Western Sahara Worldnews
by Ali Haidar
Algerian rulers and the Polisario leaders are caught short by the diplomatic and economic offensive Morocco is staging on the African chessboard, at the initiative of King Mohammed VI.
After he consolidated the standing of his Kingdom in French-speaking Africa and after his country’s triumphant readmission within the African Union (AU), Mohammed VI adopted a very subtle approach of unprecedented rapprochement with English-speaking African countries.
Through this large-scale approach, the Moroccan sovereign seems determined to tackle the problem at its roots, since the pseudo Sahrawi republic “RASD” was created on African soil, in Algeria, and since it is in Africa that the Polisario has most of its supporters.
It is in this context that King Mohammed VI began on Sunday (Feb.19) an official visit to Zambia, which was preceded by similar visits to South Sudan and Ghana. Trips to at least three other African countries are on the King’s schedule.
It is worth mentioning that Ghana and Zambia, both from Anglophone Africa, have long shown hostility to Morocco’s sovereignty, but were among the 28 countries that signed a motion, addressed to the African Union President on 18 July 2016, calling for the suspension of SADR from the continental organization.
It is also worth recalling that the somewhat dubious relationships between the regimes of Algiers and Pretoria have for a long time transformed Anglophone Africa into a preserve of Algeria, that it used in its fierce diplomatic battle against its Moroccan neighbor over Western Sahara.
By ending the policy of the empty chair within the pan-African organization, Mohammed VI showed determination to cast a wide net in Africa, without excluding the few pro-Polisario countries.
No need to say that Morocco has generously extended its hand to African countries for a solidarity-based cooperation and a win-win partnership, while Algeria, with the hydrocarbon sector providing 90% of public revenues, has nothing to offer to the continent, now that it was brought to its knees by the collapse of oil & gas prices.
Marrakesh, nicknamed the Ochre City for the walls surrounding its old medina district, clinched the top ranking in the top 10 African cities for quality of life.
Paris (AFP) – Four Moroccan cities, led by Marrakesh, ranked among the top 10 African cities for quality of life in a new survey published Tuesday.
Marrakesh, nicknamed the Ochre City for the walls surrounding its old medina district, clinched the top ranking, with three other Moroccan cities — Casablanca, Rabat and Fez — in the top 10.
TE-8 will be around 12 kilometres from the last successful hole and is what’s called a step out well because it will test the lateral extent of gas that has been discovered in the TAGI reservoir.
Sound Energy PLC (LON:SOU) has begun drilling its latest well on the Tendrara licence in Morocco.
TE-8 will be around 12 kilometres from the last successful hole and is what’s called a step out well because it will test the lateral extent of gas that has been discovered in the TAGI reservoir.
It will also for the first time assess the potential of the deeper-lying Paleozoic formation.
WATCH: Analyst tells us why this latest well really could be a ‘significant’.
Work began Sunday and is likely to take 40-50 days to complete with drilling going down to a vertical depth of 2,975 metres.
Assuming gas is encountered in the main well bore, a further 30-day side-track will be drilled to prove a potentially deeper gas contact 900 metres to the north-west, Sound said.
Whatever comes in the next two months, the firm has already enjoyed considerable success at Tendrara.
Results from TE-7 were revealed on January 19 with the company telling investors that over a 56 day period of continuous flow the well has yielded just under 1bn cubic feet of gas.
That figure is made all the more impressive given that the gas flow was constrained in test conditions, at a maximum of 40% drawdown, in order to protect the integrity of the well completion to date.
No formation water was produced during testing – as the company had expected – and there were no indications of barriers.
As such Sound said that the result had confirmed a “significant connected volume” of gas is present at Tendrara, and it would now monitor pressure across past wells to confirm the physical connectivity of the reservoir.
These results will all be valuable as it advances field development planning.
Last month the company announced a non-binding agreement to acquire all of Oil & Gas Investment Fund’s (OGIF) assets in Eastern Morocco – that includes 20% Tendrara, 75% of the Meridja project and a 75% stake in acreage close to Tendrara.
In return the AIM-quoted company offers OGIF some 272mln new Sound Energy shares, notionally worth nearly £200mln based on Sound’s present market price. It will mean that OGIF – a fund owned by seven Moroccan financial institutions – will own around 29% of Sound Energy’s enlarged share capital.
Sound said Monday the outline deal had crystalised into a binding agreement.
At 1.45pm, the shares were changing hands for 90p each – off around 3% for the day.
