By Brenda Mofya
When a colleague shared an article from the Huffinghton Post Maghreb quoting Zambia Foreign Affairs Minister Harry Kalaba announcing decision to withdraw the country’s recognition of Western Sahara, I categorically dismissed the allegations.
However, this story has been run by many leading media outlets with no refute from the Zambian government.
Far fetched as this development might seem, it appears true that Zambia, one of Africa’s most celebrated champions of the fight against oppression, occupation and colonialism has made a decision to stand with the oppressor.
What does international law say on recognition of nations?
According to international law once you recognize that a state exists, is it impossible to “withdraw” your recognition. In actual fact you cannot.
It is perhaps possible that you can cut off all diplomatic relations but you cannot technically withdraw recognition. Zambia supported and was home to many liberation movements of Africa.
It spearheaded the anti-apartheid struggle and stood in firm solidarity with the Sahrawis and was one of the countries that in the early 80s pushed the OAU to make a decision to recognize Western Sahara as a nation.
From the international law perspective, what should have been announced by the Hourable Minister Kalaba was the cutting off of diplomatic ties and not withdrawal of recognition that he alleged to have made.
Brief background on the WESA issue
Western Sahara is a disputed territory in the Maghreb region of North Africa, bordered by Morocco to the north, Algeria to the north. Occupied by Spain in the late 19th century, Western Sahara has been on the United Nations list of non-self-governing territories since 1963 after a Moroccan demand. In 1965, the UN General Assembly adopted its first resolution on Western Sahara, asking Spain to decolonize the territory.
One year later, a new resolution was passed by the General Assembly requesting that a referendum be held by Spain on self-determination. In 1975, Spain relinquished the administrative control of the territory to a joint administration by Morocco (which had formally claimed the territory since 1957) and Mauritania.
A war erupted between those countries and the Sahrawi national liberation movement, the Polisario Front, which proclaimed the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) with a government in exile in Tindouf, Algeria. Mauritania withdrew in 1979, and Morocco eventually secured de facto control of most of the territory, including all the major cities and natural resources.
In 1982 the AU accepted the membership request from the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, making the SADR a full member in 1984. Out of discontent, Morocco withdrew its membership from the OAU the same year (the only African country that is no member of the AU).
The OAU member states, including Zambia, argued that the Unity was founded on the principle of the decolonisation of all African states and absolute dedication to the total emancipation of the African territories which are still dependent.
As a consequence, the UN had to step up its role in the negotiation efforts, building on the work of the OAU. Since a United Nations-sponsored ceasefire agreement in 1991, two thirds of the territory (including most of the Atlantic coastline) has been under de facto control by Morocco and the remainder by the SADR.
The 1991 cease-fire agreement led to the end of hostilities, overseen by the peacekeeping mission MINURSO, under the terms of a UN Settlement Plan. The Plan included the promise to hold a referendum in 1992 – giving the local population the option between independence or affirming integration with Morocco. But Morocco has done everything not to allow this to happen.
The OAU/AU’s unflinching support for Western Sahara is evidenced by the number of resolutions, reports, decisions of various AU institutions, including the Peace and Security Council (PSC).
The Pan-African Parliament called for sanctions on Morocco after the presentation of an AU Fact-Finding Mission report in 2011 (to the self-proclaimed SADR). In January 2012, the AU Permanent Representatives Committee called for human rights monitoring in Western Sahara and in January 2013, the AU Council of Ministers unanimously approved a resolution asking AU Commission to take “all measures” in order to organize a referendum on self-determination in Western Sahara. Since May 2013, the Chairperson of the Africa Union Commission (AUC), submits a progress report on the situation in Western Sahara to the Summit of Heads of State which reiterates the OAU/AU decisions, pronouncements and measures on the situation [EX.CL/788(XXIII)-Rev.1].
This has included the appointment in June 2014 of former President Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique as AU Special Envoy to consult with the permanent members of the UN Security Council and Spain, as well as with the UN Secretariat, on how best the AU can support international efforts to find a solution to the conflict in Western Sahara – also calling for renewed international engagement towards the resolution of the conflict.
One of his key mandate was to travel to various capitals to hold consultations officials, especially from among the group of Friends on Western Sahara (UK, France, Spain, USA and Russia) on the need for renewed on breaking the impasse in the negotiations.
At a recently held Seminar on Western Sahara held at the African Union Commission, which Zambia also attended, various representative of the AU member states expressed concern at the delays in resolving the Western Sahara issue.
They called for public awareness/mobilising (both in Africa and globally) to get citizens involvement on this issue. Participants lamented the UN’s failure to hold the referendum.
Questions for the PF Government?
I have a few fundamental questions for Foreign Affairs Minister Harry Kalaba and Zambia’s ruling party Patriotic Front (PF)
1. Did you really make the announcement withdrawing Zambia’s recognition of WESA?
2. Why now when we only have three weeks left before the Presidential/Parliamentary elections?
3. Why are we taking this important legal and moral decision in the absence of Parliament and a substantive Cabinet?
4. Has Morocco managed to get to you? Clearly the timing suggests a possible PF election funding from them. Have you gone this desperate to sell the soul of a nation?
5. Is President Kaunda aware of this betrayal of his legacy and Zambia’s stance against oppression/occupation?
6. Did you consult the Zambian people?
Ms. Brenda Mofya is an international and integration law expert.