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Kenya: Why Links with Sahrawi Were Shortlived

The East African Standard

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The East African Standard (Nairobi)

February 25, 2007
Posted to the web February 26, 2007

Muniu Riunge

President Kibaki received diplomatic credentials from the ambassador of the last country to be colonised in Africa, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), on March 31 last year.

But on October 18, barely 200 days later, the Government, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, informed the ambassador that it had put "a temporally freeze" on diplomatic relations between Kenya and SADR.

The closure of the embassy that served six countries in the region threw the Polisario Front government of Sahrawi (also referred to as Western Sahara) into a dilemma as Kenya had played a significant role in mediation between Morocco and SADR since the former occupied the territory in 1976.

Kibaki had received the Western Sahara ambassador with the usual pomp and colour. But without warning, the Foreign Affairs ministry invited SADR's ambassador and gave him the shocking news that Kenya had temporarily frozen diplomatic relations. The Morocco embassy in Nairobi sent congratulatory messages to the Government on the same day the Government took the drastic step! The closure of the embassy that served Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Southern Sudan threw SADR into a dilemma.

Big contradiction

In the temporary freeze notification, the ministry said the Government had taken the decision to ensure Western Sahara accepted the services of a mediator to help resolve the long-standing conflict. The letter further stated that Kenya would give the UN a chance to implement the peace plan for the country's self-determination.

That was a contradiction as there cannot be mediation and implementation of a negotiated transition at the same time. On June 25, 2005, Kenya, in a joint statement with Sahrawi government officials in Nairobi, announced the establishment of diplomatic relations, a move that so outraged Morocco that it recalled its ambassador from Nairobi "for consultations".

When international pressure forced Spain to grant independence to Western Sahara in 1975, the Spanish government entered a secret deal with Morocco and Mauritania, dividing Western Sahara between the two former colonies and handing over administrative powers to them and withdrew from the tiny country. Morocco and Mauritania invaded Western Sahara, the former taking the northern part and the latter the south.

In 1976, King Hassan II of Morocco (he has since died) declared the Green March which saw more than 300,000 Moroccans, guarded by armed forces, invade Western Sahara and share out their land and exploit natural resources.

However, Mauritania, unable to sustain illegal occupation militarily, politically or economically, pulled out in 1979 after signing the Algiers Agreement with the Polisario Front, renouncing its claim to Western Sahara and withdrawing after seven months.

The more powerful and richer Morocco, however, annexed the southern territory despite United Nations' resolution urging it to withdraw and negotiate with the Polisario Front. Being the last country to be under the colonial yoke in Africa and among the last few in the world, Western Sahara has a long history of struggle against foreign occupation dating back to the 15th century. Then, Portugal and Spain raided the country in search of gold, ostrich feathers and gum.

Foreign interests

The tiny country is endowed with minerals, including huge deposits of high-quality phosphate and huge offshore oil reserves. This might explain why international interests, embodied by Morocco's illegal occupation, are ready to defy international treaties, UN resolutions and the International Court of Justice to let go the country. Between 1628 and 1729, different foreign forces occupied Western Sahara, including Spain, Denmark, England and France.

During the partition of Africa, Western Sahara was put under the 'protection of Spain'. In 1998, mediation efforts by friendly countries, including Kenya, were concluded, leaving the UN to implement a peace plan for the region's self-determination. However, a proposal to hold a referendum for the people of Western Sahara to determine whether they preferred autonomy under Morocco or complete independence has been deferred for more than 10 years due to what is seen as Morocco's intransigence.

But some African countries hesitate to have diplomatic relations with the country for fear of jeopardising relations with Morocco. But others - Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania and Algeria - recognise Western Sahara and have diplomatic relations at ambassador level and still retain links with Morocco. On August 1, 2004, South African President Thabo Mbeki rejected Morocco's arm-twisting, a tactic that had delayed his country's diplomatic relations with Sahrawi for more than 10 years.

He wrote to the King of Morocco, Mohamed VI, stating that despite Morocco's sustained lobbying, South Africa would open an embassy of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic in accordance with African Union resolutions.

"We will accord the Polisario Front rights and privileges due to AU member states in the context of meeting our obligations to the AU and the peoples of Africa to provide a home for a pan-African Parliament," he wrote.

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Morocco is neither a member of the African Union nor was it of the Organisation of African Unity!

The Polisario Front was founded on May 10, 1973, to fight for the political rights of the Sahrawi from Spain. Kenya should review its decision on Sahrawi's diplomatic representation in the interests of justice.

The writer is a journalist specialising in international and African affairs

Copyright © 2007 The East African Standard. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media ( Click here to contact the copyright holder directly for corrections -- or for permission to republish or make other authorized use of this material.

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