Morocco recently celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Green March, a remarkable event in 1975 that allowed the country to take back peacefully, the territory of Sahara formerly occupied by Spain. Giving a public speech after visiting Laayoune, the King of Morocco Mohammed VI made a declaration that could form a subject in diplomacy by students of the international politics at least in the eyes of the rest of the world.
In the days ahead, according to king Mohammed, the kingdom of Morocco “will face up to all attempts that seek to cast doubts on the legal status of the Moroccan Sahara or question our country’s right to exercise its powers and prerogatives fully on its land, in the southern provinces, just as it does in the northern part of the country”
This new pronouncement over the status of the area came just as King Mohammed VI presided over a ceremony in Western Sahara to launch a new development programin the territory last month.
It was the king’s first official visit to Western Sahara since 2006 and is part of a campaign to promote the country’s decentralization plan and boost investment in Western Sahara.
Among the programmes being proposed are a number of development projects, spanning from a port in the coastal city of Dakhla, to a railway connecting Marrakech to the contested town of Lagouira.
But in the face of a campaign for self-determination by local Saharawi people in a territory considered by Morocco as part of its Kingdom, there may be no more offer of any further autonomy. King Mohammed’s stance that there would be no compromise over Morocco’s claim to Western Sahara directly attests to this.
“Those who are waiting for any other concession on Morocco’s part are deceiving themselves…Indeed, Morocco has given all there was to give.” He was quoted by the Associated Press (AP) as saying.
Even though Western Sahara authorities have since released a statement describing the King’s speech as a “dangerous, escalatory step”, Rabat was actually drawing global attention to the “futility” of any other course of action that runs contrary to its autonomy initiative.
In a state of the nation address on the Green March anniversary, King Mohammed VI stressed: “Morocco rejects any foolish, adventurous course of action that could have serious consequences, as well as any useless, unworkable proposal whose only aim is to undermine the positive momentum created by the Autonomy Initiative”
“Just as we make no distinction between the northern and the southern parts of Morocco, we see no difference between tomatoes from Agadir and those from Dakhla, sardines from Larache and those from Boujdour, phosphates from Khouribga and those from Boucraa – even though the latter represent less than 2% of our national reserves, as confirmed by universally recognized data”, the Sovereign said, pledging to “face up to all attempts that seek to cast doubts on the legal status of the Moroccan Sahara or question our country’s right to exercise its powers and prerogatives fully on its land, in the southern provinces, just as it does in the northern part of the country” He added.
However, King Mohammed VI has since called for a revisit of the social welfare system to make it more transparent and equitable and according to him, “to make sure the dignity of our fellow citizens in the Sahara is safeguarded, particularly that of younger generations and to strengthen their love for their country and their attachment to their homeland”.
What promise is held aloft for the people of Western Sahara? The stand out one is the pledge that revenues from the mineral-rich Western Sahara will continue to be invested locally for the Saharawi. This is also to be backed by a 7.2 billion Euro development plan for the region.
In what might interest countries in Western, Eastern and Southern Africa, Morocco has also now pledged to make the area a hub for communication and exchange with sub-Saharan African countries and to build the infrastructure necessary for that course of action.
The issues, claims and conflict in Western Sahara has always caught the eyes of the world. It did not escape the attention of the United Nations (UN) in the Green March month with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon calling for negotiations in the coming months to settle the frozen conflict over Western Sahara.
“This conflict must be brought to an end if the people of the region are to meet their shared challenges and achieve their full potential,” Ban said in a statement.
Stressing that the situation in Western Sahara is becoming increasingly alarming, Ban said he has now asked his envoy Christopher Ross to intensify efforts to bring Morocco and the Algerian-backed Polisario Front to the table: “I urge all concerned within the region and within the broader international community to take advantage of my personal envoy’s intensified efforts to facilitate the launching of true negotiationsin the coming months” He added.
Since 1991, the UN has been trying to broker a settlement for Western Sahara, following a ceasefire that was reached to end hostilities that arose after Morocco sent troops to the former Spanish territory in 1975.The issue of statehood determination referendum is yet to be resolved.
Of concern to international relations observers is the fact that the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), established by Security Council resolution 690 of 29 April 1991 is said to be the only UN mission that does not have a mandate to report on human rights violations.
Multiple agency reports say Ban has called for UN monitors to be sent to Western Sahara just as he is said to be planning a visit to the territory. The expectation is that such a visit can advance peace efforts before his term as secretary-general ends in December 2016.
Auspicious visits such as the one that has just been undertaken by the king of Morocco reminds the rest of the world of the unfinished business in Western Sahara.
By ARTHUR OBAYUWANA