By GEORGE KEBASO
As the world enters the Third International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism, the concern is; how long is Western Sahara going to remain in the hands of Morocco?
Western Sahara bears the tag of the forgotten African Nation. It has the distinction of being Africa\’s last colony despite being a member of the African Union.
North Africa and the Arab world in general are pushing for change in that region. This indicates that; the natives of North Africa; the Middle East and generally The Arab states, are reacting to a major realisation that is totally new in this era.
However, of more concern is the way both the media and the International Community have reacted to this scenario. Both institutions have mobilised resources worthy billions of US dollars and Euros to keep the situation in the front lines of world news.
All these resources support the right of the peoples of these countries to self determination and freedom.
But the same has not been accorded the Saharawi People of the North West African state since her occupation by Spain in the late 19th century and Morocco in the mid 20th century. To date, Morocco has continued to exploit Western Sahara’s natural resources besides daily abuse of human rights.
News headlines such as; ‘Unrest sweeps across the Arab World’, and ‘History sweeps across North Africa and the Middle East’ have recently underlined the determination of natives of Tunisia; and Egypt as they deposed long serving dictators; Ben-Ali and Hosni Mubarak respectively.
It is the same story as the people of Libya; Yemen, Jordan and Syria seek to remove dictators in their respective countries from power.
But as this rages on, the mother of all questions is; what about the forgotten State of Western Sahara? What about the inalienable right of Saharawi people to self-determination?
In his last report to the UN Security Council, Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon underlined lack of progress in achieving the self-determination of the Saharawi people, as well as the violation of human rights by the Moroccan authorities.
He adds in the report of April this year which the Security Council is currently examining: "If a final status has been reached where the population did not express their views clearly and convincingly new tensions could arise in Western Sahara and the region."
But something important to note in these revolutions is the fact that; they started off at the Gdeim Izik camp for internally displaced people (IDPs) of Western Sahara.
It happened in the SADR capital, Laayoune in the Gdeim Izik camp as Moroccan police crashed Saharawi protestors in early October 2010. They want Morocco to end her occupation of more than three decades.
Friends of the SADR believe the Moroccan authorities carried out a massacre after evacuating the camp, where about 12,000 people had gathered to claim freedom and self-determination and protest poor social and economic conditions. More than 30 people were reportedly killed.
Analysts say this marked the start of revolutions across the Arab World. But once again it baffles that nobody is speaking about Western Sahara leading the way. Not even the United Nations (UN) that has been part of a process seeking a peaceful agreement, which will provide self-determination of Saharawi people, through fair and free referendum under the UN auspices.
In 1975, Morocco occupied Western Sahara taking up a colonial legacy left by the Spanish, who had ruled it as a colony for almost a century. Before, Western Sahara territories have never been a part of Morocco.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) stated, in October 16, 1975, that the materials and information presented to it do not establish any tie of territorial sovereignty between the territory of Western Sahara and Morocco, and has not found legal ties of such nature as might affect the application of the Resolution 1514 in the decolonisation of Western Sahara and, in particular of the principal of self determination, through the free and genuine expression of the will of the people of the territory.
However, despite years of several pronouncements of her recognition of the SADR, Kenya’s foreign policy on Western Sahara has not been coherent. This is a major cause of concern in Western Sahara and countries offering close assistance; for instance Algeria- owing to Kenya’s strategic position in the region.
The country’s founding president Jomo Kenyatta, in 1971 recognised the phosphate and fish rich state. Retired President Daniel Moi, did the same as the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) chairman then. He reiterated Kenyatta’s recognition and admission of Sahara Arab Democratic Republic.
The same was done by President Mwai Kibaki in early 2005 when he received Western Sahara Ambassador to Kenya, Hamdi Bueha’s credentials only to rescind the decision on October 18, 2006. Morocco had just threatened diplomatic freeze by withdrawing her ambassador to Kenya.
In a one-page letter, while re-iterating her “support for the early achievement of a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution which will provide for the self determination of the people of Western Sahara”, the Kenyan government maintained diplomacy that; it is mindful of her role and responsibilities as “a mediator in a number of conflicts in the region, and the need to preserve and uphold its well known policy of neutrality.”
The letter written on October 18, 2006 and bearing both the government of Kenya’s Court of Arms and Ministry of Foreign Affairs emblem further stated that in line with her neutrality, Kenya had accepted a request by some of the parties to the dispute over Western Sahara, to play a mediation role, provided that all parties involved are in agreement.
And this is the position that is being questioned by countries that are supporting Western Sahara.
All UN General Assembly and Security Council resolutions on Western Sahara confirm and insist on the right of Saharawi people to self-determination.
The legal advisor of the UN, Hans Correll confirmed in 2002 that; Morocco is an occupying power and the exploitation of the natural resources of Saharawi people, in disregard of his interest and wishes, is illegal.
Thus, Kenya, as a great country in the region which had fought for her independence, should play its neutral role in international for and support the right of the Saharawi people to choose freely her destiny.