The African supporters' push adds to the growing pro-Morocco momentum on the Western Sahara question.
By Perri Huggins and Taha Mebtoul
Rabat – Thanks to Morocco’s continental diplomacy, its African supporters deterred a hostile speech against Morocco before the Special Political and Decolonization (Fourth) Committee of the UN General Assembly.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) had intended to deliver on Monday a declaration that challenged Morocco’s territorial integrity in Western Sahara.
Five SADC member states — Democratic Republic of Congo, Comoros, Malawi, Eswatini, and Zambia — voiced opposition to a section of the draft declaration that linked “decolonization” to the Sahara. With SADC unwilling to reword the declaration, the committee’s Mozambican presidency found a prohibitive lack of consensus and thus on Monday SADC withdrew itself from the secretariat’s list of speakers.
The SADC is an economic community of 16 countries in southern Africa. Notably, it includes South Africa, a main rival of Morocco in the Western Sahara dispute.
“This is a very significant development, especially when taking into account that South Africa has long used the SADC to lobby support and prevent Morocco from making diplomatic inroads into southern Africa,” a US-based Moroccan foreign policy expert, who asked to speak on the condition of anonymity, told Morocco World News.
A reflection of Morocco’s diplomatic gains in Africa
The move contributes to Morocco’s growing diplomatic momentum in Western Sahara, particularly with other African states. Over this last year, 15 African countries have opened diplomatic representations in Morocco’s southern provinces, including Comoros, Malawi, Eswatini, and Zambia.
“With the opening of 15 consulates in Laayoune and Dakhla and SADC’s inability to deliver a speech before the UN Fourth Committee, because of the opposition of some of its member states, Morocco has started reaping the fruit of its long-term and well-thought-out African policy,” MWN’s source added.
The most critical development in Morocco’s African policy was its January 2017 return to the African Union. Morocco left the AU — then the Organisation of African Unity — in 1984 due to the inclusion of the self-proclaimed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR).
Since Morocco rejoined the AU, a significant number of African states withdrew their recognition of the separatist Polisario Front, including Malawi, Guinea-Bissau, Togo, DRC, and Zambia, among others. Some states who were traditional Polisario allies have also since voiced their explicit support for Morocco’s territorial integrity.
“That countries such as Malawi, Zambia and Eswatini — that have maintained long diplomatic relations with the Polisario’s self-styled SADR — opposed the SADC paragraph about Western Sahara speaks volumes of the diplomatic breakthroughs that Morocco has achieved in the past three years in Africa,” the source stressed.
King Mohammed VI has long promoted South-South cooperation as a driver of economic growth and sustainable development across the continent. In the seven years before Morocco rejoined the AU, the King made almost 50 visits to 25 African states.
Morocco’s leadership in Africa and push for pan-African progress have grown further since it rejoined the continental body. This policy’s success is clear in the increasing support for Morocco’s position in Western Sahara.
“Since Morocco’s return to the AU, Algeria and the Polisario have witnessed, to their utter dismay, how Rabat has masterfully played on their turf, gleaning more support to its cause,” our source added.
He further noted that this momentum has “deprived the separatist movement and its main backers, Algeria and South Africa, of any leeway to counteract Morocco’s push to gain more support for its position on the conflict.”
Persisting opposition from Pretoria
Relations between Morocco and South Africa deteriorated when the sub-Saharan country decided in 2004 to recognize the Polisario Front. Morocco responded by withdrawing its ambassador from South Africa.
In December 2019, South African Minister of International Relations Naledi Pandor challenged Morocco’s territorial integrity during an event at the embassy of Algeria, Polisario’s primary backer.
However, Morocco has reached out for peace since 2017, appointing Youssef Amrani as ambassador to South Africa after 15 years of frozen diplomatic ties.
Amrani told Morocco World News in January that he has ambitious hopes regarding the future of diplomatic relations, noting that the Moroccan representation in Pretoria aims to strengthen “bonds of friendship” between the two nations.