How Morocco is organising anti-SADR lobbying at the African Union

By Rym Bousmid

Posted on Wednesday, 8 February 2023 12:58, updated on Thursday, 9 February 2023 10:49
Meeting of the Tangier Appeal’s signatories, in Marrakech, on 28 January 2023. © AU

Several former African prime ministers and foreign ministers have signed a text calling for the SADR to be expelled from the African Union. Although the idea for this campaign was born during the MEDays 2022 forum, held last November in Tangiers, its chances of success are slim at the moment.

On 28 January, three former African foreign ministers, Lesotho’s Lesego Makgothi, Madagascar’s Patrick Rajoelina and Gambia’s Lamine Kaba Badjo, joined the first 16 signatories of the Tangier Appeal in Marrakech.

The stated aim of what is officially called a “contact group” is to launch a “solemn appeal for the pseudo-SADR to be expelled from the African Union [AU]”. The signatories see the presence of the self-proclaimed Sahrawi separatist republic within the pan-African organisation as a “legal aberration” and “historical error”.

The call was launched on the sidelines of a roundtable discussion on ‘The AU in light of the Moroccan Sahara issue’, which was organised during the 14th edition of the MEDays and held from 2 to 5 November 2022 in Tangier. Nine former African prime ministers and foreign ministers, who were invited to the international forum organised by the think tank Institut Amadeus, were part of the event.

Former Prime Ministers Dileita Mohamed Dileita (Djibouti) and Martin Ziguélé (CAR), as well as former foreign ministers Lutfo Dlamini (Eswatini), Gbehzohngar Milton Findley (Liberia), Régis Immongault Tatagani (Gabon), Francis Kasaila (Malawi), Mankeur Ndiaye (Senegal), Mamadi Touré (Guinea) and Rafael Tuju (Kenya) were also present.

New names have since been added to the list: Former Prime Minister Augusto António Artur da Silva (Guinea-Bissau), and former Foreign Ministers Mohamed Abdirizak Mohamud (Somalia), Alpha Barry (Burkina Faso), Jean-Marie Ehouzou (Benin), Fahmi Saïd Ibrahim El Maceli (Comoros), Francis Kasaila (Malawi), Luis Felipe Lopes Tavares (Cape Verde) and Léonard She Okitundu Lundula (DRC). So far, there are 19 former heads of government and diplomacy from all regions of the continent.

‘White Paper’

When asked about the legitimacy of the mission set by the ‘contact group’ to which he belongs, Ziguélé brought up the ‘White Paper’, a legal and political document drawn up by the signatories that contains 10 arguments.

The document includes the following statements:

  • the ‘pseudo-SADR’ is not a state entity since it does not possess any of the attributes of a state;
  • the ‘pseudo-SADR’ is located on Algerian territory and is subject to Algeria’s sovereignty;
  • the ‘pseudo-SADR’ is a non-state entity that does not have international legal responsibility;
  • the admission of the ‘pseudo-SADR’ to the Organisation of African Unity [OAU] was forced’, among others.

Remember what happened during the regrettable episode of the last TICAD. We must do our best to prevent this kind of event from happening again

According to the former Central African prime minister, “the incongruous decision to include the SADR in the AU [formerly the OAU] creates many problems both in terms of strengthening trade cooperation and establishing security mechanisms on a continental scale”. Ziguélé also points out that Edem Kodjo, Togo’s former prime minister and the OUA’s ex-secretary general who died in 2020, was responsible for integrating the SADR in 1982.

This position is shared by Senegal’s former foreign affairs minister Mankeur Ndiaye, who referred to it as a “botched procedure” that was “legally contested” during the follow-up meeting in Marrakech. For all these reasons, the Tangier Appeal’s signatories plan to present their plea at the 36th AU summit, which is scheduled for early February in Addis Ababa.

“Remember what happened during the regrettable episode of the last TICAD. We must do our best to prevent this kind of event from happening again, for the sake of the African continent,” said Martin Ziguélé, referring to the 8th Tokyo International Conference for Development in Africa (TICAD), which was held on 27 and 28 August in Tunis.

On this occasion, Tokyo officially reaffirmed its non-recognition of the SADR, even though the host country had invited the pro-independence organisation. This incident perfectly illustrates the conflict between pro- and anti-SADR forces, and the lack of consensus on this issue among AU member states.

After a first meeting in Tangier in November 2022, then a first follow-up meeting in Marrakech on 29 January, the members of the “contact group” went to Rabat on 30 January. That day, during a meeting chaired by Morocco’s foreign affairs minister Nasser Bourita, they presented their famous ‘White Paper’ to the head of Cherifian diplomacy.

According to our information, the group would function “as an association” and be “in permanent contact in order to organise joint actions according to a pre-established agenda that is being drawn up”. The date of their next follow-up meeting has not yet been set.

A futile project?

In reality, the determination to exclude the SADR from the AU, which is now embodied by the ‘contact group’, is nothing new. In 2018, Moroccan diplomats tried in vain to table a similar motion. What is new is the mode of organisation (follow-up meetings, drafting of a political and legal plea, etc.), as well as the growing number of participants from several African countries.

It is worth noting that none of these participants are currently in their home countries. Their degree of influence is therefore limited and their presence in the ‘contact group’ basically involves only themselves.

However, the Tangier Appeal’s signatories are quite ambitious, as they see this project as “a long-term battle that must be fought with all resources”, according to Ndiaye. Ziguélé, who is well aware of the challenge that awaits them, says: “We will continue until we succeed!”

Objectively, the chances that the operation will be a success seem slim for now. The announcement of Kenya’s withdrawal from the race to chair the AU last January, which made Comoros President Azali Assoumani the favourite to succeed Senegal’s Macky Sall, could however prove to be an asset for the appeal’s signatories.

President Assoumani is historically sympathetic to Morocco and close to King Mohammed VI. If he does indeed take over the AU, which seems likely, the ground could become more fertile for the members of the Tangier Appeal.

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