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Is Lamamra a firefighter or pyromaniac in Algeria-Morocco relations?

François Soudan
By François Soudan
Editor-in-chief of Jeune Afrique

Posted on Friday, 27 August 2021 15:35

Algeria's Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra speaks during a news conference in Algiers, Algeria August 24, 2021. REUTERS/Abdelaziz Boumzar

What's really behind the 24 August communiqué, in which Algeria's minister of foreign affairs Ramtane Lamamra declared the rupture of diplomatic relations with Morocco?

The first statement of the official declaration N° 12/105 deserves to be quoted in full. Everything is said, implicitly, about border relations (between two apparently incompatible regimes) that have never translated into anything other than hegemony and rivalry. As proof, this accusatory statement could be repeated verbatim if the roles were reversed, by the Moroccan side.

So what did the statement say? “It is objectively established, historically, that the Kingdom of Morocco has never ceased to carry out hostile, unfriendly and malicious actions against our country, and this [has been happening] since Algeria’s independence.”

This is followed by a chronological, retrospective description – in several stages – intended to demonstrate how Morocco “systematically and persistently undermined” any attempt at rapprochement between the two countries, to the point of forcing them “without [respite]” to follow “a narrow path bordering on the abyss”.

Rewriting history

The first flashback of history rewritten by Lamamra is the 1963 Sand War. This was, according to him, “an open war of aggression, a fratricidal war unleashed by the royal armed forces” and which we did not know – but we learn from the minister – had cost the lives of “850 valiant martyrs” (estimates were until now of 300 Algerian and 40 Moroccan deaths).

As long as this four-week war – which we know was won by Morocco on the military level and by Algeria on the diplomatic level – is the cornerstone of the Cherifian hostility towards its eastern neighbours, it would perhaps be better to retrace its context – which Lamamra refrains from doing.

It is important to note, for example, the support from Mohammed V to Algerian fighters during the fight for independence, as well as his refusal, which was decisive for the future, to accede to the barter proposed by the French. This included the handover of the wilaya of Tindouf (which was attached to the province of Agadir until 1952) in exchange for the liquidation of the sanctuaries of the ALN in the Oriental.

It should also be remembered that at the time, ‘El Moudjahid’ called Hassan II a “feudal puppet”; and that even today, the camp from which the first shot of the Sand War was fired on 2 October 1963 on the side of Ich, Hassi Beïda and Tinjoub – between regs and hamadas – remains a mystery.

Another assertion contained in this statement – in the form of an indictment – is that “Algeria has always refrained from interfering in the internal affairs of the Kingdom of Morocco”. This is in direct contrast to Morocco, adds Lamamra. He cites – in support of his thesis – the now famous note from Omar Hilale, Morocco’s ambassador to the UN, supporting the “right to self-determination” of the “valiant Kabyle people”.

Will Algerian opinion follow its government in what appears to be a flight forward?

Ill-advised and certainly provocative, this note – distributed on 14 July on the fringes of a meeting of the non-aligned movement in New York – can only be explained in a specific context (the sudden reactivation of the Saharan crisis) to which Lamamra intentionally makes no reference.

The Algerian position in favour of a referendum on autonomy is certainly known. But it is difficult to see how sheltering, arming and maintaining – for 45 years on its territory – a guerrilla front (proclaiming itself to be in a state of open war against Morocco), falls within the framework of the “non-interference” brandished by Lamamra.

Shadowy side

Since November 2020, the Polisario has claimed at least one attack per day against the Moroccan defence wall. Even if most of them are fictitious, these war communiqués systematically relayed by the official media in Algiers are issued from Tindouf.

For the rest, let us not be naïve: Algerian-Moroccan wrangling has always been accompanied by a shadowy side that does not care about the principle of internal sovereignty of the two states. In the 1960s and 1970s, when Moroccan services discreetly supported the Kabyle rebellion of Hocine Aït Ahmed and parachuted arms into Cape Sigli at night, it was from Algiers that Mehdi Ben Barka called for the overthrow of the monarchy and his supporters infiltrated Morocco to set up maquis [Algerian guerillas].

Even today, it is in the shelter of the kingdom that a certain number of former Algerian officials have found refuge. They include the likes of Amar Saadani, former head of the Assembly and of the FLN, a holder of [state] secrets and who is subject to an extradition request.

Diversion

Faced with a Morocco emboldened by the American recognition of its sovereignty over the former Western Sahara and the re-establishment of its relations with Israel, a “deal” perceived as hostile to Algiers, Lamamra summons history to conclude that the disagreement between the two neighbours is in some way congenital and can never change.

In reality, the Algerian government – much criticised internally for its deficient management of the forest fires that ravaged part of the country and forced it to seek help from its former coloniser – cannot escape the temptation to create a diversion. [For example], how many Canadairs could have been bought at the cost of ex-President Bouteflika’s medicalised Airbus, which has been immobilised for the past 10 years in a hangar in Boufarik with 50 hours of official flight time on the clock? Eight.

Without any proof, Lamamra goes so far as to accuse Rabat of being involved in the burning and lynching of an innocent citizen suspected of arson, through its “active and documented collaboration” with the “terrorist organisations MAK and Rachad”.

Fleeing ahead

Will Algerian opinion follow its government (or, more precisely, its army, as it is obvious that such a decision could not be taken without the authorisation of the ANP Chief of Staff Said Chengriha) in what appears to be a flight forward?

The only certain thing is that the desire of the two nations to get closer has always been in contradiction with the hostility of the leaders and the Sahara issue has never been a national cause in Algeria. The previous breakthrough in diplomatic relations – at the behest of Morocco and against a backdrop of direct confrontations between the armies of the two countries – lasted 12 years (from 1976 to 1988). How long will it last this time?

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