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Rabat – Algeria’s increasingly out of sync diplomatic activism on the Western Sahara question has been dealt another blow on the African scene, with the African Union rebuffing an umpteenth attempt by Algiers to derail the newfound continental consensus on the Sahara dispute.
On March 9, African head states convened for a video-conference as part of the African Union Peace and Security Council (AUPSC) summit to discuss climate change and security issues facing the continent.
On the eve of the meeting, Algeria’s President Abdelmajid Tebboune held a phone conversation with Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyata and South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa to discuss “the main issues on the agenda” of the AUPSC meeting, according to Algeria’s state media.
While the AUPSC has an elected Commissioner — Nigerian diplomat Bankole Adeoye was recently elected to replace Algeria’s Smail Chergui — the continental body also functions on the basis of a rotary monthly chairmanship.
Kenya is the AU body’s chair for this month, and it is understood that Tebboune and Ramaphosa, whose countries are the Polisario Front’s main supporters in Africa, sought to persuade the East African country to push for pro-Polisario talking points or conclusions during the AUPSC event.
The two leaders hoped that a united front of three of Africa’s leading countries could go a long way in forcing a number of pro-Polisario decisions out of the AUPSC conference. President Tebboune’s speech during the event outlined the kind of pro-Polisario activism he hoped to get from the other participants.
Denouncing Morocco’s “occupation” of Western Sahara, Tebboune said AU countries should join forces to end the suffering of Sahrawis. “Africa, which defeated the European occupation by its political and armed struggle at times and which came to the end of Apartheid, must today put an end to the plight of Africa’s last colony,” the Algerian president said.
To his dismay, however, the meeting ended with resounding echoes of what has become a familiar sight in AU circles: A polite, diplomatically worded rebuffing whenever either South Africa or Algeria brings the usual “decolonization struggle” and “Africa’s last colony” mantras to pressure the continental organization into adopting a more hostile attitude towards Morocco.
A Twitter statement from the AU made it abundantly clear that, despite untiring pressure from Algiers and Pretoria, the continental body intends on upholding the terms of the Nouakchott agreement.
“#AUPSC called for immediate #ceasefire in the #WesternSahara, requested the #AU Troika and the AU Special Envoy to reinvigorate support to the #UN-led mediation and thus urged the UNSG @antonioguterres to expeditiously appoint a Special Envoy to #MINURSO to support #peace efforts,” said the statement.
The statement’s wording and tone is diplomatic and not openly “humiliating” for Algeria and South Africa, as some observers have framed the event. However, the implications speak volumes about the AU’s commitment to its pledge to help the UN Security Council’s agenda for a compromise-based political solution in Western Sahara.
Convening in the Mauritanian capital in the summer of 2018 to decide on what should be Africa’s role in solving the Sahara conflict, AU leaders made the historic vow to stop all attempts at a “parallel solution” and instead focus on accompanying and supporting the UN-led political process.
Since then, the AU has consistently frustrated Algeria and South Africa in their multiple maneuvers to defy the Nouakchott agreement.
There are reports that Smail Chergui, the AUPSC’s outgoing commissioner, also tried to put his weight behind the proposal that the AU ought to vigorously condemn Morocco’s “occupation” and explore the prospects of an “African solution” to the Sahara question.
But it was instead Chergui, whose tenure ends this week on March 12, who was strenuously rebuked for relentlessly trying to defy AU regulations and consensus when it comes to Western Sahara.
According to Le360, the chairman of the AU Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, reprimanded the Algerian diplomat for violating AU “rules and procedures.” Mahamat notably “reproached Chergui for working without consulting him, going so far as to violate the rules of procedure of the AU,” the newspaper added.
Prior to the AUPSC meeting, Algeria’s state media reported that, by agreeing to discuss the “concerning escalations” in Western Sahara, the AU was finally stressing the need to take a stand against Morocco and “decolonize” the region.
The discussions and conclusions of the actual meeting were the exact opposite of the Morocco-bashing Algiers and Pretoria had hoped for, however.
Instead of pushing for an “African solution,” the verbal decoy Algiers and Pretoria use to persuade African countries to support Polisario’s separatist claims, the AUPSC called for a ceasefire, recognized the preeminence of the UN-led political process on the Sahara question, and reiterated that the AU Troika’s role is to be a supporting cast to the UN Security Council’s agenda.
For Chergui, the defeat might feel personal, given the years of effort he has put in getting the AU to support Polisario’s statehood aspirations. In the grand scheme of things, however, the AUPSC’s umpteenth rebuffing of Chergui’s pro-Polisario activism points to a much larger story: The increasing inexorability of the pro-Morocco momentum on the Sahara question.