The Herald (Harare)
Published by the government of Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe: Respect Our Foreign Policy

Mabasa Sasa

19 November 2009


Harare — THERE is a saying that goes, "Show me your friends and I will tell who you are".

There is no great psycho-sociological alchemy involved in this mantra and put more simply it means birds of a feather flock together.

This could best surmise Morgan Tsvangirai's insistence against all decency to fly to Morocco today -- for the second time in about a year -- and meet the leader of a country that has the dubious distinction of being one of the few remaining colonisers.

Hopefully, Tendai Biti has not released tax dollars to fund this jaunt to North Africa where Tsvangirai will hobnob with one of the world's last direct imperialists.

In 1984 Morocco pulled out of the then Organisation of African Unity because the rest of the progressive continent recognised Western Sahara's right to self-determination and admitted the country as an independent member of the bloc.

Morocco has colonised this country since 1975 and obstinately rejects any mention of allowing the people of the Western Sahara to rule themselves and have sovereignty over their resources.

Up to today, Morocco remains the only African country that is not a member of the African Union.

Various groups have inhabited Western Sahara over the centuries, just like any other country on the world map.

Round about the 8th century Arab expansion took control of the region and about 300 years later these had spread out and occupied much of Morocco the Iberian Peninsula.

By the time the once powerful Mali Empire collapsed, around the 12th century, Morocco took control of most of Western Sahara and fought Portuguese imperialists for dominion over the land up to the 1500s.

After the infamous Berlin Congress where Europe partitioned Africa for itself, Morocco was split between France and Spain, with the latter receiving the portion that is now Western Sahara.

In 1958 Spain combined all of its disparate holdings into one province and called it Spanish Sahara.

The nationalist reaction was swift and brutal, with liberation fighters coalescing into what is known as the Polisario Front.

By 1975 Spain was on the ropes and was holding discussions with Polisario to cede power and grant independence.

As these talks were going on, a bullish Morocco was claiming it owned Western Sahara arguing they historically owned that land.

The United Nations that year sent a mission which reported that the majority of inhabitants favoured independence as opposed to both Spanish colonialism and Moroccan imperialism.

The International Court of Justice upheld this position and said the people of Western Sahara -- who were now mobilised under the banner of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic -- had a right to self-determination.

However, Morocco started deploying numerous troops along the border.

Spain pulled out and Morocco immediately pounced.

Mauritania also moved in, taking about a third of Western Sahara as part of what were called the Madrid Accords of 1976.

A government-in-exile of the SADR was formed in Algeria as Morocco instituted a military clampdown.

The Polisario Front targeted the portion held by Mauritania and that country soon capitulated to the popular movement and renounced all claim to Western Sahara in August 1979.

Morocco seized the territory Mauritania vacated.

In 1982 the OAU, which had such shining stars as Brigadier-General Hashim Mbita steering its African liberation committee, seated Western Sahara much to Morocco's dismay.

Two years later, the government-in-exile became a full OAU member and current SADR President Cde Mohammad Abdelaziz was vice president of the bloc in 1985.

Morocco immediately left the OAU, protesting that it should be allowed to colonise a fellow African country.

The United Nations brokered a ceasefire in 1991 and said a referendum on self-determination should be held.

Morocco rejected this.

The SADR became a founding member of the AU in 1999 but Morocco remains isolated because it believes it has the right to brutalise its neighbour and violate international law and human rights norms.

In 2001, United Nations envoy to Western Sahara James Baker presented what is now known as the Framework Agreement or Baker Plan I.

He proposed an autonomous Western Sahara within Moroccan sovereignty.

Morocco, obviously, accepted the plan, while the people of Western Sahara rejected it.

In 2003 the envoy came up with Baker II, which proposed immediate Saharawi autonomy under a "Western Sahara Authority" and a five-year transition in preparation of a referendum in which the people would decide on full independence, autonomy within Morocco, or complete integration into Morocco.

The people of Western Sahara accepted and Morocco rejected, knowing full well that the outcome would be a vote for full independence.

Today, nearly 200 000 Saharawi live as refugees, living from hand to mouth.

Their country is occupied by a colonial force and the people live in fear of the Moroccan military.

An entire generation has been born -- and many of them have died -- without knowing anything apart from Moroccan imperialism.

The SADR presently holds less than a fifth of the territory that it rightfully owns.

Zimbabwe is one of 43 countries that recognise the SADR, and has done so since June 3, 1980.

But today Tsvangirai is scheduled to fly to Morocco.

That is the company he keeps. That is the flock he wings with.

This writer is reliably informed that a high-level SADR envoy was in the country about a week ago and met senior Foreign Affairs officials.

The gist of those meetings, it is understood, was to finalise an agreement to open an SADR Embassy in Harare, probably at the start of next year.

Presumably, President Mugabe met SADR's President Abdelaziz when the two were in Uganda for the AU Refugees Summit earlier this year and this is where the idea was first mooted.

Sources close to the envoy's recent visit said they discussed the situation in Western Sahara and America's opposition to SADR's sovereignty, though they hoped Barack Obama would be better disposed to negotiations than George W. Bush was.

Obviously, the envoy touched on Tsvangirai's visit to Tangiers, Morocco, in 2008.

He questioned if Tsvangirai was aware of Zimbabwe's policy on SADR.

Foreign Affairs Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi is understood to have expressed similar bafflement at what is hopefully mere naiveté on Tsvangirai's part on foreign policy matters.

Minister Mumbengegwi reportedly told the envoy that Speaker of the House of Assembly Lovemore Moyo was also in Morocco in 2008 and tried to make policy announcements on behalf of the Government of Zimbabwe.

"The minister subsequently queried Moyo on the matter. He reminded him that Parliament does not conduct foreign policy.

"The minister narrated the full history to him and he acknowledged that he had acted out of ignorance," the sources say.

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Maybe Moyo does not know about the separation of powers principle and that as Speaker his two-cents of opinion have no room in State foreign policy issues.

But Tsvangirai should know better and is in evident need of the kind of history lecture that Minister Mumbengegwi gave to Moyo.

And the visiting SADR envoy suggested as much, saying he would like to have a meeting with Tsvangirai in which he would try and edify him a little.

As Tsvangirai leaves for Morocco today he should bear this history in mind.

He should also ask himself if there is any link between the heavy artillery being deployed against the people of Western Sahara and the fact that since 1950 Morocco has been the second largest recipient of American money in Africa.

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