Be­hind Morocco’s new tango with the African Union

The Herald (Zimbabwe) - - Analysis & Opinion - Yo­hannes Wolde­mariam Cor­re­spon­dent

MOROCCO is cur­rently court­ing a num­ber of African coun­tries re­lent­lessly, in­clud­ing Mada­gas­car, Tan­za­nia, Rwanda and oth­ers. Morocco has signed 19 eco­nomic agree­ments with Rwanda and 22 with Tan­za­nia — two coun­tries that tra­di­tion­ally backed Western Sa­hara’s quest for de­coloni­sa­tion.

Nige­ria and Morocco have signed a to­tal of 21 bi­lat­eral agree­ments, a joint ven­ture to con­struct a gas pipe­line that will con­nect the two na­tions as well as some other African coun­tries to Europe.

It is eas­ily clear that the eco­nomic agree­ments with these coun­tries im­ply ul­te­rior mo­tives for in­creas­ing Morocco’s lever­age in its cam­paign to re­turn to the African Union (AU) and deal a blow to Western Sa­hara’s as­pi­ra­tions for self-de­ter­mi­na­tion.

Morocco is wag­ing a sim­i­lar cam­paign in­ter­na­tion­ally and in the halls of the US Congress by hir­ing ex­pen­sive lob­by­ists and sleazy public re­la­tions firms

In this en­deav­our, it ap­pears Morocco is mak­ing sig­nif­i­cant progress in iso­lat­ing Western Sa­hara.

Kenya, which once sup­ported Sa­harawi Arab Demo­cratic Repub­lic (SADR), re­versed course in 2007 and now For­eign Min­is­ter Amina Mo­hamed, can­di­date to head the African Union Com­mis­sion, is call­ing for hold­ing, as quickly as pos­si­ble, “the ref­er­en­dum on Western Sa­hara peo­ple’s self-de­ter­mi­na­tion”.

Zam­bia has sim­i­larly vac­il­lated af­ter early sup­port for the cause of Western Sa­hara.

Ac­cord­ing to Wik­iLeaks, at least un­til 2009, Ethiopia’s po­si­tion was to recog­nise the SADR, de­clared by the Polis­ario (Western Sa­hara’s guerilla army) in 1976 as its rep­re­sen­ta­tive body.

It still re­mains to be seen how coun­tries will vote when it re­ally mat­ters.

But why does Morocco need the AU? And why does it need to bribe the African coun­tries in or­der to re­turn to the con­ti­nen­tal body?

The ex­pla­na­tion for this du­bi­ous pos­tur­ing lies in Morocco’s il­le­gal oc­cu­pa­tion of Western Sa­hara and its need to le­git­imise it by en­list­ing as many African coun­tries as pos­si­ble to ac­cept Western Sa­hara’s fate as fait ac­com­pli.

Morocco has been oc­cu­py­ing or colonis­ing (take your pick) the ter­ri­tory since 1974.

Re­cently, UN Gen­eral-Sec­re­tary Ban Ki Moon char­ac­terised Morocco as an oc­cu­py­ing force in Western Sa­hara, which ob­vi­ously did not sit well with Morocco.

Ethiopia is seen as key for Morocco’s goals, as a found­ing mem­ber of the OAU host­ing the head­quar­ters of the AU’s Chi­nese-funded 200-mil­lion-dol­lar build­ing in Ad­dis Ababa, show­cas­ing Chi­nese soft power.

Morocco is fram­ing its charm of­fen­sive in Africa in terms of South-South co­op­er­a­tion.

But what re­ally is Morocco’s com­mit­ment to South-South co­op­er­a­tion?

Like Ethiopia, Morocco’s com­mit­ment, first of all, is com­mit­ment to an ex­treme form of neo-lib­er­al­ism and to an en­vi­ron­men­tal nar­ra­tive that blames pas­toral­ists and their over­graz­ing prac­tices as an ex­cuse for in­vad­ing and ap­pro­pri­at­ing land for com­mer­cial agri­cul­ture and other land grabs.

In Morocco, state ser­vices such as health care and ed­u­ca­tion have faced dras­tic re­duc­tion.

The pro­mo­tion of ex­ports and the low­er­ing of tar­iffs is the re­al­ity. For the ma­jor­ity of their pop­u­la­tions, ram­pant degra­da­tion and poverty are the re­al­ity in both coun­tries.

