Is Africa afraid of Rich Morocco?

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In a “modern” world where we are repeatedly told that the past does not matter, and that the liberation struggles of just a few years ago are ancient history, Kwame Nkrumah is not fashionable.

Which is really tragic, considering that he is the man who tried to impress upon the continent that the freedom of one African country is meaningless while another remains in bondage.

It is a valuable lesson that belies the claims of futurism that assail young Africans today.

There is still a colonised country in Africa today. It is called the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. Other people know it as Western Sahara.

And the full horror of it is that the people of Sahrawi live under the oppression of a fellow African country: Morocco.

This week authorities in Morocco scaled up their military operations against Sahrawi. The African Union and the United Nations, as they should, have condemned the escalation of the oppression.

The land known as Western Sahara has endured more than its fair share of hardship.

Around the 8th century, Arab expansionists gained control of the area. Within 300 years, their influence had spread across much of Morocco and the Iberian Peninsula.

Another power of the time, the Mali Empire, collapsed roundabout the 12th century and this allowed Morocco to gain control over much of Western Sahara, though they had to fight off the Portuguese for the right to oppress the Sahrawi people right into the 1500s.

Then came the Berlin Conference in the 19th century, and France and Spain divvied up the land between themselves.

From the 1940s, the people of Sahrawi took up arms to fight for their freedom, and they did this under the banner of the Polisario Front, which led the war against Spanish colonialism.

It took around 30 years of struggle, but by 1975 Spain could not sustain the cost of oppressing Sahrawi and negotiated an end to its colonial control with the Polisario Front.

But Sahrawi’s problems were not yet over.

Next door was the nation of Morocco, which wanted to reassert its pre-Spain colonial oppression and exploitation of Western Sahara.

Anyone would have been forgiven for thinking that Morocco would play the good neighbour and turn its back on colonialism.

After all, Morocco had endured Spanish and French colonialism and knew the pain of living under oppression.

Also, back in 1777 Morocco became the first country in the world to recognise the United States as an independent nation; and by 1786 the two had signed the Moroccan-American Treaty of Friendship.

If Morocco could stretch a hand of friendship across the Atlantic Ocean, surely it could stretch one across the border to the people of Sahrawi.

But no.

Morocco proclaimed sovereignty over Western Sahara before it could even take two breaths of independent air.

An intervention by the UN found that the people of Sahrawi did not want to be under Moroccan rule; they wanted to be free.

The International Court of Justice upheld this and agreed with Western Sahara’s right to self-determination.

None of mattered to Morocco, and Rabat deployed its military in the country even before the last Spanish troops had pulled out.

Interesting how Morocco could deploy troops to help Sahrawi fight Spain. But it could deploy troops to oppress it once more.

So Sahrawi went from the frying pan to the fire; removing the yoke of Spanish oppression only to be put under the unyielding boot of Morocco.

The Polisario Front formed a government-in-exile in Algeria, and in 1982 the Organisation of African Unity, ably steered by Brigadier Hashim Mbita’s African Liberation Committee, admitted Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic as a member of the continental bloc.

Two years later, Morocco quit the OAU in protest because African leaders would not condone the colonisation of a fellow African country by another African country.

A few years back, the Africa Union readmitted Morocco as a member.

It does not matter that Morocco insists – with use of arms of war – on its “right” to colonise another African country.

Even as nearly 200,000 Saharawi people live as refugees today, the AU welcomes Morocco with open arms.

Because Morocco is rich. Because the Moroccan ruling elite have blood ties to the even richer Saudis.

Rich Morocco will continue to be allowed to exploit the phosphate, uranium and oil potential of Sahrawi while the owners of that land live in abject poverty, many of them far from home.

Rich Morocco will be allowed to escalate its military oppression of Western Sahara without any consequences.

Rich Morocco will continue to send envoys across Africa, bearing who knows what sweet gifts, to cajole pliant African leaders into looking the other way as part of a sick diplomatic game.

Rich Morocco probably frightens the rest of Africa because since 1950 it has been the second-largest recipient of American money in Africa.

It matters not that Morocco has allegedly used napalm, white phosphorous and other horrendous weapons against unarmed fellow Africans.

Konstantina Isidoros has said that, “The Sahrawi struggle for independence strikes at the heart of our core principles of law and human rights.

“Are they to be applied uniformly across the globe to safeguard human rights, or is it tolerable that some societies cannot have human rights?

“… No matter what Morocco says, the fundamental benchmark is that of international law. It neither supports Morocco's contemporary political thesis nor its historical claims to sovereignty over the Western Sahara.

“Morocco consistently uses its sophisticated resources to paint a poor picture of the Sahrawi, especially of the Polisario Front.”

For Africa and Africans, the matter of Sahrawi is one of principle, it is one of human dignity and it is one of rule of law. 

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