Developments of the Moroccan Sahara Issue

Historical background:

The history of the Kingdom of Morocco is marked by its own model of colonization and decolonization, different from any other forms experienced in the history of other countries of the African continent and the world. In 1912, the Moroccan territory was split into several zones of occupation: France in the center, Spain in the northern zone, including the cities of Sebta, Melilla and the neighboring islands, Spain in the Southern zone “Sakkiat El Hamra, Oued Eddahab, Tarfaya and Sidi Ifni”, and the international zone of Tangier, which was entrusted to a council composed of 12 foreign powers.

44 years later, the Kingdom of Morocco began to recover its territorial integrity through international agreements negotiated with the various colonial powers. Following this, and after its independence in 1956, the Kingdom of Morocco held a series of negotiations with Spain that brought the gradual recovery of some southern parts of the country:

  • The Agreement signed in 1958 under which the city of Tarfaya was retroceded to Morocco;
  • The Agreement of 1969 which consecrated the return of Sidi-Ifni;
  • The Madrid Agreement of 1975, which marked the end of the Spanish presence in the Sahara, and which the UN General Assembly took note of by resolution 3458 / B.

The African mediation initiated in 1976, through the Organization of African Unity (African Union today), ended in failure, due to its partial position adopted in the treatment of the dispute over the Sahara. The Organization of African Unity reversed the position of neutrality, impartiality and reserve when accepting for admission an entity that does not meet the recognition criteria in international law.

With the failure of the African solution, Morocco naturally turned to the United Nations to find a solution to this dispute.

Evolution of the question within the United Nations:

Morocco participated loyally to the implementation of the Settlement Plan proposed in 1991 by the United Nations in order to resolve the dispute over the Moroccan Sahara issue. However, the complexity and the delicate aspect of the identification process, the deliberate will of other parties to exclude important segments of the Sahrawi tribes from this process led the Secretary General and the United Nations Security Council to conclude the inapplicability of the settlement plan.

In response to the Security Council calls to the parties to end the political deadlock were heard from 2004. Morocco presented, on 11 April 2007, to the UN Secretary General "the Moroccan Initiative for Negotiation an Autonomy status for the Sahara region”. Thanks to this initiative, the Kingdom of Morocco guaranteed the populations of the region to manage their affairs in a democratic manner through legislative, executive and legal bodies. Through this initiative, the population was endowed with the financial resources in order to contribute to the development of the region in all fields and participate actively in boosting the economic and reviving the social and cultural life not only in Sahara but throughout all Morocco.

Since its submission to the United Nations, this initiative has been supported and welcomed by many states. Thanks to this Moroccan proposal, a momentum was launched within the Security Council, which qualified it as "serious and credible" and asked the parties to engage in negotiations in good faith without preconditions in order to reach a political, fair, sustainable and mutually acceptable solution.

Several rounds of formal negotiations (Manhasset) and informal meetings in which Morocco has participated since 2007. The absence of both a clear methodology to move the political process and genuine involvement of Algeria led to the failure of the Manhasset process, which consequently deadlocked the political process since 2012.

On the initiative of the Personal Envoy of the UN Secretary General for the Sahara, Mr. Horst Koller, two round tables were held in Geneva respectively, in December 2018 and in March 2019, with the participation of Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania and "polisario".

The Moroccan delegation, chaired by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation was comprised the presidents of the two regions of the Moroccan Sahara, as well as a Sahrawi woman representative of local civil society. The Moroccan delegation highlighted the achievements made by Morocco in term of good governance and development of the region. They also shed light the social and economic progress achieved in the region, the democratic participation of the population in running their local affairs, the prevailing climate of freedom in the Moroccan Sahara and the efforts made of reinserting Moroccans who choose to return to their Motherland, in order to live in dignity and contribute to the development of the region.

During the first round table, discussions revolved around the recent development in the Moroccan Sahara as well as the regional stability and the next steps to be taken in the political process. As for the second round table, the discussions turned around the significance of the realistic, practicable and enduring political solution based on compromise, the Maghreb integration and the future steps in the political process.

These round tables were an opportunity for Morocco to reaffirm that the Moroccan autonomy initiative provides the realistic and practicable solution based on compromise, in order to achieve an enduring settlement of this regional dispute around the Sahara issue. This solution is in full accordance with the principle of self-determination.

Following the holding of these round tables, the Security Council, by its resolution 2548, called on Algeria to shoulder a role commensurate with its political, diplomatic, military and humanitarian involvement in this regional dispute. The UN resolution also specifies that no political process is possible without the effective and constructive involvement of this country.

The Security Council resolution does not contain any reference to the referendum, while it refers 6 times to the political solution, and definitively confirms the mandate of MINURSO, whose presence is in no way linked to a hypothetical referendum, an option rejected by the Security Council.

The Political, socio-economic and cultural empowerment of the population in the Sahara region:

The process of advanced regionalization, called upon by the Moroccan constitution of July 2011, enabled the Sahara to implementing its new development Plan, taking into consideration its regional specificities, in order to a promote democratic management of local affairs by the populations of the Sahara region.

His Majesty King Mohammed VI stressed in his speech to the Moroccan Parliament on 9 October 2015, that “the democratic legitimacy freely conferred by the citizens upon the officials who were elected there makes them the true representatives of the populations of the Moroccan Sahara, not a minority which resides abroad and who are under illusion that they can be self-proclaimed representative without any basis for their allegations ”.