Sam Wahab, of City broker Cantor Fiztgerald, said: “We believe that Sound has sufficiently grown its acreage position to become a material player in Mediterranean gas.
“The company is benefitting from attractive and robust pricing fundamentals which have served to boost project economics. With a number of event driven catalysts on the horizon, supported by a robust financial position, and a funded 2017 drilling campaign, we see Sound’s current share price as representing a compelling entry point for investors.”
—adds broker comment and share price—
UK — Sound Energy, the African and European focused upstream gas company, is pleased to confirm the commencement of drilling at the third Tendrara well, onshore Morocco.
Following the recent success at the Company’s first two Tendrara wells (TE-6 and TE-7), the Company’s third well (TE-8) was spud on Feb. 19, 2017. The TE-8 well is a step out appraisal well some 12 km northeast of TE-7, with the objective of proving up significant additional volumes in the TAGI (Trias Argilo-Gréseux Inférieur) reservoir whilst also, for the first time, drilling deeper into the Paleozoic formation.
The drilling and logging of the TE-8 main wellbore to a true vertical depth (TVD) of approximately 2975 m is expected to take approximately 40 to 50 days. Assuming gas is encountered in the main well bore, a further 30-day sidetrack will be drilled to a TVD of approximately 2633 m to prove a potentially deeper gas contact approximately 900 m to the northwest.
The Company looks forward to updating shareholders on achievement of each of the three casing points (13 3/8-in. casing at 450 m TVD, 12 ¼-in. casing at 2,070 m TVD and 7-in. casing at 2,587 m TVD) in the main wellbore and achievement of total depth.
by: Jamie Ashcroft
“Chariot will develop the drilling inventory on these permits through seismic acquisition which capitalises on the current excellent seismic contract rates,” says chief executive Larry Bottomley.
Chariot Oil & Gas Limited (LON:COPL) has expanded its interests offshore Morocco, snapping up an area close to upcoming drilling activity.
The AIM quoted explorer already owns a 10% stake in the Rabat Deep project, where partner ENI plans to drill an exploration well in 2018.
Preparing for the chance to follow up any success at Rabat Deep the company has now secured a 75% interest of a new adjoining area, which was previously part of the Rabat Deep project.
It was awarded the interest in the Kenitra Offshore Exploration Permit by Morocco’s Office National des Hydrocarbures et des Mines (ONHYM) which retains the other 25% of the project.
The untested Kenitra area also lies next to the Mohammedia Offshore Exploration Permits I-III, also 75% owned by Chariot, where seismic data gathered in 2014 shows exploration targets in shallow water (with resource potential up to 350mln barrels) as well as deeper prospects.
A new 3D seismic programme specifically assessing the Kenitra and Mohammedia areas is now planned, and will satisfy the minimum work commitments for the respective permits.
“This award allows us to capture the extension of the Lower Cretaceous play which spreads from Mohammedia into the Kenitra acreage,” said chief executive Larry Bottomley.
“With our focus on de-risking our assets, Chariot will develop the drilling inventory on these permits through seismic acquisition which capitalises on the current excellent seismic contract rates.
He added: “The RD-1 well scheduled to be drilled in early 2018 on Rabat Deep has the potential to further de-risk the hydrocarbon charge system in the Cretaceous play in Kenitra and Mohammedia which has prospectivity in excess of a billion barrels in which the Company holds 75% equity.”
Breathing In Morocco! Shanina Shaik Smokes Hookah And Visits Souk During Exotic High Fashion Shoot In Marrakesh
Daily Mail Australia
By Hannah Paine
In one photo shared to Instagram on Thursday, Shanina wears a leopard-print blouse and her hair in an elegant bun.
Exhaling smoke, the model poses with other women on a couch while holding a hookah pipe.
Josh White Sharecast
Syria, Tunisia, Colombia and Morocco-focussed oil and gas company Gulfsands Petroleum announced on Wednesday that its subsidiary, Gulfsands Petroleum Morocco, had been awarded an extension to its Moulay Bouchta Petroleum Agreement, together with a revised work programme.
The AIM-traded firm had previously disclosed in its interim report that an agreement had been reached with Office National des Hydrocarbures et des Mines, subject to the usual government approvals and certain conditions precedent, to extend the duration of the initial phase of the exploration period at Moulay Bouchta from two years to three years.
On 8 November 2016, the group reported that all conditions precedent had been satisfied, and it was awaiting formal approval of the extension from the Moroccan authorities.
