Once again, Morocco’s diplomatic flaws are in full display for the world to see. Rabat’s lack of a strategy to counter and diffuse the potential political windfall from the United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon visit to Algeria is staggering and confounding.
The Polisario leaders have been pushing Mr. Ban Ki-moon to visit their camps for years hoping to score a diplomatic and public relations coup. Now, here they are, celebrating their success while Moroccan are struggling to come up with a response.
The Moroccan people are hoping that Ban Ki-moon visit with the Polisario and his description of Morocco’s presence in the Sahara as “occupation” will force a major rethinking of the Royal Palace strategy in the conflict. The Moroccan officials’ decision to ignore this event is having an effect, though probably not the one they intended, since it has boosted Algeria’s arguments.
As the Polisario separatists and their Algerian backers celebrate a diplomatic success, Morocco is relegated to a sour complainer without a response. The big question remains whether this misstep would induce people in charge of the Sahara dossier, to create an inclusive, transparent and competent quartet to manage the conflict.
In fact, this visit to the Polisario camps in southern Algeria exposes, or re-exposes, a few things about Morocco’s dysfunctional diplomacy:
Morocco lacks a blue print and a master plan detailing a strategy on how to manage the United Nations “biased” positions that seem to favor a ‘self-determination referendum” versus Morocco’s Local Autonomy Plan for the Sahara.
A good number of Moroccan officials lack basic diplomatic and historical knowledge of the Sahara conflict. It is time to train and re-train Moroccan diplomats, ministers and parliamentarians on the details of the “western Sahara” dossier. They have a deep-seated ignorance of Morocco’s positions and strategy at the United Nations, the European Union and in key world capitals.
Even though King Mohammed VI appointed dozens of new ambassadors from a variety of backgrounds, few of them would be able to freely and spontaneously undertake diplomatic initiatives without the blessing of few people in charge. This bureaucratic obstacle hampers the work of ambassadors and demoralized Moroccan activists around the globe.
Moroccan diplomats, including ambassadors, are utterly uninformed on procedural grounds making it harder for them to respond Polisario’s maneuvers at internationals forms. This weakness is evident at the United Security Council and the European Court.
Algeria, the real power-broker in this conflict, has been weakened strategically due to a fragile petro-economy, internal infighting and political upheaval within the military establishment. Yet, Polisario operators have been playing it well and winning in some cases.
Die-hard pro-Algeria Sahrawi activists studied the Moroccan system and have used Rabat’s slow moving and heavily centralized diplomacy to their advantage. Thus, the Royal Palace has to empower Moroccan diplomats to go in the attack when time is opportune without risking reprehension or dismissal.
Moroccan officials must dispel the myth that their nation is a roadblock to finding a solution to this conflict. To do that effectively, diplomats and politicians should familiarize themselves with Morocco’s Local Autonomy Plan. The facade that Algeria and Mauritania are supporting the U.N. efforts while Morocco is opposing must be exposed.
Morocco failed to expose Algeria’s role in the perpetuation of the Sahara conflict. Efforts must be redoubled and focused on showing the world that this dispute is nothing more that and Algerian proxy war and a regional struggle between two neighboring countries, Morocco and Algeria over regional “supremacy”.
The U.N. chief’s visit to the region has put Morocco in an awkward position, yet Rabat’s reaction was a dead silence for weeks. This diplomatic absence has created a wave of public indignation among Moroccans inside and outside the country.
Furthermore, the Polisario leadership used the U.N. Chief’s visit to make a strong pitch for independence, While Moroccan officials resorted to complaining and criticizing. Such “strategy”, or lack thereof, will have a negative long-term effects on Morocco positions inside the United Nations and outside it.