A cen­tral tenet of South-South co­op­er­a­tion is poverty re­duc­tion, but neo-lib­er­al­ist mar­ket fun­da­men­tal­ism is in­com­pat­i­ble with re­duc­ing in­equal­ity and pro­tect­ing the en­vi­ron­ment.

The ben­e­fi­cia­ries from these poli­cies are the elite and in­ter­na­tional cap­i­tal­ists and their re­sults are a far cry from South-South co­op­er­a­tion that would al­le­vi­ate poverty.

Even the 22nd Con­fer­ence of the Par­ties (COP22) to the United Na­tions Frame­work Con­ven­tion on Cli­mate Change (UNFCCC) was used by Morocco to in­sert it­self in the Novem­ber 16, 2016 meet­ing of the Africa Ac­tion Sum­mit in Mar­rakesh.

King Mo­hammed VI was the new face in the meet­ing, clearly push­ing his cam­paign to get rid of SADR from the AU.

The strug­gle to deal se­ri­ously with cli­mate change should not be cir­cum­vented by the un­just po­lit­i­cal agen­das of op­por­tunis­tic lead­ers.

As Hamza Hamouch­ene of War on Want ar­tic­u­lates: there can­not be au­then­tic en­vi­ron­men­tal jus­tice in Morocco when its govern­ment ig­nores the po­lit­i­cal rights of the Sa­harawi peo­ple.

In 2009, in his ca­pac­ity as a des­ig­nated ne­go­tia­tor, the late Ethiopian Prime Min­is­ter Me­les Ze­nawi be­trayed the G77’s and Africa’s col­lec­tive stance in Copen­hagen by mak­ing a back-door deal with France, re­treat­ing from the agreed upon 1,5 de­grees Cel­sius tar­get to 2 de­grees and thereby deal­ing a se­ri­ous blow to the bar­gain­ing ca­pac­ity of the global South.

As Kate Shep­pard of Mother Jones mag­a­zine wrote:

“The ma­jor pow­ers wel­comed Ethiopia’s de­fec­tion from the 1,5-de­gree tar­get. Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Gor­don Brown . . . en­dorsed the side deal with France . . . Obama placed a call to Ze­nawi (in which he) ex­pressed his ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the lead­er­ship (of) the Prime Min­is­ter . . . (In ne­go­ti­at­ing) with African coun­tries on cli­mate change.”

The truth was that Me­les used Copen­hagen to fur­ther his own im­me­di­ate agenda at the ex­pense of Africa in much the same way that King Mo­hammed VI used COP22 to sup­port Morocco’s agenda of deny­ing the rights of the Sa­harawi peo­ple.

Moroc­can and Ethiopian ver­sions of South-South co­op­er­a­tion is sim­ply a repack­aged ver­sion of neo-lib­er­al­ism based on ex­trac­tive ac­tiv­i­ties and de­stroy­ing the lives of the most vul­ner­a­ble.

It is not a co­in­ci­dence that both Ethiopia and Morocco are fac­ing in­ter­nal re­sis­tance from their pop­u­la­tions, which they are try­ing to sup­press with ex­treme vi­o­lence.

The bru­tal death of the fish seller Mouhcine Fikri in the north­ern Moroc­can town of Al Ho­ceima while try­ing to res­cue his sword­fish is be­ing com­pared with the Tu­nisian fruit seller Mo­hamed Bouaz­izi in 2010, whose death sparked the Arab Spring up­ris­ings.

Neo-lib­eral pri­vati­sa­tion is pre­vent­ing and dis­plac­ing folks who have been sell­ing or con­sum­ing fish for as long as they have been liv­ing in the coastal towns of Morocco.

In Ethiopia, it is land grab and ex­treme re­pres­sion that is hav­ing sim­i­lar ef­fect on com­mu­ni­ties in Gam­bella, Ben­is­hangul, and the Amhara re­gion, Si­dama, Konso, Ogaden and Oro­mia.

Jan­uary 31, 2017, in Ad­dis Ababa is the next AU sum­mit, where Morocco is hop­ing to achieve its sin­is­ter goal against SADR.

The honourable thing for the AU to do is to re­buff Morocco’s arm-twist­ing and vig­or­ously sup­port the self-de­ter­mi­na­tion of the Sa­harawi peo­ple.

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