The population of the Moroccan Sahara regularly participates in the political, economic and socio-cultural life of the region. On 07 October 2016, the population of the Moroccan Sahara participated in the legislative elections, which took place in a democratic, free and transparent manner.

In addition, during the last municipal and regional elections, held on 04 September 2015, the voter’s turnout in the Sahara region reached 79%, the highest at the national level. These elections were conducted democratically and without a single incident.

Two Saharawi, including a former "polisario official”, who returned to the motherland a few years ago, were elected presidents of the two regions of the Sahara. The presidents and members of the regional and communal councils of the Sahara are all originated from the region. The free and democratic election of these men and women allows them to effectively manage the affairs of the Sahara region.

Regarding the human development indicators in the region, in 1975 they were 6% lower compared to northern regions of Morocco and 51% lower than the national average in Spain. Nowadays, the indicators in the Sahara exceed by far the average of other regions in the Kingdom and in the neighborhood.

Morocco significantly intensified efforts towards the development of the Sahara region, in particular with the launch by His Majesty King Mohammed VI, on 07 November 2015, of the new development Plan for the southern provinces with a budget of 7,7 billion dollars and which will create 120,000 new jobs.

The managing of natural resources in the Sahara region

In his opinion to the Security Council of 12February 2020, the UN Legal Adviser concluded that the exploitation of natural resources is in accordance with international law if it is carried out for the benefit of the populations, on their behalf, or in consultation with their representatives. It is this approach that the Kingdom of Morocco follows in the policy of valuing the natural resources of the Moroccan Sahara.

The legality of the valuation of the natural resources of the Moroccan Sahara is confirmed by the renewal by the European Parliament, by an overwhelming majority, of the Morocco-EU Agricultural Agreement, on 17 January 2019, and the Morocco-EU Fisheries Agreement, on 12 February 2019, which covers the Moroccan Sahara.

The population of the Sahara region actively participates in the establishment of national policies for the management and exploitation of national resources, through their representatives in the Parliament and the democratically elected regional and local authorities.

In his speech on the 39th anniversary of the Green March, His Majesty King Mohammed VI announced, "for each dirham of revenue in the region, Morocco invests 7 dirhams in its Sahara, as part of solidarity between its regions and between the children of the United Fatherland. »

The advanced regionalization, launched with the election of the first regional presidents in 2015, grants the 12 regions of Morocco, including those of the Moroccan Sahara, autonomous powers, including planning, regional development and the promotion of economic activities.

In his report of October 2018, the UN Secretary General noted, "MINURSO observed that Morocco has continued to make considerable investments in infrastructure and economic development in the west of the Moroccan defense system. Morocco ensures that investments and projects benefit the populations of the Sahara and are implemented in full consultation with them.”

The return of Morocco to its institutional family of the African Union

Morocco resumed his seat in the African Union (AU) during the 28th AU Summit, held in Addis Ababa on 30 January 2017. However, the Kingdom's return to the AU does not imply, in any case, a recognition of the pseudo "sadr".

His Majesty King Mohammed VI, in His address from Dakar on 6 November 2016 marking the anniversary of the Green March, started that “Morocco's return to its continental institutional family will not change our unwavering position regarding the Moroccan Sahara”.

It is worth mentioning that there are currently 34 AU member states, two-thirds of the membership, which do not recognize the pseudo "sadr". Among them, 17 member states of the African Union have never recognized this entity. Nowadays, 165 States of the 193 UN members do not recognize this fictional entity.

It should also be noted that the two large cities of the Saharan provinces, Laâyoune and Dakhla, host 16 consulates general, mainly from African countries. The city of Laâyoune saw the inauguration of the consular offices of the Kingdom of Eswatini, the Union of the Comoros, Gabon, the Central African Republic, Sao Tome and Principe, Burundi, the Côte d’Ivoire, Zambia and the United Arab Emirates. The city of Dakhla saw the opening of representations from Equatorial Guinea, Gambia, Guinea, Republic of Djibouti, Liberia, Guinea-Bissau and Burkina Faso.

Far from being anecdotal, the opening of these consulates is a message given to the world on the importance of cultivating strong links for the common good, but also a recognition of the reality of the historical borders of the Kingdom and of its inalienable right to the protection and defense of its territorial integrity.

Recent developments on the situation on the border post of Guerguerate:

After having observed the greatest restraint in the face of the extremely serious provocations of the "polisario", which had blocked the border post of Guerguerate, since 21 October 2020, Morocco took its responsibilities and decided to act by an operation limited in time and in space, on 13 November 2020, within the framework of its attributions and international legality, in order to restore the freedom of civil and commercial movement in this zone.

This blockade involving civilians, including women and children, was supervised by heavily armed elements of the "polisario" and was accompanied by acts of destruction of the road between Morocco and Mauritania, as well as provocations to the place of the Royal Armed Forces, whose attitude was one of restraint and patience.

The extremely serious provocations of the "polisario" are part of an open strategy to question the ceasefire in force for thirty years, through explicit calls for war and actions aimed at modifying the legal and historical status of the area to the east and south of the Moroccan defense system.

The Guergarate crossing point, without military aim and open only to civilian and commercial traffic, is vital for the entire West African region. Its blockage constitutes a direct attack on regional peace and security. Any country in the world has lent its support to the actions of destabilization of the "polisario".

His Majesty King Mohammed VI stressed to the UN Secretary General, Mr. Antonio Guterres that Morocco will continue to support the strategic efforts of the United Nations within the framework of the political process.

10 December 2020 15:14