Foreign Affairs Minister Harry Kalaba speaking in  Morroccoo
Foreign Affairs Minister Harry Kalaba speaking in Morroccoo

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.

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35 COMMENTS

    • But that Country Western Sahara is just a desert and highly dependent on Morocco and Algeria. The northern part of the country is so dry that it cant do without Morocco. Food comes from Morocco better they join a country which is economically strong with enough resources to help them. It is a well know fact the part of the country which is under Morocco is actually a burden to Morocco economically.

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    • Hey The Truth,don’t comment on things you don’t know anything about,who told you that western sahara depends on Morocco.Morocco exploits western sahara’s resources thats the reason why they don’t want to leave.And the other thing is that western sahara was an independent kingdom before colonialism and the fact that they were colonized by different colonial masters further gives them a reason not to be part of Morocco.By the way just because a country has got a few natural resources,doesnot give the a oppressor a carte blanche to exploit it.

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  1. Nichipantepante fye ba pf. As long as they smell mullah they will sale the whole country

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    • Chakolwa Chagwa has to do this because he realises that other countries will soon be recognising Barotseland. He is being reactionary and dull as usual.

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  2. This is typical of the directionless PF gabament and it’s misleadership.
    One thing today, another tomorrow!

    No clue about international relations and the rules governing the recognition of countries and liberation movements.

    It is indeed embarrassing that Zambia’s unique legacy in liberation struggles won with the blood of our own people has been thrown down the toilet for a few pennies that will only benefit a desperate individuals who want to remain in power.

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  3. Looks like a diplomatic blunder and possibly a great fundraiser.

    Borders on treason unfortunately. What is Zambia doing out in Morocco and meddling on something that the rest of the international community is trying to fix through United Nations Mission for
    the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO). Or is just a case of incompetence or ignorance?

    I am actually very surprised that Honorable Kalaba would take such a trip. Apart from pocketing something from the trip it means zilch anyway.

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  4. Perhaps we’l get a few tourists from Morocco and learn some French.

    There is always a silver lining.

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  5. Zambia should be proud to be on the right side of history and that is the Moroccan side. The Moroccan Sahara is not a colonial dispute; it’s a territorial dispute between Morocco and Algeria. Just go back to history to know the facts. Fellow brother Zambians, the last thing that can happen is to base our foreign policy on wrong facts and to be duped. We were duped by Algeria who sold us the devil, but it’s never too late to see the truth. In this case, you don’t need a magnifier. We all share the anti-colonial struggle and the defense against oppression, but this is not neither. It’s the Algerian military junta who are running the ropes. Glad we cut them.

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    • Zach Faith, please let the people of Western Sahara make their choice through a referendum.

      Trust me no one cares what Zambia or any other country thinks. Only the people of Western Sahara matter.

      The same could be said of South Sudan. Only we know what a mess that is right now.

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    • Zach you are an enthusiastic ingnorant.Supporting Morocco is been on the wrong side of history and not vice versa.Algeria just like many other nations around the world is doing the right thing by supporting the decolonization of western sahara.By the way,why should we support western Morocco’s occupation of western sahara knowing very sahrawis are oppressed day and night and that Morocco’s only intention is to exploit the country.It’s Lungu’s plan to look for back when he rigs the election.

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  6. Political alignments aside, this is a sad development. I was shocked when I read an article on the same topic. This decision is not only illegal but also leaves all of us wondering what could have motivated such a development. I would like to think there’s a bigger picture to this story having read another article yesterday highlighting that Morocco has formally applied for reinstatement to the AU.
    Sad development.

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  7. Participants lamented the UN’s failure to hold the referendum?????? do your home work before you mislead Zambians

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  8. Zambia should care about fellow African countries. It’s a great country with great minds. it’s about time we use our mind as Africans and stop the divisions of Africa and Africans. Tell me if ever there was in the history of Africa a state called a Sahrawi state, or a Polisario entity. It’s an Algerian fabrication with the help of states, such as the former Soviet Union, former East Germany, Libya’s Kadafi, etc. Why should Morocco agree to a referendum about a territory that is legally and historically his? No such state ever existed. The colonial powers gave big chunks of what used to be the Moroccan empire to Algeria and created Mauritania in the South, and now in these postcolonial times we have to solve these issues. Let’s solve them with African interests in mind. The best that…

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    • Where do you get your this corrupted information man,is it from a Moroccan website?Sahrawi was a well organised kingdom before colonialism just like Mauritania,Algeria and Lybia.Don’t misled the masses your half baked data.

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  9. A very insightful article Brenda, I should not tell why this withdrawal of recognition left a question mark in my mind. Thanks for the historical facts and intricacies involved in diplomatic stunts.

