Cyril Ramaphosa is no friend of Morocco in the Western Sahara dispute, but the South African president, contrary to his own agenda, found himself defending AU Decision 693.
Rabat – To Algeria and Polisario’s dismay, South African President and current Chair of the African Union (AU) Cyril Ramaphosa defended the AU’s limited role in efforts to resolve the Western Sahara dispute on Sunday.
Algeria and South Africa are Polisario’s key African supporters and vocal opponents of Morocco’s territorial integrity. But in a surprising — although not critical — blow to Polisario and Algeria, Ramaphosa reaffirmed the centrality of AU Decision 693 during the 14th Extraordinary AU Summit on Silencing the Guns.
Ramaphosa seized the opportunity during his opening remarks to unilaterally express “grave concern about the current situation in Western Sahara, which demands that every effort is made to facilitate the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara.”
Yet as the summit’s attendees argued the issue, Ramaphosa, contrary to his own agenda, found himself defending Decision 693.
AU Decision 693 of July 2018 limits the continental body’s role in a Western Sahara resolution to offering support to UN-led efforts in the political process. It came after the AU realized that insisting on a pan-African solution to the dispute was unproductive and internally divisive.
The decision also established the AU Troika mechanism. The AU Troika includes the outgoing, the current, and the incoming Chairpersons, as well as the Chairperson of the AU Commission, who are responsible for extending effective support to UN-led efforts.
The mechanism intends to encourage the parties to the conflict to demonstrate flexibility while mobilizing African support for the UN political process.
Several Algerian officials recently attempted to upend Decision 693 and defame the Troika mechanism, sparking disagreements during Sunday’s summit.
The Minister Delegate to Morocco’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mohcine Jazouli, said that achieving the objectives of “silencing the guns in Africa” requires AU member states to respect the body’s official decisions.
He named Algerian diplomat Smail Chergui, who recently made an underhanded attempt to have the heads of state of the AU support “self-determination” in Western Sahara during the Silencing the Guns summit.
Chergui, the AU Commissioner for Peace and Security, was responsible for drafting the statement his commission would present at Sunday’s session.
In the French version of his draft statement, he wrote that the heads of state of the AU are determined to push for “the self-determination of the Sahrawi people” in “accordance with the relevant decisions of the AU,” outright defying AU Decision 693.
Jazouli addressed Chergui’s maneuver in a statement during Sunday’s summit.
“To attempt to infringe [on AU decisions] as was the case with Commissioner Chergui … is an attempt to divert our August assembly from its objective in order to fulfill national agendas,” he said.
The Moroccan minister delegate said inserting Algeria’s agenda into official AU statements is “not worthy of a high official of the [Peace and Security] Commission bound by the obligation of neutrality.”
During the summit, supporters and opponents of Morocco’s territorial integrity exchanged combative remarks on the Western Sahara dispute. In a bid to calm the internal division, Ramaphosa recognized the frustration on both sides and expressed his concerns with the disturbance of peace in Western Sahara.
However, he reiterated that the AU maintains its limited role in the political process, pursuant to Decision 693.
Ramaphosa certainly spares no opportunity to attack Morocco’s territorial integrity in his official statements as AU Chair, but his defense of the AU consensus on Western Sahara — reluctant or not — likely unnerved Polisario and Algeria.
His remarks on Sunday came after Smail Chergui and two other Algerian officials attempted to sway the AU, both directly and indirectly, to abandon Decision 693 and take on a more active role in the Western Sahara process.
The latest was Algerian Foreign Minister Sabri Boukadoum, who pleaded with the AU last week to take back the Western Sahara file from the UN.
The AU Peace and Security Council, which Algeria leads, must “assume its responsibilities” in Western Sahara given “the total failure of the Troika mechanism,” Boukadoum said at the 21st extraordinary session of the AU Executive Council on December 2.
The UN political process, which increasingly favors Morocco’s Autonomy Plan, is “at a total impasse,” Boukadoum argued.
Algerian politician Jamal Bouras, who is acting as interim president of the Pan-African Parliament (PAP), also made a calculating attempt to disrupt the status quo after Morocco’s operation on November 13 to end Polisario’s blockade of the Guerguerat border crossing.
In a statement on behalf of the parliament, Bouras said PAP is ready to “accompany the African Union’s efforts to find permanent solutions to the Western Sahara conflict in accordance with international resolutions.”
Algerian Prime Minister Abdelaziz Djerad advanced the maneuvers of Boukadoum, Chergui, and Bouras during the AU summit on Sunday.
Algeria’s press service quoted Djerad as saying that the aim of “silencing the guns” cannot succeed without “the eradication of the residues of colonialism in Africa” and “allowing the Saharawi people to exercise their inalienable right to self-determination through a free and fair referendum in the Sahara.”
Like Boukadoum, the prime minister defied Decision 693 and implored the AU to “assume its mission of preserving African peace and security … in order to contribute to the search for a solution to this conflict.”
With Ramaphosa’s term as AU Chair set to expire in a month, Algeria is ramping up efforts to sway the AU consensus on the Western Sahara process before an ally of Morocco takes Ramaphosa’s seat. These efforts, however, have ultimately failed.
Ramaphosa’s defense of Decision 693 should represent the final nail in the coffin as the AU prepares to welcome Democratic Republic of Congo President Felix Antoine Tshisekedi as chairperson in January 2021. But should Algeria continue its efforts to alter the AU consensus in favor of Polisario, Western Sahara observers will not be surprised.