Four decades after Oued Eddahab, when local chiefs pledged allegiance to Rabat, Moroccans’ hopes for “national reunification” seem set for much brighter days ahead.
Rabat – On August 14 this week, Morocco commemorated the fortieth anniversary of the recovery of Oued Eddahab, a historic moment in Morocco’s struggle for territorial integrity.
On that day in 1979, a group of religious leaders and tribal chiefs from Oued Eddahab, in the Dakhla region, met the late King Hassan II at the royal palace in Rabat to express an abiding sense of national pride and belonging.
Coming just four years after the Green March, the move from Oued Eddahab’s religious and tribal representatives symbolized “an unwavering desire to preserve national unity,” according to a MAP report.
“The date of August 14 1979 will remain forever engraved as a memorable step in the process of completing the kingdom’s unity,” MAP asserted. The assertion was hardly an overstatement, considering the spirit and the circumstances that surrounded the episode.
The delegation that met King Hassan II 40 years ago made it clear, in their vows to “reunite with the motherland,” that they had been driven by commitment to the Moroccanness of the Sahara region. The delegation was uniquely articulate in how it envisions the future for the region: reunited with Morocco.
The organizing principle here was the undimmed urgency of countering separatist narratives that Rabat’s actions and very presence in the region are fundamentally exploitative and not in any significant way beneficial for locals.
At the center of the counter narrative sits the notion, the basic truth, that many locals in the region feel deeply attached to Morocco and want reunification with the kingdom. This has come to define a notable part of Morocco’s diplomacy over the past five years or so.
Put another way, the renewed momentum now said to be surrounding Morocco’s Autonomy Plan is in many ways a direct consequence of the path taken forty years ago by clerics and tribal leaders from Oued Eddahab. It speaks of how strongly a varied and vocal contingent of locals wished for reunification with Morocco.
This is tellingly corroborated by a whole section in the UN Secretary General’s latest report on Western Sahara. The document mentions how Morocco’s 7.7 billion development plans in Laayoune and Dakhla regions, for example, have been approvingly received by a sizable chunk of the local populations.
“In Laayoune, Dakhla and Smara, my Personal Envoy met with a large number of locally elected officials. They highlighted developments in the education, health and economic sectors and stated that the people west of the berm were grateful for the support received from Morocco, particularly the US$ 7.7 billion development plan,” the UNSG said in the report.
He added, more in tune with the Oued Eddahab spirit: “My Personal Envoy also convened meetings with civil society representatives, who presented a wide range of views, in Dakhla and Laayoune.
“Some expressed full support for the Moroccan autonomy plan and urged the United Nations to find a political solution that would allow the people in Tindouf to return to the homeland and benefit from the development seen in the territory.
“They expressed gratitude for Morocco’s financial support which had improved infrastructure, education and health services in the territory, and had increased awareness for human rights.”
Needless to say, part of the success of Morocco’s new, proactive Western Sahara diplomacy involves showcasing the colossal development funds it has poured in the region to enhance living standards and the quality of life.
But this can also be taken as a step to fulfilling the promise made to Oued Eddahab representatives four decades ago about the motherland’s readiness to integrate and develop the area.
The ensuing development projects have, in turn, helped assuage the sense of embattled national belonging, settled historical grievances, and rekindled the Morocco-supporting spirit that drove the Oued Eddahab episode in the first place.
Earlier this year, around the time of vociferous, Polisario-initiated opposition to the Morocco-EU agreements involving waters and coasts off Western Sahara, a group of Sahrawi representatives petitioned against what they saw as unfounded separatist allegations.
Morocco, the petition hammered, “is the only representative of our interests and our will.”
Like the initiators of the Oued Eddahab recovery four decades ago, the petitioners called Morocco “our homeland” and expressed “genuine attachment” to the kingdom.
But the petition’s point about Rabat’s development plans was particularly reminiscent of the Oued Eddahab spirit. It energetically dismissed pro-Polisario accusations of “colonial exploitation,” drew attention to Morocco’s “new development model” for the region, and, like forty years ago, pledged undivided allegiance to Morocco.
“Since our country completed its territorial integrity by recovering its southern provinces, it has made significant efforts towards their sustainable development. Noticeable progress made in our southern provinces as the result of our country’s efforts to make development, both at large and in our regions, our top priority,” the petition said.
Anniversaries typically invite celebration, remembrance, and reflection. Morocco may not have loudly celebrated the 40th anniversary of Oued Eddahab.
But August 14 will always offer, at least so far as Moroccan diplomacy is concerned, an opportunity to assess what has been done right or wrong in the intervening years since—with a prospective eye on what to do next to ensure the total, effective national reunification that drove the Oued Eddahab chapter.
If the latest developments are any indication, the future looks rosy for that 1979 reunification dream.
The current situation in the decades-long impasse in Western Sahara may not exactly be a reflection of the Oued Eddahab spirit, but signs are reassuring for what the situation may be a decade or so from now, especially with Morocco’s Autonomy Plan now in the ascendancy in diplomatic circles, settlement negotiations.