The recovery of Oued Eddahab reaffirmed the wish of southern leaders for a future reunited with Morocco.
Rabat – Morocco commemorates Friday, August 14, the 41st anniversary of the recovery of Oued Eddahab, a milestone in the country’s struggle for territorial integrity.
On August 14, 1979, leaders of the Oued Eddahab province swore their allegiance to King Hassan II. The delegation, comprised of religious leaders and tribal chiefs, traveled from the southernmost Dakhla region to the royal palace in Rabat to demonstrate their patriotism.
Leading up to the recovery of Oued Eddahab
The Oued Eddahab leaders’ declaration came just four years after the Green March of November 6, 1975.
The Green March was a peaceful protest against the Spanish occupation of Western Sahara. Under the leadership of King Hassan II, 350,000 Moroccans marched into the Sahara Desert, symbolically armed with Moroccan flags, pictures of King Hassan II, green banners, and Qurans.
The Green March, celebrated every year as a national holiday, turned the tide in Morocco’s southern provinces. Days later, on November 14, Spain signed the Madrid Accords and agreed to leave the territory by May 23.
After the official end of Spanish occupation, separatists in Western Sahara pushed the narrative that Rabat’s renewed presence in the southern provinces was exploitative and not in the interest of the locals.
However, the recovery of Oued Eddahab reaffirmed the wish of Dakhla’s leaders for a future reunited with Morocco.
After the leaders swore their allegiance to King Hassan II, the Moroccan monarch made an official visit to Dakhla in March of 1980 on the occasion of the Feast of the Throne. On March 4, the King met with the people of Oued Eddahab, “attesting to the attachment of the populations of the southern provinces to the mother country,” as Morocco’s state media put it.
Upholding diplomatic momentum
Four decades after the recovery of Oued Eddahab, Morocco, although still struggling to cement its territorial integrity, has held onto its diplomatic momentum in the south.
In recent years, scores of countries have expressed approval of Morocco’s Autonomy Plan or the UN-led political process in Western Sahara. Others have fully rescinded their recognition of the self-styled Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) and declared support for Morocco.
Officials from Latin America to Europe have increasingly condemned Polisario’s militancy, aid embezzlement, and human rights violations.
Multiple African states have inaugurated diplomatic representations in the southern cities of Dakhla and Laayoune, the latest being Liberia, affirming their recognition of Moroccan sovereignty.
Meanwhile, Morocco has forged ahead with $7.7 billion worth of development projects in the southern provinces, which have grown to become top tourism destinations for locals and foreigners alike.
King Mohammed VI declared Morocco’s southern development model on the 40th anniversary of the Green March in November 2015.
Morocco’s southern development model
The recovery of Oued Eddahab signaled the beginning of a new era for Morocco’s southern provinces. Forty-one years on, the cities of Dakhla and Laayoune have become powerhouses of the south.
The aim of King Mohammed VI’s 2015 development model is to “seal” the integration of the southern provinces into “the unified homeland and to enhance the influence of the Sahara region as an economic hub and a crucial link between Morocco and its African roots,” the King declared in his 2015 speech.
The development model includes infrastructure plans, airports, and a railway from southernmost Lagouira to northernmost Tangier. The projects aim to support the economy and create job opportunities, especially for the youth of the region.
Dakhla’s notable development projects include the construction of the Dakhla Atlantic port, the construction of a seawater desalination plant, and the construction of the Tiznit-Dakhla highway.
In Laayoune, construction is underway on a new industrial park, four sports fields, and the “Green March” market, which includes 58 commercial premises and administrative facilities. Laayoune is also benefiting from infrastructure initiatives and solar public lighting works for the city’s road network.
If not for the recovery of Oued Eddahab in 1979, Dakhla and Laayoune would not be the vibrant and bustling Moroccan cities we know today.
Local reception of southern development projects
In 2018, the UN secretary-general’s (UNSG) annual report on international peacekeeping efforts in Western Sahara highlighted local support for such development projects.
“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 (Morocco’s defense wall) were grateful for the support received from Morocco, particularly the $7.7 billion development plan,” the report stated.
In 2019, the UNSG reported that “Moroccan investments west of the berm continued as previously reported, in particular in the city of Laayoune. Morocco maintains that such investments directly benefit the people of Western Sahara and are implemented in consultation with them.”
Polisario continues to claim that despite Morocco’s fruitful investments in the southern provinces, Rabat’s true intentions are exploitative at heart. But perspectives on the ground offer a different narrative.
In January 2019, a group of Sahrawi petitioners denounced the separatist rhetoric that vilified Morocco’s trade agreements with the EU.
In a petition to renew EU-Morocco fisheries and agriculture agreements in Western Sahara, the group called Morocco “our homeland” and affirmed that Morocco “is the only representative of our interests and our will.”
“Since our country completed its territorial integrity by recovering its southern provinces, it has made significant efforts towards their sustainable development,” the group wrote, alluding to the recovery of Oued Eddahab.
“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 added.
Developments in Morocco’s southern provinces have also enjoyed regional and international praise.
A delegation of African diplomats who visited Laayoune in November 2018 remarked they were impressed by the “rapid transformations” in the region amid “Morocco’s diverse development efforts.”
Earlier that month, participants in the Morocco-France Business Forum called Laayoune an “ideal hub” for investments.
Morocco’s commitment persists 41 years after the recovery of Oued Eddahab
As Morocco works to recover from the crippling socioeconomic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is critical to ensure that the southern provinces are not left behind.
Morocco’s southern development projects and push for a mutually acceptable solution to the territorial dispute are seeing Rabat’s persistence during the COVID-19 crisis. Health, food security, and other basic human rights are exceptionally precarious for the most vulnerable Sahrawis, namely those in the Tindouf camps, as the pandemic strains international attention to their plight.
The political situation in Western Sahara may be a stalemate for now. However, Morocco continues to work towards territorial integrity and ensuring the enjoyment of all human rights for its southernmost population. With momentum building despite a crisis, the country has good reason to hold onto the decades-old hope of national reunification.