Africa Geopolitics

Potential for escalation over Western Sahara dispute,trade route blocked

By | Rachel Brooks 

November 7, 2020 

Above image: “Sahrawi Republic – South Africa bilateral meeting, 6 Jan 2017” by GovernmentZA is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Stalled conflict in the Sahara was reported on the verge of thawing and renewing by Bloomberg on November 7. Bloomberg cited a trade embargo as the source for suspected conflict resurgence. This was reported by Souhail Karam on November 5, who states that tensions have flared in the Western Sahara where Morocco previously fought with Saharawi rebels. 

Souhail Karam followed the conflict over the last 24 hours and tweeted his inquiry into Morocco regional events. 

“Morocco King Mohammed postponed by 24 hours his address he was due to give on November 6 on the 45th anniversary of The Green March which marks the annexation of the disputed West Sahara territory, a territory larger than the United Kingdom…” tweeted Karam. 

The reigning king’s postponed speech was meant to address the anniversary of the policy of King Hassan II. Hassan was hailed by pious Muslims to be a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad and was born in 1929. He studied law in Bordeaux, France, and succeeded his father, Muhammad V as king in 1961. His reign was described as one of authoritarian rule. Hassan II strongly supported the Moroccan claim to the Western Sahara territory during the dispute over the region that had been claimed by Spanish colonization between Morocco and Algeria. Hassan II, to support his claims, initiated the Green March in November 1975.

He marched 350,000 unarmed Moroccans into the territory to demonstrate his support for the region. As of 1976, the area was split between Morocco and Mauritania. Hassan’s march was seen as a hollow victory as it was challenged by the Polisario Front, which pinned down Moroccan forces, and prevented the exploitation of phosphate deposits in the region. The phosphate deposits were the motivation for the Moroccan occupation of the region at that time. This history has been recorded by Britannica. 

In November 2020 events, opposition the main trade route to Western Africa, sparking the threat of renewed conflict. The trade route has been blocked by the Polisario Front, a rebellion seeking independence from the Moroccan control of the region. This was stated by Bloomberg. Polisario is not a protest group, as Bloomberg stated, but a militant group backed radical groups of Algeria and Iran, as well as Hezbollah, as was stated by Republic Underground’s defense analysts. 

Modern Diplomacy reported that the Polisario Front is backed by Hezbollah. The Hezbollah-backed front may to take advantage of a Biden administration in the United States to push an agenda of more progressive recognition of the group’s contested efforts, due to Biden’s politics being more favorable than previous political administration. Biden’s election as 46th U.S. President will be contested in U.S. high courts by the President incumbent Donald Trump, due to allegations of voter fraud. A protacted battle in U.S. courts may stall any concrete U.S. involvement and policy changes in the Moroccan issue.

This was reported within the last three days as a resurgence of expected conflict appeared in the disputed region.The Modern Diplomacy reports noted a possibility of field escalations at the Guerguerat border crossing. The Kingdom of Morocco’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nasser Bourita, was quoted stating that there would be “no political talks with separatists, no diplomacy with bandits, no political process with those who have been unable to resolve the Moroccan Sahara issue and who works as armed groups and as a gang.”

In the hours that followed the king’s postponed speech, the Sahara Press Service reported that the U.N. held a press conference on behalf of Sahrawi people’s contested rights. The press conference commenced on November 7, in New York. The session discussed a report submitted to the U.N. General Assembly on September 29 to the Fourth Committee’s Special Political and Decolonization Committee. The discussions outlined the claims of the Sahrawi of the territory and stressed the claims of decolonization and sought to address West Sahara’s status as a non-self-governing territory. The committee sought to determine the Sahrawi people’s right to self-determination. 

Likewise in the hours that followed the postponed speech of the king, Sahrawi self-determination seekers campaigned across Africa. The Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic’s new ambassador Mohamed Yeslem Beissat presented his credentials as a legal ambassador of a recognized state to the Director-General of State Protocol of the brother African country 

 The Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, or SADR, has been recognized by 84 UN member states, see Britannica for background. Read more on the decolonization discussions for SADR of recent history via UN news wire services, 2018 archives. 

These previous attempts to “resolve conflict and decolonize” have been brought up again by Algeria, a nation that holds the position that any “unfair approach to the Western Sahara question” will undo the U.N.s previous efforts to resolve the conflict. Algeria has maintained a consistent position in defense of Western Sahara Sahrawi people’s recognition,  as was reported by the Sahara Press Services.  Algeria has also been an active zone for the radicalization of militant groups since it’s own internal conflicts, see Counterextermism Project.   

Algeria’s position on the Sahrawi people’s recognition is a strong motivation for it to back radicalized groups such as Polisario.

Looming behind all U.N. discussions and committees of the Sahrawi governance issue is the problem of potential incitement of the Polisario Front. The Global Terrorism Database has expressed puzzlement over the Polisario Front, which is itself an independence movement, but has expressed relatively relaxed violence in comparison to some of its radical backers, as of the last review of Polisario activity by the organization in 2016. With the motion of radicalism in the Sahel, the area where both the Sahrawi Republc’s non-self-governing territory and Morocco are located, the threat of an incited Polisario Front stirred to more active violence comes in question. GTD data on Polisario is potentially outdated, as the GTD project has not received new funding since 2019. In 2019, researchers from Obudai Egyetem in Hungary’s Western Sahara project moved to reclassify Polisario as a terrorist movement rather than a liberation operation.

As Sahrawi representatives continue to argue for their rights to the land, Republic Underground News continues to investigate the stressors that may lead to a potentially surged conflict, particularly those of the radicalization backing and surge of potential developing violent incentives of the Polisario Front.