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Kenya sides with countries pushing for Western Sahara independence

Saturday March 30, 2019

Kenya's Foreign Affairs Cabinet Administrative Secretary Ababu Namwamba with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on the sidelines a conference in Pretoria over the independence of Western Sahara in March, 2019. PHOTO | COURTESY

Kenya is siding with African countries that are pushing for the final independence of Western Sahara from Morocco, even as Rabat rushes to lobby African Union (AU) members to support a United Nations (UN) solution favourable to it.

Nairobi was this week caught between Pretoria and Rabat's diplomatic lobbying machines as they both staged what looked like competing conferences on the status of Western Sahara.

Morocco said it was galvanising support for a UN-led solution "to immunise the AU against any inappropriate attempt to divert the path of unity and integration," according to a communique said to have been endorsed by some 36 other African countries including Somalia, Burundi and Rwanda.

But South Africa said it was launching an auxiliary process to complement the UN, by first demanding decolonisation of Western Sahara.


Western Sahara, whose inhabitants want to call it officially as, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), has been claimed by Morocco since 1975, making it the last remaining colony on the continent.

And Kenya joined some two dozen countries in Pretoria to demand that Sahrawi gets its right to choose independence or be a part of Morocco.

Mr Ababu Namwamba, the Foreign Affairs Cabinet Administrative Secretary, said Kenya believes in the principle of the inalienable right to self-determination as has been tradition since independence.

"Considering that the borders of African States, on the day of their independence, constituted a tangible reality, the OAU [Organisation of African Unity] Assembly solemnly declared that all member states had pledged themselves to respect the borders existing on their achievement of national independence," he said at the Pretoria meeting, referring to the predecessor organisation of the African Union.

"The wisdom then as it remains today is that it causes upheaval of seismic proportions to attempt to tinker with established boundaries. Kenya reiterates our support for and commitment to resolving boarder disputes."


Initially colonised by the Spanish, Western Sahara was initially claimed by both Mauritania and Morocco but the former quit, leaving Rabat to call the region as Southern Provinces of its territory.

Morocco said on Thursday it invited Kenya to send a representative but said it was disappointed Nairobi sent no one, unlike Tanzania, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Burundi and Somalia.

"The sponsors of SADC conference were upset because the Marrakech Conference turned out to be more popular than expected, with the participation of more than 37 African states, including seven members of SADC," Moroccan Ambassador to Kenya Mokhtar Ghambou told the Nation, accusing Algeria and South Africa of sabotaging the peace process.

"I am disappointed that Kenya did not participate in Marrakech and chose instead to send a representative to Pretoria, despite receiving an invitation from Morocco.

"Worse, the Kenyan Foreign Affairs Cabinet Administrative Secretary (CAS) used strange and false terms to describe the Sahara conflict. Morocco is neither "a colonial" power nor is the Sahara in need of "decolonisation."


In 1979, the UN General Assembly passed Resolution A/RES/34/37 which granted “the inalienable right of the people of Western Sahara to self-determination and independence, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations, the Charter of the Organisation of African Unity and the objectives of General Assembly.

It is this and several other UN resolutions that Kenya says was banking on to attend the Pretoria meet labelled as the "solidarity" conference for Western Sahara and organised by the Southern Africa bloc SADC.

"Today we consider it a solemn duty to reaffirm solidarity with the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) and the right of her peoples to self-determination and independence," Mr Namwamba later told the Nation on Wednesday.


A dispatch after the Pretoria meeting called on both Moroccan and Polisario Front (that run the govt in the region) to engage in peaceful negotiations in good faith, but still accused Morocco of not respecting colonial borders and running affairs with impunity against the Sahrawi people.

It demanded UN Security Council introduce a monitoring mechanism in Western Sahara to prevent any further theft of local resources.

The Southern African bloc also urged political parties in their member states to lobby their respective parliaments to pass motions favourable for Sahrawi question and asked the AU to make it a routine agenda at its annual meetings.

The territory's desire to seek independence had been debated at the UN before where the General Assembly, in 1966, asserted the people's right to self-determination.

In October 1975, the International Court of Justice, in fact ruled that there was no allegiance between the kingdom in Morocco and ethnic communities it had used to lay in the territory.

But this was only an advisory opinion that had no legal force to be implemented.

Mr Ghambou, the Moroccan Ambassador to Kenya told the Nation his country was only going for a UN-led solution, which more than half of the continent supports.


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