By Owei Lakemfa
African people who have no rights are beaten, kicked and killed; men, women and children. They are citizens who can, and are deported. Their natural resources are exploited without their consent, and from these, they derive no benefits. Their human rights are violated right under the noses of United Nations troops without the latter lifting a finger. As a people, they are forced to live in two countries under three different arrangements. The bulk live in occupied territories, some in a self rule zone and the rest have been living in Algerian refugee camps for 40 years now.
There are three infamous walls in contemporary human history: the Berlin Wall in Germany which has been pulled down, the Israeli Wall on Palestinian territory, and this one in Africa which is mined. Like a god that demands human sacrifice, this wall takes lives and claims limbs. Welcome to Western Sahara!
The decade from the mid-1950s was one of independence for most of Africa. Independence for many African countries was accelerated with the December 14, 1960 United Nations General Assembly Resolution 1514 which declared that: “All peoples have the right to self-determination ; by virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development”. The UN made no exception, not even of Apartheid South Africa.
When Kwame Nkrumah stood at the Polo Ground, Accra on March 6, 1957 and declared that “the independence of Ghana is meaningless unless it is linked with the total liberation of the African Continent”, he could not have imagined that 58 years later, a part of Africa will remain colonised. Worse still, that the colonialists would not be the traditional Europeans, but a fellow African country!
This is tragically the case today with the continued occupation and colonisation of Western Sahara by its neighbour, Morocco. To be sure, Morocco was not the original colonialist; it was itself, a colony of France for 44 years before independence in 1956. On the other hand, Western Sahara was made a Protectorate (colonised) by Spain in 1884, that is 131 years ago!
When colonised peoples made a bid for freedom, the Saharawis were in the race. But like the Portuguese colonies of Angola, Mozambique, Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde, a brutal colonial master denied it independence. However, in the mid-1970s, independence was at hand for all, except that in the case of Western Sahara, it was stopped in its tracks. Colonial Spain sought a way to continue exploitation of the natural resources; it found an ingenious one by inviting two materialistic neighbours of Western Sahara: Morocco and Mauritania, to partake in the feast. The arrangement was simple: the two African countries were to hold and own the Western Sahara cow while Spain, and now, other European countries, will milk it.
The threesome met in Madrib on November 4, 1975 and signed the so-called Madrib Accord under which Spain sliced Western Sahara into three portions, gave two to Morocco and the third to Mauritania. Following a war of liberation waged by the Saharawis under POLISARIO, Mauritania dropped its share in 1979 only for the Moroccan monarchy to gallop and add this share to its own.
The connivance between a departing colonialist and its African collaborators has today made Western Sahara the last known colony in Africa. The Monarchists in Rabat had claimed that the former was part of ‘Greater Morocco’. But the International Court Of Justice, ICJ, had put paid to that with its 1975 findings that there was no evidence of “any tie of territorial sovereignty” between Western Sahara and Morocco.
The voracious appetite of the Moroccan Monarchy for territory almost tore Africa into two, but in 1984, the Organisation of African Unity, OAU/AU, decided to recognise and admit Western Sahara as an independent member.
Morocco would have none of it, and walked out. Until today, it remains outside the brotherly union of African states. It has held on so far because it is heavily backed by Europe and America, and pampered by some African states.
The UN’s role in the continued colonisation of Western Sahara is one of its low points. After the cease fire in the Moroccan – Saharawi war, the UN Security Council in Resolution 690 of April 29, 1991, established a peace keeping force, MINURSO, in the territory with the mandate to “ensure a free and fair referendum and proclaim the results”.
But after 24 years, and four UN Secretaries General: Javier Perez de Cuellar, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Kofi Anan and now, Ban Ki-moon, the UN has been incapable of carrying out this simple task. When the matter came up again at the Security Council on May 28, 2015, all it did was to extend the MINURSO mandate by one year. On the referendum and the need for the MINURSO at least to monitor the serious human rights violations in the territory, including the murder of women, it made no decision. It appeared satisfied with the bland statement of Ki-Moon that the way forward is for “renewed meetings and strengthening of contracts”.
The UN is unwilling to implement its simple resolution primarily because ‘the international community’ which is the European Union and the US, have vested interests in Morocco’s continued colonisation of the territory. Some European countries, in the name of ‘trade’ agreements with Morocco, are actively looting Western Sahara natural resources, including its fishes and phosphate.
What the free world can do “Towards The Liberation Of Africa’s Last Colony” was the theme of the Nigerian Academic Staff Union Of Universities, ASUU, international conference held in Abuja from June 2 to 4, 2015. Attended by people from various parts of the world, including the ambassadors of South Africa, Algeria, Mozambique, Namibia, South Sudan, Botswana, Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Malaysia, Tanzania and Vietnam, and representatives of the African Union and the Nigerian Government, the Conference drew up a frame work for the decolonisation of Western Sahara. As decent human beings, we must all unite and fight for freedom in Western Sahara as we did in Apartheid South Africa.