The weather this time of the year in Algeria is cool; maybe cold, for a reporter from Northern Nigeria. It is typically Mediterranean. Algeria has been on my mind for as long as I have been conscious. It has a very heroic history in the African struggle for independence and anybody my generation who saw the film, BATTLE OF ALGIERS, will remember the gripping details of colonial brutality and the determination of the Algerian people to achieve independence, despite the odds and the ferocity of French imperialism. In all, more than two million Algerians died in what was the most difficult of the anti-colonial wars fought in Africa.
Algeria is very good at remembering and it is no wonder that it is at the heart of the solidarity movement for the last decolonization process in Africa: the Saharawi independence process. It is in fact the Saharawi process that has brought to Algeria. The three most important countries in the African support for the struggle of the Saharawi people’s struggle for independence are Algeria, Nigeria and South Africa. In the past two decades, the governments of these three countries have done a lot to support the African resolve to put an end to the impasse around the Moroccan occupation of the African nation that is now recognized by about eighty-seven countries around the world: the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic. But beyond the official governmental effort, is the momentum that is building within the civil society of these countries.
We arrived in Algiers on February 26th, 2010, to attend a meeting of the Popular African Movement of Solidarity with the Democratic Arab Saharawi Republic (RASD). This movement groups civil society and political movements from Algeria, Nigeria and South Africa. Of course, the choice of Algeria as host of the meeting of solidarity is directly related to its own history and the fact that is has borne the weight of solidarity with the Saharawi people for decades, hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees from the country as well as providing the facilities for nation building projects that the Saharawi people are preparing for the day they will hoist the flag of independent nationhood in Layoun, the capital of their occupied country. The setting of the meeting is the Dar Diaf Hotel in Algiers. If the weather was cool and Mediterranean, inside the hall there was warmth and camaraderie. The event commenced at 1015HRS with a minute silence to honour the martyrs of the struggle for Algerian independence.
The raison d’etre for the meeting was re-stated; it is to kick-start a pan-African initiative to be able to achieve the last decolonization project in Africa. The Saharawi people are struggling to achieve mastery of their own destiny as an African people, and despite the suffering and sacrifices, are determined to be free. Morocco has been trying to impose a fait accompli of occupation but that has failed, thanks to the 16 years of war and the fact that no country has recognized Morocco’s rule of Western Sahara. It is also instructive that despite its stifling military presence and the occupation of the country in swathes of movement of Moroccans into the country, Morocco has refused the demand of the international community that a referendum be conducted in Western Sahara to allow the people express what it is they really want: occupation by Morocco or independent nationhood.
What has been consistent in the debacle of Western Sahara has been resistance to occupation but that has even stiffened from 2005. Moroccan objective has been hinged upon the fact that the Saharawi population was so small, that they will swamped and consequently dominated. But the spirit of nationalism has been very strong and stubborn. On the other hand, the United Nations Security Council has been dominated by the interest of a few countries, such as France and even the United States, that have blocked the efforts to achieve independence of Sahara. France has refused reference to the human rights situation in the occupied Western Sahara, despite reports by the UN Commission for Refugees, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The various Peace plans such as the 1991, 1997 and the 2003 Baker Peace plan have remained unfulfilled and as a result of the pressure of France, the United Nations has refused to implement its own Resolutions.
By 2004, the Special Envoy, James Baker was still re-iterating that the referendum was still on the plate but that was consistently blocked by Morocco, which knew it could not win in a freely conducted process. Baker eventually resigned as special representative. Christopher Ross has subsequently led the new process to break the impasse. In August 2009, he convened a meeting in Vienna of the parties to the dispute and a second meeting held in the second quarter of February, 2010 which had just a one item agenda: to study the proposal of the other party. The proposal presented came from 2007. Unfortunately, Morocco refused to study the 2007 proposal presented by the Saharawi independence movement, the POLISSARIO FRONT. Ross insisted that Morocco studied these proposals and ahead of the April meeting of the UN Security Council, Ross was to travel in the region. This was the background against which the pan-African meeting of solidarity has been convened in Algiers. It is also important to state that it is held to commemorate the 34th anniversary of the declaration of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic, a country that is a founding member of the African Union (AU).
The South African delegation to the meeting was led by Major General Mokwape, who is also the president of the South African solidarity movement with the Saharawi people. He informed the gathering that the South African solidarity movement was launched on May 10, 2009, by the Saharawi President Abdul Azeez, who had attended the inauguration of the presidency of Jacob Zuma in South Africa. The SA delegation com[posed members of the ruling coalition of the ANC, the South African Communist Party and the trade union federation, COSATU. General Mokwape told the audience which included journalists and Saharawi refugees as well as the delegates from the three countries, that South Africa’s long struggle for freedom was premised upon a belief that if one African country was not free, then the freedom struggle in South Africa was not complete. He told an interesting story of how POLISSARIO fighters had captured weapons made by the apartheid regime in South Africa from the Moroccan army; these weapons were symbolically handed over to the late ANC leader, Oliver Tambo, by the leader of the SADR, so that the weapons can be used to defeat apartheid. Incidentally, the general was one of the ANC fighters who took possession of the weapons.
General Mokwape said that the struggle for Saharawi freedom was a very important defining struggle for Africans, because Saharawi freedom will inevitably be Morocco’s freedom as well. He pointed out that the solidarity movement in South Africa has a broad base of support which draws on the memory of the struggle in South Africa itself. He pledged that South Africa will work with Algeria and Nigeria to promote the pan-African movement of solidarity with the Saharawi people. Just like Kwame Nkrumah said in 1957, General Mokwape told the audience that we cannot all be free if the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic is not free.
The Nigerian head of delegation was also the Nigerian Ambassador to Algeria, Ambassador Jeremiah Yakubu. The ambassador reminded the meeting that Nigeria has been in league with Algeria and South Africa ib supporting the aspiration of the Saharawi people. Nigeria, he said loves freedom, and it believes that the Saharawi people deserve to be free pointing out that the movement of solidarity has emerged in Nigeria, pursuit to this feeling. Doctor Dipo Fashina, chairperson of Nigeria’s Labour-civil Society coalition, said that the Saharawi struggle must be located where it belonged and that was within the continuum of Africa’s struggle for liberation. Sahara, he reminded his listeners, was Africa’s last decolonization issue. He said that the Sahara was a historical embarrassment for Europe, wondering why the France of “Egalite, liberte and fraternite”, will be the supporter of continued Moroccan occupation of Sahara. “Nigeria will do more to ensure that the SADR is placed highly on the national and the pa-African agenda.
The meeting resolved to participate in events commemorating the 34th independence anniversary of SADSR which was to hold at Bir Lahlou, in the liberated zone of Sahara. The communiqué resolved that letters be written to responsible international bodies to act according to the principle establishing the Rights of people to self determination. There were other relevant issues taken up in the communiqué but what was clear was the determination of the civil society groups to become even more active in pushing for a resolution of the impasse in the Western Sahara. It is clear that there is no controversy that it is Africa’s last decolonization process and resolution must be achieved with the interest of the Saharawi people being the central point of international focus.