Western Sahara: South African Foreign Affairs Ministry' s Headlong Rush to Disrupt the UN Process

I was flabbergasted when I read Mr. Luwellyn Landers' (MP and Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation of the Republic of South Africa) statement at "the Western Sahara Side-Event, on 27 February 2019, on the 'European Union and its Member State’s Responsibility for the Decolonization of Western Sahara". 

The minister said that Morocco is an "occupying power" in Western Sahara, corroborating his statement by citing the European Court of Justice, and the High Court of South Africa. The reason for my dismay is that as a Minister and MP, Mr. Landers, the second in command of South African foreign affairs department, most probably knows that it is not up to these courts to decide the status of the Western Sahara territory. 

A political process has been under way for three decades to monitor the ceasefire, discuss the feasibility of a referendum, discuss new ideas to overcome the stalemate (including autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty), organize family visits, persuade the Algerians and the Polisario to carry out a census of the refugees and apply the Geneva Convention to them etc.

This process has been overseen by the UN Security Council, implemented by the UN Secretary General and his personal envoy, with logistical and security help form the MINURSO, and support from the International Community, including the European Union and the African Union. It is this process which is supposed to lead to a mutually acceptable solution and not non-binding court rulings that will decide the fate of the territory and its population. 

I am equally amazed that the Minister speaks of the conflict but completely ignores the history of the region, and specifically the history of Western Sahara and its relation to Morocco. Had he done his homework, he would have found out that Western Sahara was not only part of Morocco since the tenth Century but was the birthplace of several of its ruling dynasties, among which the Almoravids, the rulers that swept form the dunes of the Sahara all over Northwestern Africa and the Iberian Peninsula in the 11th and the 12th Centuries. 

Western Sahara tribes have always had allegiance ties with Moroccan Kings, as confirmed by the International Court of Justice advisory ruling of October 16, 1975. 

If the Honorable MP had taken the time to look at the diplomatic history of the region, he would have understood how European powers negotiated accords with the Moroccan Kingdom in the 18th and 19th centuries, to protect trade and navigation on the Atlantic, accords which included Western Sahara shores. Even Spain (which later, under Franco, in the late 1960s, claimed that Western Sahara was terra nullis) had, a century before then, asked for "permission" to build a "colony-port" in Western Sahara while negotiating the Tetouan War ceasefire with Morocco in 1861. 


Had Minister Landers read the modern history of the conflict, he would have learnt that it was Morocco that asked that the territory be added to the agenda of the UN General Assembly as early 1975. By then, Spain had already retroceded the town of Trafaya in 1958 and would do the same with Sidi Ifni in 1969. 

The process of decolonization had been started by Morocco in the 1950s when its Liberation Army fought the combined French and Spanish forces in the Ecouvillon operation (1958) - a process which was brought to a closure by the signature of the Madrid Accords on November 14, 1975, by virtue of which Western Sahara was retroceded to both Morocco and Mauritania. 

Morocco is a decolonizing and liberating force in Western Sahara, as it was a financial and logistical source of support for the ANC struggle against Apartheid-a support that was later recognized with dignity by the brave and visionary leader Nelson Mandela. 

The deliberate negation of history by the South African Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation is compounded by a desire on the part of South African Foreign Affairs Ministry leaders to desperately disrupt the UN process: by advocating for decisions that are still being discussed by the parties under the auspices of the UN SG Personal Envoy to Western Sahara, Horst Koehler. 


The desperate drive to torpedo the UN-sponsored political process became clear when South African Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ms. Lindiwe Sisulu, decided to hold in Pretoria an alleged solidarity meeting with the Polisario on March 25-65, 2019, to which SADC representatives have been invited. 

Not only is this meeting not in tune with the African Union Nouakchott Summit resolution in July 2018 whereby the AU supported the UN process, but is out of league with African leaders’ commitment to adopt consensual and unifying positions with regard to African conflicts and crises. The 25-26 March meeting will only usher in another obstacle in the path of African Countries' attempt to deal in one voice with issues that hinder the growth and emergence of Africa. 

In addition to that, it looks from the announcement that the meeting is biased and not neutral when it intends to discuss issues that are being negotiated by the parties, as if they had already been decided in favor of Algeria and the Polisario. This is not only divisive but not constructive at all: it would just sow the seeds of dispersion and dissent within a continent that is looking hard for ways to unify everyone behind common causes and find collective solutions to continental problems. 

The great Nelson Mandela once said: "I dream of the realization of the unity of Africa, whereby its leaders combine in their efforts to solve the problems of this continent. I dream of our vast deserts, of our forests, of all our great wildernesses."

 It is incumbent upon all of us Africans, leaders and peoples, not to sow the seeds of divisiveness, but to help realize the vision of the great African leader that was Mandela. This is how History will remember us: as unifiers and as builders of a prosperous future for every African, for all Africans. 


By Lahcen Haddad

Dr. Lahcen Hadad is a former Minister of Tourism. He is currently a member of the Moroccan parliament and active member of its Foreign Affairs Committee