Sunday, February 7, 2021 1:00 pm
By Owei Lakemfa.
MOHAMMED Salem Uld Salek descended the stairs of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic, SADR, Embassy in Abuja with an agility that belied his seven decades on earth. The foreign minister reminded me of our last meeting in June 2019 during the visit of the SADR (also known as the Western Sahara) President Brahim Ghali. Salek, like a doting uncle, insisted on personally serving tea to Comrade Abiodun Aremu of the Nigeria Movement for the Liberation of Western Sahara, and I. He was accompanied by Ambassador Brahim Saleh Buseif and the First Secretary, Fadil Amari. Nigerian activist and facilitator, Suleiman Pema was also present.
Minister Salek was in Abuja to brief President Muhammadu Buhari and Nigerian officials on the situation in Western Sahara following the November 13, 2020 violation of ceasefire agreements by Morocco, a sister African country which is occupying two thirds of Western Sahara. That violation has resulted in the resumption of armed conflicts between both countries.
Ordinarily, Salek’s visit should have been smooth sailing. First, Western Sahara has justice and morality on its side as humanity recognises the inviolable right of all peoples to self-determination. Secondly, the African Union, AU, has since 1982 recognised the independence of Western Sahara and admitted that country as a full member. Thirdly, Nigeria had since 1984 recognised Western Sahara independence and rejected Morocco’s recolonisation. Fourthly, the Nigerian Head of State, then General Muhammadu Buhari who 37 years ago announced Nigeria’s recognition, is today the elected President of the country. To solidify the Western Sahara position in Nigeria, Professor Ibrahim Agboola Gambari who as Nigerian Foreign Minister in 1984 announced the recognition of Western Sahara’s independence, is today, the powerful Chief of Staff to President Buhari. In fact, he was the President of the Nigeria Movement for the Liberation of Western Sahara before his current appointment on May 13, 2020.
But politics is not linear and the sum total of its numbers change with circumstances and time; the Nigeria of the 1970s and ‘80s that stood on principles espousing the values of Pan Africanism, perhaps due to advancing poverty, prevaricates. The same Sunday, January 31, 2021 Salek left Nigeria, President Buhari and Moroccan King Mohammed V1, had a telephone conversation during which they agreed to execute the Nigeria-Morocco Gas Pipeline and construction of a fertiliser production plant in Nigeria. It just might have escaped the memory of Buhari that materials for the fertiliser plant will be looted from Western Sahara as Morocco has done in the past few years. Buhari thanked the King for support in the fight against terrorism and violent extremism. This ordinarily seems okay. But if terrorism is the use of unlawful force or violence to further political or social objectives, King Mohammed V1 by the violence and looting he executes in Western Sahara, is perpetuating nothing but terrorism.
Salek had in our conversations said Morocco crossed the buffer zone because it thought with its allies like France and America in the United Nations Security Council, the body will not condemn it and that the POLISARIO-led Saharawi will merely protest. It did not bargain that the Saharawi will fight to defend their country. So Morocco did not envisage a long-drawn guerrilla war which Salek says will not end until Morocco ends its occupation. He said the United Nations-supervised referendum should have taken place decades ago but has been stalled by Morocco when it realised the Saharawi will never vote to be part of that kingdom.
Salek said: “Morocco has phosphate, but knowing that it would one day lose Western Sahara, it is looting our resources using companies like Dangote.” He said the fundamental issue is: “What will be the future of our union, the AU? If an African country becomes a coloniser like the European coloniser; if our leaders on the continent allow this to happen, what will be the fate of our continent? Can countries like Nigeria, Egypt and Algeria allow an African country to be colonised?”
Salek says he is aware that Morocco, itself a poor country, is being given some empowerment to bribe very poor African countries or those in difficulties to sell off the independence of Western Sahara by opening non-functional consulates in the occupied territories; but that in itself will not stop the de-colonisation process. He named some of the compromised countries as Guinea which, led by the unforgettable Sekou Toure, had historically stood alone in West Africa against continued French colonisation; Guinea Bissau which under the brilliant African revolutionary, Amilcar Cabral, had fought a bloody war of de-colonisation against brutish Portuguese colonisation; Democratic Republic of Congo which under the principled Patrice Lumumba had forced Stone Age Belgium to concede independence, and former Upper Volta, renamed in 1984 by Thomas Sankara as Burkina Faso, meaning the ‘Land of Incorruptible People.’ Salek also listed among these compromised nations, Zambia whose founding President Kenneth Kaunda famously proclaimed: “Zambia Shall Be Free!” Gambia, the Comoros, war-torn Central Africa Republic and Liberia whose motto famously proclaimed: “The Love Of Liberty Brought Us Here.”
Salek, a lawyer trained in Rabat, at this point, made his basic submissions: “We have an aggressor and aggressee. There is the principle in international law against acquiring lands by force. Secondly, how does the world allow someone to kill his neighbour and occupy his home? Thirdly, most African countries had some relationship with ancient empires (like Ghana, Mali, Songhai and Oyo); will they come today and claim proprietorship over independent countries? If we allow foreign interests to use an African country against another, we cannot progress… What is at stake is the Constitutive Act of the AU. What will be the legitimacy of the AU if it cannot call a member violating its basic principles to order?”
On the recognition by the Trump administration of Morocco’s claimed ownership of Western Sahara, Salek chuckled: “If Moroccans really believe Western Sahara is theirs, they will not need Trump to say it is theirs; if your house is your house, you do not need somebody to say it is your home. This Trump declaration was part of a deal between Morocco and Israel for the former to recognise Israel and its illegal occupation of Palestinian lands in return for recognition of Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara. It is a business transaction like selling a goat. Trump cannot give a territory he does not own; he cannot give one country to another country. It is a joke. If Trump says he recognises Togo or Benin Republic as part of Nigeria, will that not be crazy?”
Salem wrapped up the discussions with his submission that Nigeria as an African leader must play its role to “defend the shared principles of Africa”.