A long-delayed referendum on the independence of Saharawi from Morocco was the subject of the African Conference in Solidarity With the Saharawi People, an international conference in Abuja, Nigeria, Oct. 28-30.
The conference was sponsored by the Nigerian Labor Congress and other mass organizations to discuss the theme: “Liberation of Western Sahara: Ending Colonialism in Africa.” The NLC is the largest trade union federation in Nigeria, the most populous state in Africa. Labor organizations from 28 other countries were involved in the gathering.
For decades Morocco has ruled the former Spanish colony, but the African Union recognizes Saharawi independence. Morocco withdrew its membership from the A.U. in anger over this position.
Many consider the Western Sahara the last remaining colony on the continent. Hundreds of thousands of Saharawi people are stranded both inside and outside their national territory.
Delegates from Algeria, South Africa and other continental states made solidarity statements. The event demonstrated ongoing international concern for the Saharawi people and the continuing foreign exploitation of African mineral resources. There are large deposits of phosphates and natural gas in the Western Sahara. Additional prospects exist for the exploration and extraction of oil.
The conference demanded that Morocco, a close ally of the United States and France, withdraw its military and security forces from the Western Sahara and move toward holding a referendum on the future of the territory. Going even further, the conference hosts called upon the international community to take punitive actions against the monarchy in Rabat if it did not comply with the resolutions of the A.U. and the U.N. mandating self-determination and independence for the Saharawi people.
Successive U.S. administrations have supported Morocco, which was ceded the territory after Spain’s withdrawal in 1975. Washington, which claims neutrality, has continued to support Morocco militarily in the North Africa region.
Actions urged against Morocco and France
NLC President Abdulwahed Omar told the delegates that Africa and the world should condemn Morocco for ignoring the just demands of the Saharawi people and the international bodies, including the U.N. and the A.U. He stressed that the colonized population should take control of its own affairs.
Omar said, “On our part, we are calling on the U.N., A.U., EU and other friends of liberation to exert the necessary pressure on Morocco to let the Saharawi people go. The right to self-determination is an inalienable right and is non-negotiable.” (Nigerian Observer, Oct. 31)
Other speakers included Lagos-based lawyer Femi Falana, who called for legal actions against Morocco and France within the European Human Rights Court. He said that France should be held accountable for its support for the occupation of the Western Sahara, called the Saharawi Democratic Arab Republic by the Polisario Front, the liberation movement fighting for four decades for independence.
The resolutions emerging from the meeting, which were supported by Saharawi liberation movements, called for the following:
– Create the African Solidarity Movement for the Independence of Western Sahara (ASOMWS) to strengthen the resistance toward the decolonization of the Western Sahara.
– Call upon the ASOMWS to collaborate with solidarity movements in Europe, Latin America, North and South America, and Australia to promote the struggle of the Saharawi people for independence.
– Establishment of a Task Force of ASOMWS, which includes Nigeria as chair, Benin Republic representing West Africa, Algeria representing North Africa, Cameroun representing Central Africa, Kenya representing East Africa, and South Africa representing Southern Africa. This task force is responsible for the coordination of all activities of ASOMWS between this and the next conference and shall have a secretariat located in Nigeria until the second meeting of the conference.
– Ask the grass-roots organizations (trade unions and civil society organizations) to boycott the companies involved in the looting of Saharawi natural resources.
– Devote a special day of solidarity to the Saharawi people and call on the ASOMWS’ Task Force to make it a day for the Saharawis, annually commemorated by African civil society organizations.
– Launch a constant program of work in order to remove the Moroccan wall of shame that separates the Western Sahara and its families and places the lives of Saharawi civilians in constant danger.
– Recommend to organize an African program of humanitarian assistance for the benefit of Saharawi refugee camps.
– Call on the Academic Unions of Nigeria to organize academic seminars on the Western Sahara in the coming years.
– The Republic of Benin will host the second meeting of the African Conference of Solidarity With the Saharawi People next year. (Sahara Press Service, Oct. 31)