After a very close and watchful eye on Morocco, after it made known its ambition to re-join the African Union in late 2016, one must now ask where does that leave the fight for self-determination and sovereignty for the people of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), the Western Sahara?
Morocco was re-admitted to the AU earlier this week as its 55th member state during the 28th AU Summit held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. In 1984 Morocco withdrew itself from the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), current AU, to protest against the admission of Western Sahara as a full member of the organisation. Morocco has continued its illegal occupation of Western Sahara in blatant disregard of resolutions adopted by the African Union and it has trampled on the very rights of the Saharawi people with impunity.
As a member of an international community who stand in solidarity with the people of the Western Sahara, the inclusion of Morocco back into the fold is a shame on the African Union when the unresolved conflict and illegal occupation of the Saharawi people still hangs in the balance. It calls to question for us to further investigate and look into the exact relationships between those that voted positively for the admission, and the Kingdom of Morocco. We must not just accept this decision, but demand an explanation on why such a decision was taken when it is in clear contradiction of the Constitutive Act of the African Union, with specific reference to Article 3 which outlines the objectives.
We cannot afford to ignore an illegal occupation spanning 41 years, where the people of the Western Sahara, both in the occupied territory, as well as in the refugee camps, have suffered inhumane conditions and have been forgotten by not only the world, but more importantly our own African community. In 1996 at the OAU Summit, Former Head of State, Nelson Mandela said, "We pledge our solidarity to the people of the Saharawi Democratic Republic in their efforts to achieve freedom and self-determination that is rightfully theirs."
Moving forward we need to view the AU decision as an opportunity because the decision could herald a potential shift of the issue from the United Nations Security Council to the AU, allowing the AU to play a role in the resolution of the conflict. We must also now ensure that Morocco is held accountable. For the first time, African Union States, can now ensure that Morocco abides by the AU Charter and the AU Constitutive Act that it has signed up to, and consequently recognise that the Western Sahara IS an AU Member whose independence and territorial integrity must be respected, including calling on Morocco under AU auspices to take the necessary steps to finally resolve the unacceptable and inhumane Western Sahara conflict once and for all.
We will be looking towards opportunities to hold Morocco's feet to the fire. And indeed, to keep the pressure on African Union countries to keep Western Sahara firmly on its agenda and maintain strong positions of principle on decolonisation and self-determination.
Since 1975 no country has recognised Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara. Progressively legal institutions the world over are standing up against Morocco for the use of Saharawi natural resources, including the use of the land of Western Sahara for agricultural trade and renewable energy projects that exclude both the Saharawi community and the POLISARIO. In a recent European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling, which stated that the Western Sahara cannot be treated as part of Morocco, meaning that no EU-Morocco trade deals can apply to the territory. The ruling confirms the long-established legal status of Western Sahara as a non-self-governing territory, and upholds existing international law. Bilateral trade between the EU and Morocco is worth €37bn a year and 63 per cent of Moroccan exports go to the EU.
On the side-lines of the AU Summit, the Saharawi Foreign Minister, Mr Mohamed Salem Ould Salek said; "Since Morocco has not set a condition to its readmittance and it has not expressed reservations on the AU Constitutive Act, we take this move seriously and we accept that it joins the AU on the basis of its Constitutive Act." Furthermore, he went on to say, "The Saharawi Republic welcome Morocco, whose seat will be next to SADR's, and all African States, including those which are Morocco's friends, who have said that they will work so that the Saharawi Republic and Morocco can resolve their conflict."
Only in the face of strong African leadership and international pressure will Morocco begin acting as a responsible AU member and international partner with the UN. For a start by agreeing to return to direct negotiations with the Frente Polisario, the internationally recognised representative of the Saharawi people, towards holding a referendum as soon as possible.
We will be looking towards opportunities to hold Morocco's feet to the fire. And indeed, to keep the pressure on African Union countries to keep Western Sahara firmly on its agenda and maintain strong positions of principle on decolonisation and self-determination. We must push forward and continue to mobilise, now, more than ever before in order to ensure that we advance to victory for the Saharawi People.
As an international humanitarian and activist, I re-iterate that Morocco's admission into the African Union must not be used as a smokescreen to mask injustices perpetrated by them against the Saharawi people, some of the world's most marginalised people on earth.