The US opens a consulate in Western Sahara

By The Africa Report

Posted on Monday, 11 January 2021 16:24
Nasser Bourita in the centre, David Schenker US Under Secretary for North Africa and the Middle East on his left, David Fischer US Ambassador to Morocco (with the sunglasses behind Jennifer Fischer, the wife of the US Ambassador). © DR

The US opened a consulate on Sunday in Western Sahara, a move that is being disputed by Morocco and the Polisario Front independence fighters.

According to the US Embassy, the role and exact status of this office were clarified on Sunday. The consulate will be located in Dakhla, a fishing port located in southern Western Sahara, intended to become a “regional maritime hub” serving Africa and the Canary Islands through a large development project launched by Rabat.

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The Assistant Secretary of State for the Middle East and North Africa, David Schenker – who began a “historic visit” on Saturday to Western Sahara by landing in Laayoune, the regional capital – will preside over the event, according to the US Embassy in Morocco’s Twitter account.

The normalisation of relations with Israel

This strong diplomatic gesture is part of the tripartite agreement signed on 22 December by the Americans, Israelis and Moroccans. The agreement states that the US will recognise Rabat’s sovereignty over Western Sahara in exchange for Morocco normalising relations with Israel.

It comes at a time when the political negotiations conducted by the UN on the status of this territory, located in northern Mauritania, have been stalled for decades. Morocco, which controls about two-thirds of the territory, wants “autonomy under control.” The Polisario, supported by neighbouring Algeria, is campaigning for independence and is calling for a referendum on self-determination, as planned by the UN.

As Donald Trump prepares to leave the White House, his teams quickly deployed the provisions of the agreement that made Morocco the fourth country to normalise its relations with Israel – after the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan – while legitimising its presence in Western Sahara. Morocco’s new map incorporating Western Sahara was adopted by Washington three days after the agreement was announced. The first commercial flight between Tel Aviv and Rabat was chartered 10 days later, in the presence of Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner.

“Status quo failures”

“By recognising Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, President Trump has rejected the failed status quo that benefits no-one, and instead set in motion a lasting and mutually acceptable solution,” Kushner said at the time. The agreement provides for the opening of a US “consulate” in Dakhla and includes a package of $3bn (€2.4bn), released by the American Development Bank (DFC) for “financial and technical support for private investment projects” in Morocco and sub-Saharan Africa.

In addition, $1bn (€818m) will be dedicated to female entrepreneurship in the region through the initiative “2X Women Africa”, financed by the DFC. Beyond the financial aspect, the kingdom considers the American validation of “its Sahara” as “a historic diplomatic breakthrough.” In recent months, about twenty countries – including Comoros, Liberia, Burkina Faso, Bahrain and the UAE – have opened diplomatic representations in Dakhla or Laayoune (north), which the Polisario considers contrary to international law.

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In mid-November, the Polisario broke the ceasefire signed in 1991 under the auspices of the UN after Morocco deployed its troops in a demilitarised zone on the border with Mauritania to “secure” the only road to West Africa, regularly cut off by independence fighters.

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