By Beny Gideon Mabor, Esq
Western Sahara known as Saharan Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) was Spanish protectorate in the Maghreb region of North Africa. It is situated north of Kingdom of Morocco, South of Mauritania and east of Algeria and populated by Berber tribes with an elected government under President Brahim Ghali, following the death of long serving President Mohamed Abdelaziz Ezzedine, founder and leader of revolutionary Polisario Front. This territory has been subject of regional and international debate being counterclaimed by Morocco and Saharawi people seeking self-determination and global recognition. SADR is an independent country declared in 1976 by Polisario Front separatist movement and a recognized member state of the African Union and other international organizations. This move led to a withdrawal of Morocco from African Union in 1984 in protest of AU’s recognition of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) as an independent state.
On 18 July, 2016 after 32 years of absence from African Union and its politics, King Mohammed VI of Morocco declared his country’s intention to return to the African Union in what he called “friends have been asking them to return so that Morocco can take up its natural place within its institutional family” according to the excerpts of the letter read to the AU summit and later shared by Aljazeera news outlet. On the other hand, the Moroccan return to the African Union is not easy walk back, but can only be validated by majority votes at the African Union Summit.
It’s upon this notion that the entire political leadership led by the King embarks on bribery expedition to number of African countries in October and December, 2016 with first leg in Rwanda, to Tanzania, Ethiopia and Nigeria amongst others. His Majesty the King has been pledging and paying billion US dollars in all those countries for investment projects to get support, notwithstanding the attached condition to also suspend membership of rival Saharan Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) from the African Union and possibly not to recognize its independence.
Today, South Sudan is now at the whelm of strategic ambiguity in its foreign policy between taking blood money and vote for Morocco to return to the African Union and by implication support forceful occupation of land of indigenous Sahrawi people or refuse and stick to the principle of the rights to self-determination for indigenous Saharawi people for self-rule, the basis upon which South Sudan was also brought about seven years ago.
King Mohamed VI visit to South Sudan
As explained in the summary, the planned visit of the Moroccan King Mohamed VI to Juba, South Sudan is nothing nearer to any diplomatic engagement, but a clear business deal for his agenda to seek support from world newest state for their readmission to the membership of the African Union. The second objective of his visit is to request South Sudan to join other AU member states to suspend SADR from African Union and other intentional organizations, but also not to recognize SADR as independent state on top of their cordial request to the South Sudan political leadership.
According to high leveled source within the African Union, as revealed in the investigative report published by Ayah Aman of Al-Monitor media house dated 27 July, 2016 under article entitled: why Morocco really wants back in the African Union, it’s confirmed that the Kingdom of Morocco has convinced 16 African countries to withdraw their recognition of SADR and form a front to expel SADR from the African Union. However, Morocco is already warned that such action is neither recognized in international law nor in the AU charters.
In a similar move, I was privileged to see the conspiracy deal in the making at the last African Union Summit in Kigali, Rwanda on 18 July, 2016 where we all witnessed on the same day the Moroccan king conveyed his message for readmission when, 28 African countries signed a statement and delivered it to AU Chairperson President Idriss Deby of Chad asking him to take legal action to suspend SADR’s membership from African Union. South Sudan was not included at the time which was a well thought decision and I applauded the government for not being part of such conspiracy theory of oppression and marginalization of other fellow human beings.
In light of this development, it is difficult to understand now why South Sudan is ready to receive Moroccan King and possibly vote in favor of Morocco back to the African Union. In other words, South Sudan will have to endorse both the Moroccan readmission to the AU and join the rest of the African states in non-recognition of SADR as an independent country and from membership of the African Union and other international organizations. Therefore, the question would be, if South Sudan can support such deadly move of forceful occupation of foreign land by others, when in fact, it has contested land with Sudan, what will prevent Khartoum Administration and their alliances to do the same to South Sudan over the issue of Abyei? South Sudan must think twice before making a decision that will bear liability on the present and future generations in term of geopolitical relationships.
In the famous sermon of plank and the splinter it says “why do you look at the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the splinter from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? That is hypocrisy of highest order! First South Sudanese should remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.
Second, South Sudan is the newest member state of the African Union and other international organization including United Nations all of which ruled out forceful occupation of foreign land. In particular, Article 2 of the UN Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples adopted by General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) of 14 December 1960 provides 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. Further, article 7 of the same legal instrument provides that “All States shall observe faithfully and strictly the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the present Declaration on the basis of equality, non-interference in the internal affairs of all States, and respect for the sovereign rights of all peoples and their territorial integrity.
Due to observance of the United Nations principle on the rights to self-determination, the International Court of Justice ICJ in its advisory opinion on the situation of Western Sahara as requested by the General Assembly of the United Nations, unanimously reach the opinion that “Western Sahara (Rio de Oro and Sakiet El Hamra) at the time of colonization by Spain was not a territory belonging to no one (terra nullius). In other words, it was a separate territory with indigenous Sahrawi people who can enjoy inalienable right to self-rule that must be recognized. Therefore, South Sudan must not interfere in the internal affairs of the rights of indigenous Sahrawi’s people.
After having explained what everybody know about the issue of Morocco and the rival Saharan Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) including clear position of the regional and international community for the last for decades, South Sudan should be careful in approaching this matter. The Kingdom of Morocco has no right whatsoever to forcefully continue occupying Western Sahara but must engage in dialogue for amicable solution. In my opinion, the Government of South Sudan is free to discharge other bilateral cooperation with Kingdom of Morocco for common good of the two countries however, not anything connected with SADR. Any attempt by the government to support the position of Morocco over status of SADR is a contradiction of the very principle of right to self-determination where the people of South Sudan fought for decades and finally got their independence. Finally, I advise the government not take the blood money in return of what would be blind support to the kingdom of morocco and by extension support continue occupation of indigenous land belonging to the Saharawi people who have suffered in the hand of Moroccans just like the way South Sudanese suffers in the hand of Arabs.
Beny Gideon Mabor is South Sudanese private lawyer and a human rights defender. His areas of research are international politics, human rights and social accountability. He can be reach via email@example.com