What was the real intention behind Morocco’s decision to hold an international forum in occupied Western Sahara, Africa’s last colony? Peter Kenworthy judges it to be a legitimization of Morocco’s occupation by both the occupier and the attending heads of state and international figures.
Officials from the United Nations, the African National Congress and an array of mostly former, but also present, world leaders have participated in the Crans Montana Forum in Dakhla, occupied Western Sahara, to the delight of the colonizer, Morocco.
The Special Advisor to the UN Secretary General and former French Minister, Philippe Douste-Blazy, chaired the opening ceremony and a workshop, whilst the President of UN Women Canada, Almas Jiwani, gave a presentation. But neither was apparently there representing the United Nations, since the UN has stated that it did not send a delegation to the forum and that Douste-Blazy attended “in his private capacity”.
The African National Congress was also allegedly represented at the forum, although they stated in a press release that they have not sent a delegation and would “never send an anonymous delegation anywhere, let alone to Western Sahara”. The Crans Montana Forum nonetheless claim on their website that President Zuma’s daughter Ntombenhle Msiza, and the Chairman of International Relations of the ANC Lindi Rufus Radebe, attended as part of a “large delegation”.
EMBARRASSING FOR UN AND ANC
The attendance at the forum of their high-ranking officials is nevertheless profoundly embarrassing for both the UN and the ANC.
The UN have repeatedly criticized the colonization of Western Sahara and demanded a referendum on the status of the colony for decades through an array of resolutions. And the ANC and South Africa have long claimed to support the Saharawis, with President Zuma himself stating last year that South Africa “supports the peoples that are still struggling for freedom and democracy, in particular Saharawi and Palestinian peoples”.
The African Union, of which the Saharawi government-in-exile is a member, for their part condemned the forum as “a grave violation of international law” and “in contradiction to the efforts made by the international community to resolve the conflict in Western Sahara”. Nevertheless, several African countries sent presidents and ministers to the forum, apparently unaware of the stance and statement of their own union.
A COLONIZED TOURIST DESTINATION
But perhaps the real reason behind the forum in Dakhla, at least for Morocco, is to legitimize its colonization of Western Sahara in the eyes of the world, sell Western Sahara as a Moroccan tourist destination, and continue to illegally plunder the colony together with its foreign friends without too many questions being asked.
Morocco’s Minister of Tourism certainly seemed to think so. The forum gave Morocco “high exposure around the world”, he told Morocco World News, singling out Dakhla as an “emergent tourist destination” where “ [they">want to open new air routes” to Europe “in order to make it easier for European tourists to come to Dakhla”.
A CLUB OF EXPLOITERS
The list of people present, including Tourism Ministers from Africa, former French and Spanish Presidents and PMs, high level government officials from New Zealand and Australia, and representatives from the WTO, OPEC and several banks certainly read like a bit like a club of present and future exploiters of Western Sahara. And there was certainly no criticism of the choice of Dakhla as the host city during the conference, where the Western Sahara conflict was not mentioned at all.
The Crans Montana Forum claims that the forum in Dakhla was “an opportunity to promote peace and dialogue”, but as its founder Jean-Paul Carteron also described Dakhla as “a model for the future of Morocco and Africa”, any peace is bound to be Moroccan-dictated and the dialogue more akin to a Moroccan monologue.
According to the head of Secretariat Morten Nielsen from the Danish solidarity organisation Afrika Kontakt, who have campaigned for a free Western Sahara for many years, the forum was something of a fiasco.
“Morocco hasn’t got the positive news publicity that they had hoped for. And the meeting hasn’t really yielded any concrete results, even though it has been very costly for Morocco”, said Morten Nielsen.
STUCK IN A HUMAN RIGHTS NIGHTMARE
But regardless of the results, or lack thereof, of the Crans Montana Forum, Morocco refuses to discuss any solutions to the conflict that might lead to independence for Western Sahara, even though the International Court of Justice rejected Morocco’s claims to Western Sahara before Morocco invaded in 1975, including the referendum on the future of Western Sahara which Morocco had initially accepted.
So the Saharawis in Western Sahara are stuck in a budding Moroccan tourist paradise that is more akin to a nightmare for them. And they have been for nearly 40 years.
Amnesty International and other human rights organisations frequently report grave human rights violations in Western Sahara, especially against Saharawis who advocate or promote independence. Amnesty’s new “Stop Torture” campaign classes Morocco (including Western Sahara) as one of the world’s five worst torturing nations. And Freedom House rates Morocco as one of the absolute worst countries in the world regarding civil liberties and political rights.
* Peter Kenworthy is a journalist with Afrika Kontakt.
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