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  10. The Sahrawi issue is quite complex with a lot of international and geopolitical interests from regional and world big powers. It needed careful consideration before the government could delve itself into it in the public manner it. It is a shame that these days people in both government and opposition just make pronouncements affecting our country with out due consideration to effects on our nation! Kaunda believed in the right for self determination of the Sahrawi but did not make a public recognition at diplomatic level so he left the options open for engagement with Morocco on the issue. When there was a war between Iran and Iraq,Kaunda played quite an active mediation role which the war because he never too sides on that issue. The same for brief war between Chad and Libya over the…

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  11. continued …. disputed Aouzou strip-KK mediated and it ended. This PF government should learn (they may have time to learn if they win)to consult on and analyse issues before taking drastic decisions as that may plunge our country into serious problems. Now Morocco has gathered strength to return to the AU even before the resolutions that made her leave the organization are still valid and waiting to be implemented-why this change of heart? Of late Morocco has been on a diplomatic and economic offensive especially in francophone sub-Sahara Africa. It would surprise few if some leaders are in Morocco’s pockets and could vote to water down resolution made earlier on to support Sahrawi people’s right to a referendum to determine their destiny. Hope ours will not fall into that category!

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  12. THE DIFFERENCE IS THAT KK HAD PRINCIPLES,OTHERS IT IS THE LOVE OF MONEY.IT HAD TO TAKE MOROCCO TO THREATEN THAT THEY WILL ALSO RECOGNIZE BAROTSELAND THAT IS WHEN ZAMBIA JUMPED & EXPELLED THE SAHRAWI MISSION.I SAW OUR ECL RECEIVING CREDENTIALS FROM THE SAHRAWI “AMBASSADOR” ON OUR ZNBC & MAKING UTTERANCES WHICH SHOCKED PEOPLE.

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  13. For those who stepped out of civility and attacked my comments, like Patriot, my facts aren’t half baked; it’s your lack of knowledge that is simmering in ignorance; could you please post a document proving your so-called Sahrawi kingdom existed prior to colonialism? Stop falling for propaganda and misleading facts by the enemies of truth. To follow your logic, India was wrong in backtracking on its recognition of the Algerian puppet-supported republic in 2000. So many other countries followed suit. Eventually, the truth prevails and only those who are obstinate and refuse to see it will persist in their ignorance. For the record, Morocco was a founding member of what is now the AU. Its long history still stand witness to the good relationship it had with many countries, including…

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    • Just so you know the Kigali AU Sunmit refused to read the message from the Moroccan King & Senegal’s draft resolution to dismiss Western Sahara from the union was declined. Make no mistake the AU is resolute on its position. This position by Zambia is a simple sell of honor to the highest bidder. Be very ashamed to support it!

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    • Zach,I am pretty sure you have got internet,just go to wikipedia and see the history of western sahara for yourself.It was the Mauritanians who first incorporated it under their Moroccan marabout Ibn Yassin. Mauritania should have been the one to be claiming Western sahara and not Morocco.You should also ask yourself where Morocco was when western Sahara was been colonized while the Moroccans were free,they fought for Casablanca despite of it been part of Spain but they never raised a voice let alone a hand to liberate a land they claim to be theirs.Get your head off the sand or where it is and used it to analyse the situation,otherwise,your blind enthusiasm will led you into the abyss

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  14. Thank you everyone for the comments. At some point, let’s think Zambia. We can’t afford selling out pan African credentials & our dignity for campaign trinkets

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  15. Brenda, I thought you were a journalist tasked to enlighten; your latest comments, to say nothing of your article, are pure mystification. It’s your article that referred to “campaign trinkets” in the first place when you addressed questions to the government. You made sure to tie the issue of Zambia’s change in policy regarding the Moroccan Sahara to internal Zambian politics and the elections juncture. Please stop spreading lies to Zambians and, for the record, 28 out of 56 African countries attending the African summit in Kigali, drafted a motion to exclude the Polisario. 1/3 of the remaining 28 hold a neutral position. Could you have possibly in good faith omitted this important development? Please don’t cherrypick to prove a point.

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  16. Mr. Zach, not a Journalist and my article as well as comments are based on facts. You name the 28 countries in Kigali that drafted the motion? The Chadian President, in his capacity as AU chair refused to read the King’s speech – fact! Again don’t speculate about the position of countries on a matter that has common decisions & resolutions on – Plse just read. All AU documents are public documents online. Yes I have linked the change is Zambian’s position to campaign because the sudden change of goal post makes no sense – legally, historically & morally. I’m still praying that the questions I raised will be answered, for the country. Happy to engage further

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  17. And since you claim to know so much Mr Zach, can you share the Kigali dossier that you claim to have come from 28 countries? Make no mistake I’m on top on this issue & mine is no paid cause.

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  18. Brenda, I think your role in all this is not for the interest of the masses in Sahara but rather your own myopic political view advancing your master’s political agenda back .

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  19. A complete act of betrayal by Zambia.
    What did Morocco offer Zambia? Was it FDI or an out and out bribe?

    Follow the money!

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  20. Why befriend Morocco when they Gabon issue is still not resolved… its not state secret anymore, Tell the nation the truth…

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  21. This goes to prove that Zambian govnt has no robust foreign policy that can reflect who we are and what our interests are in the same context. The foreign ministry should strive to ensure that it has all the technocrats and link itself to think tanks that can analyze and advise govnt accordingly…. as it is at the moment , the govnt has been going with the flow and this is not only risky but unacceptable!!!

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  22. Morocco blackmailed zambia that they will also support Barotselan d as a soveign nation. Knowing what this means PF had no alternative but to swip their tail between their legs to act like a prostitute

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