of its territory and that those claiming citizenship of the desert are a rebel group. If this were so, why would any other nation-state interfere in a so-called internal affair of another State or encourage cessationist tendencies?

Western Sahara is not part of Morocco; it is not. There has been a referendum in which the Saharawi people preferred an independent state. At the level of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), we went to the Western Sahara and met with the Saharawi people. The preponderance of opinion is that the Saharawi people are not Moroccans and should not be subjugated under Morocco. They are of different identity and they are asking for an independent state. In the spirit of peace and reconciliation, they abandon the guerrilla war and accepted political settlement, which ought to lead to their recognition as a sovereign state, but Morocco has not been keeping its end of the bargain. The Saharawi people are not rebel group; should not be labeled as such. They have a right to their homeland.

Morocco would not have been so desperate about appropriating to itself if that territory were not economically useful in terms of fish and oil. You will recall that Morocco is a major exporter of canned-fish. Morocco is working towards expropriation all of these resources.

The people of Western Sahara have the right to their independence. I do not see it as supporting secession. You know, there is a problem with who defines a cessationist; just like the same with who defines a terrorist. It is a question of power relations.

You will recall that Pan-African Congress and the African National Congress rose in their struggle against apartheid, the West; the United States, Britain and their allies, designated them as terrorist organisations. Of course, these groups refused the labeling, insisting that they are freedom fighters. These are just political labeling to shoot down the political machination of a power bloc at a point in time. Describing the Saharawi people as rebel group or cessationists are just political labeling by those oppose to their agitation. They have never been part of morocco. They deserve independence and they should have their independence as a sovereign state different from morocco.
If it is such a clear case, why has the United Nations not accorded the territory a sovereign state status?

You will appreciate that the United Nations system has its own shortcomings. In any case, it does not have its own police force to enforce its decisions. You will recall that Israel has severally violated the United Nations’ resolution with alarming impunity and nothing has happened; on the question of the state of Palestine and so-called occupied territories. Israel is ally to America. And this is the reason Israel has been violating various United Nations resolutions on the Palestinian question without a reprimand from the global community. It is the limitation of the United Nations system.

During one of the meetings we, civil society and organised labour from Nigeria had at the Femi Falana Chambers with a Saharawi ambassador, and we are convinced of their case.

The civil society in Nigeria is vehement about the question of the Saharawi and the Nigerian-state cannot afford to remain unconcerned. Yes, the fact that the ambassador of the Saharawi people came to Nigeria and was warmly welcomed shows that there is a de facto recognition of the state, but there is need for a de jure recognition of the entity. This will give the territory the chance to join the rest of the world in the United Nations system, the African Union and other multilateral organisations as a sovereign nation; without Morocco breathing down its neck. The territory needs more than the de facto recognition it presently enjoys on the continent of Africa. It is unfortunate that other nations are dragging in fully recognising the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR).

I believe Nigeria could seriously lead in this direction; except if the country wants to continue shying away from her regional responsibilities. At least, Nigeria could play a middle role and it could also encourage and exert pressures on other countries as well. This would put pressure on Morocco and forcing it to do what is just.

You will recall what happened in 1975 when Nigeria successfully intervened in the UNITA and MPLA imbroglio in Angola. That’s a very historical and very assertive role Nigeria played under the General Murtala Mohammed-led administration.

Would it be in the Nigerian national interest to go the full hog and confirmed the de jure recognition? And when it does, how would it affect Nigerian-Moroccan relationship? What investments does Morocco has in Nigeria?

But given Nigeria’s historical role in the liberation struggle on the continent, I will expect that Nigeria, in consonant with other African countries and under the African Union, to take concrete steps that would end the quagmire.

From the Moroccan point of view, do you believe the AU has been fair to this country, which was one of the founding fathers of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), the front-runner to the AU?

I fully appreciate the fact that Morocco is one of the founding members of the AU, but that should not prevent the struggle of a people to self-determination and the right to exist. The territory was never part of Morocco. Morocco annexed the Western Sahara contrary to UN regulations. Western Sahara was at a time a Spanish enclave and after the Spanish left, Morocco exploited the situation. But what power does Morocco have under international law to annex a territory, which is under the trusteeship of the international community?

In this light, the AU should be more creative. I would suggest a special convention of Heads of State, specifically on the Western Sahara question. They should come together with the intention of reaching concrete decision on the territory. I will also ask for conduct of fresh election, a referendum, of the people of Western Sahara in that territory with the specific question to determine the status of the entity; whether they want to be part of Morocco or they want an independent status.

Consequently, I will expect Morocco and Western Sahara to sign documents that the outcome would be respected. Again, it will be very important to encourage both Morocco and Western Sahara representatives to come to negotiation that will recognise the independence of Western Sahara.

When we visited the place sometime ago, the people of Western Sahara, in terms of identity, history, cultural affiliation, colour, language, etc; to an extent are a bit different from Morocco. On the whole, I will expect the African Union to be extremely more creative and the leadership of the AU should be more assertive. They have little choice than to respect the right of the people to self-determination. And in the case of the Saharawi people, it should be irrespective of powers and alliances that lie behind Morocco’s claim. The rights of the people to self-determination are inalienable and must be recognised and respected. Otherwise, they might be compelled to resort to guerrilla war to achieve their desire.



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