Times of India
Rudroneel Ghosh in Talking Turkey
The upcoming 5th European Union-African Union Summit to be held in the Ivory Coast capital of Abidjan is shaping up to be a feisty affair.
This is because this time around the North African nation of Morocco and the representatives of the so-called Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) will directly square off at the forum. Such a possible face off has been catalysed by Morocco’s return to the African institutional family early this year. In fact, Morocco had left the AU in 1984 precisely because the body had recognised SADR as a member back then.
It will be recalled that since 1975 a separatist Sahrawi group called the Polisario front – backed primarily by Algeria – carried out an armed campaign against Morocco for the establishment of a Sahrawi state in Morocco’s southern provinces – a UN-backed ceasefire was subsequently worked out in 1991. This despite the fact that the Madrid Accords of November 14, 1975, had divided the region among Morocco and Mauritania. The latter had relinquished its claims in 1979, restoring rightful sovereignty over the region to Morocco.
However, the Polisario and the so-called SADR have continued to peddle their propaganda of an independent Saharawi state – Morocco not only controls the majority of the Sahara territory but has also invested heavily on the development of the region, held local elections and empowered local administrations. Simultaneously, foreign powers with vested interests in the region have used the dispute to their advantage. This is precisely why Morocco had to abandon its empty chair policy at AU summits and return to the African institutional family to directly counter the Polisario and SADR propaganda.
Indeed, with Morocco’s King Mohammed VI personally attending the EU-AU Summit this time, the Kingdom’s diplomatic representation is at full strength. And the Moroccan delegation will leave no stone unturned to put forward its case with African and European partners. The latter would do well to note that Morocco today is not just at the forefront of fostering development cooperation among sister African nations – with Rabat directly investing in sectors such as agriculture, fertilisers, education, healthcare, fisheries and skill training in a host of African countries – but is also actively engaged in security operations and intelligence sharing with European nations to counter the scourge of Islamist terrorism.
Meanwhile, the SADR is nothing but an Algerian puppet regime that doesn’t even allow a census of the refugees in its Tindouf camp and has been accused of diverting European humanitarian aid. At the end of the day, as I have said before, separatism cannot be the automatic solution to local grievances. Greater democracy and good governance ought to be the primary remedy. And Morocco, both with its political regionalisation process and genuine development activities in its Sahara provinces, has shown that it is serious about respecting the aspirations, political rights and economic needs of its Sahrawi areas. It’s time for the EU, and the larger international community, to support Morocco on this score.