Chergui’s disappointment with the prevailing AU consensus on Western Sahara points to Algeria’s dwindling continental clout.
Rabat – Smail Chergui, the Algerian diplomat serving as the African Union Commission Commissioner for Peace and Security, once again courted controversy this week after his latest unsuccessful attempt to single-handedly change the African Union’s stance on the Western Sahara conflict.
As the commissioner of the AU’s Peace and Security Commission (PSC), the Algerian diplomat was responsible for penning the draft of the statement to be presented at the upcoming summit of the AU heads of states on December 6.
Under the theme “Silencing the Guns,” the AU summit is set to discuss recent developments in Africa’s security landscape, with a special focus on ending armed conflicts and fighting against terrorism.
Lost in translation
For Chergui, however, penning the document to be presented at the December 6 summit was an opportunity to exploit; he tried to include statements in favor of the Algeria-backed Polisario Front.
The scheme resulted in two strikingly different versions of the same document during the latest meeting of the AU Permanent Representatives Committee, which discusses and greenlights the talking points of the AU heads of state summit.
In the French version of the draft declaration, the Algerian diplomat has the heads of state of the AU reiterate their “firm commitment to end to all the vicissitudes of colonialism in Africa and to quickly allow for self-determination for the people of Western Sahara.”
The same draft later notes the head of states’ determination to push for “the self-determination of the Sahrawi people” in “accordance with the relevant decisions of the AU.”
The English draft of the declaration did not contain any such reference to “self-determination” or the “Sahrawi people,” however.
AU’s changing approach to Western Sahara
Since July 2018, the African Union has pledged support for the UN Security Council’s agenda on Western Sahara. This meant the AU would no longer pursue a “parallel,” typically “African solution” to the Sahara question.
Instead, the pan-African organization has promised to accompany and help implement the UN-led political process. To many, this unprecedented shift signaled Africa’s increasing drift towards Morocco’s position.
But the presence of Algeria’s take on the Sahara question in one of the documents to be read at the upcoming AU summit meant that Chergui, who once claimed to “only take orders from Algiers,” has no qualms about obstructing AU principles when they do not align with Algiers’ interests.
While the defiant reference to Western Sahara earned the Algerian diplomat serious reprimand from both his AU colleagues and Commission chair Mahamat, Chergui did not formally withdraw his discernible contempt towards AU mechanisms and procedures.
When asked about the reason for the discrepancy, Chergui feebly defended himself by claiming that it must have been a translation problem. He explained, though unconvincingly, that the translator must have omitted some of the last-minute changes.
The Algerian’s invocation of some last-minute changes refers to his latest interaction with Moussa Faki Mahamat on an earlier draft of the same declaration.
Mahamat, who read Chergui’s first draft, had strongly told the Algerian diplomat off. The AU Commission chairman firmly instructed Chergui to leave out any reference to the Sahara issue in the draft report before the meeting of the AU Permanent Representatives Committee.
Both Chergui’s dismay with the prevailing AU consensus on Western Sahara and his embarrassing failure to have his last-ditch efforts slip through the final draft of the AU declaration point to Algeria’s dwindling continental clout.
If anything, the recent procession of supportive statements for Morocco’s action in Guerguerat was a textbook illustration of how Rabat’s diplomatic advances in recent years have decisively changed the dynamics and diplomatic discourse around the Sahara question.
This new, pro-Morocco dynamic is even more perceptible in Africa, where Morocco has unrelentingly invested in establishing itself as a continental leader and trendsetter in a wide range of pan-African issues.
Coupled with its new-look, Africa-oriented smart power, Rabat’s assertive South-South diplomacy has cemented its ties with traditional African allies while earning it a growing cohort of new, formerly reluctant partners.
Sabri Boukadoum, Algeria’s Foreign Affairs Minister, learned of this growing trend the harsh way during a recent visit to Nigeria. Boukadoum, who hoped to gain some kind of support from Nigeria for his country’s pro-Polisario campaign, left the West African country dismayed and disappointed.
As my Morocco World News colleague Jasper Hamann has put it, “As Morocco’s influence on the continent grows, it is likely we will see more cooperation and less futile divisions that have dominated post-colonial Africa.”