By Khalil Haddaoui
John Bolton claims to know well the issue of Western Sahara. He was a close collaborator of James Baker, former Personal Envoy of the Secretary General of the United Nations. What always struck me in these two personalities, as well as in their fellow countryman Christopher Ross, former Personal Envoy of the Secretary General of the United Nations, is their ability to evade the fundamental role of Algeria in what is called the issue of Western Sahara. To let the international community believe that the persistence of this conflict is due to the non respect of the right to self-determination, is utterly misleading. To fully understand this issue, it must be considered within the geo-strategic context of the North-West African region, while taking into account the propensity of the Algerian power towards expansionism and its obsession to gain access to the Atlantic Ocean. I recommend John Bolton to carefully examine the map of North Africa.
On 2 November 2001, James Baker received in his Institute in Houston, the Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. The Secretary General of the United Nations refers to this visit in his report dated 20 February 2002 (S/2002/178): “On 24 and 25 January 2002, my Personal Envoy, James A. Baker III, visited Morocco, where he was received twice by His Majesty King Mohammed VI, and high-level government officials. The purpose of the visit of my Personal Envoy was to inform the Moroccan authorities of the rejection by Algeria and the Frente POISARIO of the draft framework agreement, as had been reiterated to him by the President of Algeria, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, during his visit to the James Baker Institute in Houston, Texas, on 2 November 2001, and that, in the view of my Personal Envoy, Algeria and the Frente POLISARIO would be prepared to discuss or negotiate a division of the Territory as a political solution to the dispute over Western Sahara.” Why didn’t Bolton, who claims himself of being a close collaborator of Baker, object to the Algerian proposal to divide the territory as a “political solution”, since it is a flagrant violation of the principal of the right to self-determination?
As for Morocco, it has categorically rejected this proposal, by addressing a letter to the Security Council (S/2002/192) on 25 February 2002, asserting in particular that “by marking its availability to discuss territorial partition, Algeria is revealing its true motivations in this artificial conflict that it has created from scratch and systematically maintained since. The Algeria approach, under the disguise of defending the right to self-determination, serves in fact clear geopolitical claims. However, by supporting the idea of partition, Algeria betrays the principle of the right to self-determination, which it has used up to now, since it wishes to engage in bargaining to divide land and populations that everything united, in an unwavering bond, within the Kingdom of Morocco. In doing so, Algeria puts an end to the fiction, created and maintained by it, of the existence of a “Sahrawi people”.” In this regard, it must be noted that the Sahara is an immense geographical area, which is under several sovereignties. To only mention the region of North-West Africa, there is the Moroccan Sahara, as there is the Algerian Sahara and the Mauritanian Sahara. There are no ethnical differences between the populations of these regions as Bolton wants us to believe in his article. Talking of a “Sahrawi people” only for the populations in the Moroccan Sahara is a fiction.
John Bolton accuses Morocco of preventing the self-determination referendum, decided in UN Security Council resolution 690 of 1991, from taking place. But the truth is elsewhere: it is the Security Council who, while facing the difficulties of establishing electoral lists, recommended the secretary General, in its resolution dated 29 February 2000 (S/RES/1292), “to ask his Personal Envoy to consult the parties and, taking into account existing and potential obstacles, to explore ways and means to achieve an early, durable and agreed resolution of their dispute.”
Moreover, Bolton omits that King Hassan II had already proposed a self-determination referendum at the 18th African Summit held in Nairobi (Kenya) in the month of June 1981. The resolution AHG/RES.103 (XVIII), adopted on that occasion, congratulated the Moroccan King and decided to establish an Implementation Committee, composed of seven Head of States, to which the Summit gave the mandate “to take, with the United Nations, all the necessary measures to guarantee the exercise of a general and regular self-determination referendum of the populations of Western Sahara.”
The reality that Bolton ignores, or pretends to ignore, is that Algeria has always been against the self-determination referendum, while claiming otherwise. Algeria was unhappy with the decision of the African Summit, since Algerian authorities had already decided on the future of the population by recognizing a so called Sahrawi republic. On 27 February 1981, the deceased secretary general of the Polisario, Mohamed Abdul-Aziz, said, with arrogance, to the Algerian press agency: “For our part, the idea of a referendum is outdated and we invite the Organization for African Unity (OAU) to come and see it in the field”. The objective of Algeria was to get the OAU to admit within its membership the so called republic, which it established in the refugee camps on its territory without considering the will of the population. This is exactly what Algerian achieved, in collusion with the administrative secretary general of the OAU, who established, on the occasion of the ministerial conference on February 1982, this so called republic, by force, in violation of the articles 4 and 28 of its Charter which provides for, as membership conditions of the Organization, of being “an African, independent and sovereign State.” It was the best way to undermine the referendum decided by the OAU in collaboration with the UN at the end of 1982. A crisis followed in the African Organization which postponed sine die its Conference at the Summit level, initially scheduled in the month of July of the same year. For reference, there was a deleterious atmosphere within the OAU where some countries, which were led by dictators aligned with the Soviet Union, imposed their will and considered Morocco as “an ally of imperialism”.
The Algerian power inherited an immense territory with arbitrary borders set by the former colonial power, which had integrated Moroccan territory in the “French Algeria”. This has given the Algerian State a propensity to want to dominate all North Africa, and Western Sahara was a godsend to establish a vassal State, which would enable it to access to the Atlantic Ocean. If Bolton has not understood what lies behind the veil of self-determination, then he will never understand the essence of this conflict.
I do not know if Bolton knows well the Polisario, for whom he seems to have sympathy, to the extent of encouraging war; which is not surprising coming from him, since he is known for being a warmonger; he was a strong supporter of the war in Iraq. I would like to remind him that this movement was not created until 1973 that is only two years before the decolonization of the territory of Western Sahara. It was never recognized by the African Organization as a liberation movement, unlike authentic liberation movements in Africa. It is common knowledge that it is the Algerian power that finances the Polisario and supplies it with weapons.
I would not like to conclude without drawing attention to the tragic situation of the refugees in the camps south of Tindouf in Algeria. The authorities of this country have inflated the numbers by announcing 165 000 refugees, in order to receive humanitarian aid from international organizations, when actually a more realistic figure would be between 30,000 and 40,000. In 2005, the UN World Food Program and the UNHCR decided “while waiting for their registration” to provide aid for only 90 000 refugees. These refugees do not benefit from any rights as provided for by the 1951 Geneva Convention related to the Status of Refugees. Until this date the Algerian authorities refuse the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to carry out its census. Algeria, as the host country for these refugees, prefers to spend millions of dollars on lobbyists, as well as on the dozens of Polisario representatives who comfortably live in the big capitals of the world, as the one who has been living in Washington for more than twenty years and whom M. Bolton must certainly know, since he is a good friend of the republican senator of Oklahoma, James Inhofe.
Morocco, which is an old nation, jealous of its independence and rebellious to all kinds of servitude, merely leads a legitimate struggle, namely the one of its national unity and its territorial integrity; a struggle for which the Moroccan people unanimously will not stand down, regardless of the sacrifice. As the King Mohamed VI said: “The Sahara is an existential issue and not just a question of borders.”
Khalil Haddaoui is the former Ambassador of Morocco to the United Nations in New York and the United Kingdom in London.