Pretoria - The Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) says the continued delay by Morocco to grant the people of Western Sahara independence and self-determination is a slur to the African continent, and that the world should speak with one voice against the Moroccon occupation.
Speaking in Pretoria during a two-day SADC Solidarity Conference with the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), SADC chairperson and Namibian President Hage Geingob said until the people of Saharawi attained independence and self- determination from Morocco, there was no freedom in Africa.
President Geingob argued that although the decision to support Western Sahara had been taken at numerous international forums and bodies, the outcomes were later to be violated for colonial convenience.
“We are here to reaffirm our solidarity with the people of Western Sahara as they struggle in their legal right for self-determination. We have explicitly outlined our visions and aspirations. These will not be achieved in the absence of freedom of all of Africa. The prolonged impasse will have grave consequences. We can only move forward if freedom is guaranteed on all our citizens. Freedom is not a gift to the people of Western Sahara, it is a right. Freedom is their birth right,” said President Geingob.
The SADC chair also expressed disappointment over divisions that have erupted on the African continent with regards the Western Sahara issue.
“I am aware of growing divisions in our continent on this issue. There is an agenda to render our support for Western Sahara ineffective. These tactics were employed by countries which oppress us and those who supported inhumane oppression in Africa. I am told there is another meeting going on in Morocco to coincide with our summit and some SADC members are there. We should therefore ask ourselves, are we as SADC united or do we need a new approach?” he added.
President Geingob reminded delegates that although SADC was opposed to the admission of Morocco into the African Union, its acceptance by the majority of African nations was supposed to be for the better.
“SADC was opposed to the admission of Morocco into the African Union fraternity. However, the majority of AU countries voted for Morocco to be included in the AU fraternity so that we can discuss these issues as brothers and sisters and we thought that since they are now in the AU we would work together.”
Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa said African leaders cannot continue to fail the people of Western Sahara and should unrelentingly persist to make clarion calls to the world that enough is enough.
Also speaking at the conference, President Mnangagwa said the liberation of SADR should top the continent’s priorities.
“The quest for sustainable peace and collective prosperity in the implementation of Africa’s Agenda 2063 will not be fully realised, while the people of the Saharawi toil and suffer in a cycle of oppression and deprivation, perpetrated by another member of the African family. The liberation of the Saharawi people should stand at the forefront of our continental priorities,” he said.
“We completely reject, in toto, the notion that the African Union (AU) has no locus standi in the dispute over Western Sahara. The belligerent parties are African fighting over territory in Africa.
“The African Union and all member States have a vested interest in this matter. In this regard, we call on all AU member States to extend their full support to the former President of Mozambique, Joaquim Chissano, in the execution of his mandate as the AU High Representative to the Western Sahara.”
President Mnangagwa called Morocco to live up to the principles of the AU’s constitutive Act which they acceded to when they rejoined the continental body in 2017 stipulating that member states should respect Borders existing on achievement on independence.
“We further urge them to respect the international human rights laws, in respect to its application in occupied territories, notably the right to freedom of association, assembly, movement and expression. In the same spirit, the illegal exploration and exploitation of the natural resources of Western Sahara by foreign forces should cease.”
President Mnangagwa called for the SADR and Morocco to find each other when the second round of their talks begin.
“In the same vein, we appeal to the international community to help establish mechanisms to engage the various stakeholders and partners, including Morocco, to adhere to the AU Decisions and United Nations Resolutions in order to expedite the conclusive settlement of this dispute,” he said.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni described the continued occupation of SADR by Morocco as a mistake that can only be done by an enemy.
“Morocco must be told very clear that this enemy action must stop,” the Ugandan leader said as he bemoaned lack of unity in tackling the SADR crisis.
Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo said until all of Africa is liberated, none of the nations should celebrate independence calling on all sub regional groups to work towards a lasting solution in SADR.
President Obasanjo called on South Africa, a member of the UN Security Council, to appraise the permanent members of the UNSC of the situation in SADR.
Host President Cyril Ramaphosa said the AU and the UN have a great role to play if the Western Sahara impasse was to be resolved with the urgency that it deserves.
“We are here to deliberate on the way in which we can use our respective positions with the United Nations and African Union to advocate for the urgent implementation, without delay, of all the UN Security Council and AU decisions on Western Sahara, including the holding of a referendum.
“It is only through the implementation of these decisions that a solution to the Western Sahara question can be achieved. This must be done in the spirit of multilateralism, based on the Charter of the United Nations and the applicable provisions of the African Union,” said President Ramaphosa.
He also showed gratitude to the international community and countries which were supporting the cause of the people of Western Sahara.
“We are immensely encouraged by the efforts of the Personal Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Western Sahara, former German President Horst Koehler, who is facilitating a political dialogue between the Kingdom of Morocco and the Polisario Front. This is a development to be welcomed and encouraged.
“As countries of the SADC region who have waged struggles in pursuit of our own liberation, we know too well the pain of being deprived of the right to be treated as full citizens in the land of one’s birth. So long as the aspirations of the people of Western Sahara are not met, we will fall short of realising the vision of the AU’s Agenda 2063 of a continent at peace with itself,” said President Ramaphosa.
As SADC reaffirmed its solidarity with the people of Western Sahara, its President Brahim Ghali said the SADC Solidarity Conference was a clear message to demand the attainment of justice.
“This conference is a reminder of landmark decisions such as the International Court of Justice (in 1975) which denies the Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara... the countries are two distinct states. The court’s decision forbids the exploitation of the Western Saharawi’s natural resources without the consent of [its] people. The conference is an explicit message to Morocco and the European Union to stop the illegal plundering and exploitation of the country’s natural resources,” said President Ghali.
The SADC Solidarity Conference, which was attended by presidents and representatives from the SADC region and others from beyond, was aimed at showing support for the people of Western Sahara, which has struggled to gain independence from Morocco since 1976.
On Monday, South Africa's ruling ANC chairperson Gwede Mantashe slammed Morocco for holding a parallel conference on the issue of Western Sahara's independence, on the same day that the SADC solidarity conference kicked off.
"They are exploiting even the Western Sahara resources. They are using them to buy support and they are succeeding on the continent," he said.
Western Sahara is rich in phosphates and other minerals and Mantashe claimed that Morocco also "bought" support to be admitted into the AU in January 2017 from the majority of African states.
Western Sahara is the remaining African country still under colonial oppression.
Under the leadership of the Polisario Front which was established in 1973, the people of Western Sahara have waged a gallant struggle against foreign domination and the foreign colonial tutelage of Morocco.