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A forgotten People

By Owei Lakemfa, Vanguard (Lagos), Thursday 15 March 2001

IF numbers alone win wars, Morocco would have defeated the Polisario Front in Western Sahara. If superior weapons were the only basis of overcoming enemies, Late King Hassan would have handed over a conquered Western Sahara territory to his son. If having the backing of powerful western allies like France and Spain were a critical factor of war in Africa, the people of Western Sahara would have been no match to the combined armies of Morocco and Mauritania. But alas, the race does not always belong to the swift nor victory to the mighty. Hence all attempts made by colonial Spain with French backing to wipe out the independence movement in Western Sahara twenty-five years ago, and similar efforts by Morocco for fifteen years ago have come to naught.

So it was a joyous, unconquered Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) that rolled out the drums on February 27 to celebrate its silver jubilee.

Right under the nose of Morocco, the Sahrawis poured out to mark the year they unilaterally declared independence from Spain, a country with an history of cruel colonial rule. A United Nations brokered peace accord came into effect in 1991 between this country of proud warriors and the colonial-minded Moroccan crown. This agreement was after a fifteen-year war of colonialism imposed on the people by Late King Hassan. Since then, Morocco has stationed about 150,000 troops in the area on a permanent state of alert. But that did not stop the celebrations as even a marathon race in which 500 runners participated was held as part of the celebration.

The continued state of war and the sustenance of Moroccan colonialist ambitions are partly the fault of the U.N. The world body had claimed that it would conduct a referendum in the occupied territory once a cease-fire was secured. But it has lacked the political will to do so in the face of Moroccan intransigence. Morrocco, conscious of the fact that it cannot win an impartial referendum had gone ahead of the plan and exported its citizens to the territory. When it was clear that even that will not secure its wish, it insisted that some Moroccans whom they branded indigenous Sahrawis be allowed to vote in the referendum which was to determine whether the Sahrawi people want independence or want to be part of a greater Morocco. So it was an impotent UN chief scribe, Kofi Annan who said a climate of increased mistrust and bitterness had set in between Morocco and the Sahrawis. The UN cannot be suggesting that a people love a country like Morocco that has killed many of her children in a needless, senseless war of colonization and has denied and continues to deny her independence.

The declaration by POLISARIO leader Mohammed Abdelaziz at the 25th anniversary that As long as the Sahrawi people don’t recover their rights, there’ll be no stability in Morocco and in the region is true. Apart from the fact that a state of war exists, there is also the issue that various countries in the region are involved. The Sahrawi people enjoy a lot of support from Algeria. Infact, their four main refugee camps of S’Mara, El Ayoun, Aousserd and Dakhla are located in the south West desert city of Tindouf I, 200 kilometres south of Algiers, the Algerian capital. On the other hand Mauritania had been a partner with Morocco in the on-going attempt to steal Western Sahara. It had been given a parcel of the territory and it sent in its armed forces to team up with Morocco. But with a number of defeats inflicted on the Mauritanian army by the POLISARIO, that country had series of political problems which led to a military coup. On August, 5, 1979 the new military rulers in Mauritania made peace with the Sahrawi people and withdrew from the territory. But a voracious King Hassan hungry for territory annexed the parts Mauritania vacated to those he had held since colonial Spain departed.

The continued colonization of Western Sahara is also partly the fault of African countries like Nigeria who continue to watch from the sidelines. Initially, the Organization of African Unity (OAU) played an active part in seeking a just resolution of the issue. Its summits in 1976 and 1977 discussed the issue and resolved to hold an extra-ordinary summit. In July 1979 the OAU endorsed the Sahrawis right to self-determination and also called for a cease-fire. In response to the OAU’s decisions King Hassan annexed the parts vacated by Mauritania and declared it Morocco’s 40th province.

The July 1980 OAU Summit in Freetown decided to admit SADR as a member of the Organization but Morocco threatened to quit the Organization. But in November, the UN voted in favor of self-determination for the Sahrawis. In February 1982 SADR was admitted as the 51st member of the OAU and Morocco walked out.

So the Sahrawis membership of the OAU predates those countries like South Africa, but Africa still lacks the political will to compel Morocco to abandon its expansionist policies and stop converting its neighbour’s territory.

Gradually, the Sahrawi issue and the people are being forgotten. Yes, the allies can go to war in the Gulf over Iraq’s attempt to annex Kuwait, but no sanctions exist against Morocco for its fifteen-year annexation of Western Sahara

However, the Sahrawis will never allow Morocco to go to sleep. The POLISARIO is engaged in a war of the flea with big Morocco; the flea is a small wingless insect but it eventually wins a war against the powerful and mighty lion; while the flea picks the hairy part of the lion and sucks its blood, the lion has no way of using its sharp claws and teeth and strength to defeat the flea.

So when POLISARIO leader Abdelaziz declared some days ago that freedom and independence is a matter of time, he was stating an historical fact.