South Africa has hosted dozens of African countries in Pretoria to express solidarity with the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (Western Sahara), the only African nation still being colonized by its neighbour Morocco.
The two-day Solidarity Conference with Western Sahara held on March 25 and 26 was attended by heads of state and ministers of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and leaders from other regions including presidents of South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Uganda and the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic among other leaders.
Present were representatives from the African Union, Angola, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Algeria, Uganda, Botswana, Nigeria, United Kingdom, Cuba, Mozambique, Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, Malawi, Eswatini, Mauritius, Tanzania, Seychelles, Kenya, Venezuela, Sao Tome and Principe, Timo-Leste and Western Sahara.
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“Gathered here today are men and women of conscience. You stood by South Africa during the struggle for our own liberation and today you affirm your solidarity with the Saharawi people in their quest for self-determination,” said South African president Cyril Ramaphosa as he opened the gathering.
“It has been 43 years since Western Sahara was annexed. For 4 decades the people of Western Sahara have had to endure dispossession, displacement, conflict & deprivation of their liberties.
“The Saharawi people have lived in refugee camps in Algeria since the ‘70s, making this one of the longest humanitarian crises the world has known. In these camps, men, women and children live in desperate conditions,” he recounts.
He called on Africa and the world to step up international solidarity efforts for the freedom of the people of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic while “harnessing the spirit of cooperation and of multilateralism in pursuit of a continent in which all its people are free.”
Hage Geingob, the President of Namibia who is currently the Chairman of SADC, also expressed his country’s commitmment and unwavering support for the people of Western Sahara.
For the president of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic, Brahim Ghali, the conference is a “confirmation of clarity of the situation in Saharawi in the point of international law.”
“This conference is an explicit message to Morocco to stop the illegal exploitation of the Saharawi natural resources,” he warned.
The Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic is the 55th member of the African Union which represents the 54 independent nations of the continent. The mysterious state is represented by a Sahrawi nationalist movement, the Polisario Front.
However, Western Sahara – 80% of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic – is under the control of Morocco, which has refused to surrender the territory after Spain relinquished its colonial administrative control in 1975.
Western Sahara is bordered by Morocco to the north, Algeria to the northeast, Mauritania to the east and south, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west.
Morocco considers the disputed thin strip of desert flatlands with an estimated population of just over 500,000 as its Southern Provinces and buffer zone with waning support from the United States and France.
Spain left the territory to Morocco and Mauritania after UN resolutions seeking its decolonization. Morocco clinched on to Western Sahara’s control and Mauritania withdrew its interest in 1979 following a four-year guerrilla warfare with the Polisario Front supported by Algeria.
The SADR government, which considers Western Sahara as an occupied territory, is recognized by 40 United Nation states and the African Union. The UN has listed Western Sahara as among the Non-Self-Governing Territories since 1963 following a Moroccan demand after claiming the territory in 1957.
The United Nations has always considered the Polisario Front to be the legitimate representative of Western Sahara and its people while maintaining that they have the right to self-determination.
Since 1991 after a UN-backed ceasefire overseen by the peacekeeping mission MINURSO under the terms of a UN Settlement Plan and referendum originally scheduled for 1992, the fate of Western Sahara has never been decided.
Morocco has stalled the referendum that will give the local population the option to choose between independence or integration with Morocco. They raised issues including qualification to be registered to participate in the referendum since the ethnically Sahrawis are scattered in other countries around Western Sahara.
Also, Morocco has on multiple occasions rejected voter lists presented by the UN based on the Spanish census of 1974. It insisted that each application be scrutinized individually and complained of infiltration despite the list bearing names of Sahrawis in Morocco, Mauritania and Algeria.
The SADR government is currently based in the Sahrawi refugee camps located in the Tindouf Province of western Algeria where it is in exile. It is headquartered in Camp Rabouni, south of Tindouf.
The Moroccan annexation has divided international states into two and the Moroccan government has in the past cut diplomatic ties with countries and organisations that supported the autonomy of Western Sahara.
Morocco had pulled out of the African Union since 1984 under King Hassan II due to the continental body’s support of the independence of Western Sahara. It rejoined in 2017 after King Mohamed VI’s renewed plan to offer autonomy to Western Sahara while keeping it under Moroccan sovereignty instead of independence.
(170131) — ADDIS ABABA, Jan. 31, 2017 (Xinhua) — King Mohammed VI (C) of Morocco addresses the closing ceremony of the 28th African Union (AU) summit in Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia, on Jan. 31, 2017. After leaving the pan African organization three decades ago, Morocco rejoined the African Union (AU) on Tuesday during the summit. (Xinhua/Li Baishun)
The occupation has resulted in the displacement of tens of thousands of Sahrawi civilians from the country as Morocco wants to continue reaping from its resources which include valuable phosphates, oil, and fish stocks.
The Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic has its government, constitution, culture, military, currency, legislature, capital, national holidays and a people that need their nation back. As Morocco continues to stall the referendum, Sahrawis continue to live in exile awaiting their dream.