“The group confirms that all approvals have now been received, such that the extension has become effective,” Gulfsands’ board said on Wednesday.
As a result, the Initial Phase will now run to 19 June 2017, with a revised work programme for the extended Initial Phase consisting of the acquisition of 200 km 2D line seismic data, the reprocessing and interpretation of selected legacy 2D seismic data, and a legacy field study with the aim to identify any potential for re-activation.
“Consequently, the estimated cost of the work programme as specified in the amendment to the Petroleum Agreement has been reduced from $3.5m to $2.5m,” the board added.
Gulfsands Petroleum Morocco will immediately seek to begin the Environmental Impact Study in anticipation of commencing the seismic acquisition, it said.
The company was already in discussions with ONHYM to secure a further extension to allow additional time to complete the revised work programme.
“The work programme focusses on an oil prospective area identified to the east of the depleted Haricha oil field.
“Based on work performed to date, GPML has identified new lead concepts with gross recoverable prospective resources internally estimated at 149 mmbo,” the board explained.
“This estimate has not been subject to external audit.”
Gulfsands said it continued to be interested in identifying a farm-in partner for the Moulay Bouchta permit, with any parties interested invited to contact the group directly.
A Moroccan-GCC panel convened on Tuesday in Rabat and agreed on a number of measures to beef up economic and commercial cooperation.
The panel agreed a slew of measures and mechanisms to boost mutually-beneficial economic partnership, Moroccan Minister of State for Foreign Trade Mohammad bin Ayyad told KUNA on the sidelines of the first day of the third session of the panel.
The agreed upon measures relatives to removal of customs barriers, evasion of tax duplication and encouragement of mutual investments in industry, commerce, agriculture and services, he said.
He pointed out that the conferees have also discussed increasing trade exchange and cementing partnership between private and enterprise sectors in both sides.
For his part, head of Kuwait’s delegation to the meeting and director of economic negotiations department at Kuwait’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry Talal Al-Nemash told KUNA that the Moroccan and GCC officials have concurred on signing a memorandum of understanding for ameliorating commercial and industrial exchange.
They also mulled preparation for holding the fifth Moroccan-Gulf investment forum and coordination of stances of economic issues at the Arab League and Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
Al-Nemash underscored the importance of the meeting in boosting economic partnership between Morocco and Gulf countries.
He noted that Kuwait is keen on expanding economic and commercial cooperation with Morocco.
Al-Nemash, however, urged Moroccan officials to remove barriers obstructing the smooth influx of Gulf investments into their country.
News from The Associated Press
by Edith M. Lederer
The Polisario Front said Tuesday that since Morocco has rejoined the African Union and accepted the group’s principles, it must recognize Western Sahara’s independence – or it could face possible sanctions or even requests to leave the regional organization.
Ahmed Boukhari, the Polisario Front’s U.N. representative, said at a news conference that the independence movement will be watching what Morocco does between now and the next AU summit in July, which should give the bloc’s members an indication of its intentions.
“If they are going to play games, it’s not against the Western Sahara Republic, it’s against the African Union and they have a right to ask Morocco: Are you a member of our family or not?,” Boukhari said. “If not, there is a possibility of sanctions or even requests to Morocco to get out again.”
Morocco annexed Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, in 1975 and fought the Polisario Front. The U.N. brokered a cease-fire in 1991 and established a peacekeeping mission to monitor it and help prepare a referendum on the territory’s future, which has never taken place.
Morocco’s deputy foreign minister, Nasser Bourita, told the website Le Desk on Feb. 5 that the kingdom would “never recognize” Western Sahara’s independence.
“Not only does Morocco not recognize – and will never recognize – this so-called entity, it will redouble its efforts so the small minority of countries, particularly African, which recognize it, change their positions,” Bourita said.
African leaders admitted Morocco as the AU’s 55th member at a summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Jan. 31. Morocco left the AU’s predecessor, the Organization of African Unity, in 1984 to protest Western Sahara’s admission as a full member – the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.
Boukhari cited the African Union’s charter, which Morocco is now required to support. It states that “the AU shall function in accordance with the following principles: (a) sovereign equality and interdependence among member states of the union; (b) respect of borders existing on achievement of independence.”
Morocco, which gained independence from France in 1956, considers the mineral-rich Western Sahara its “southern provinces” and has proposed wide-ranging autonomy. The Polisario Front insists on self-determination through a referendum for the local population, which Boukhari estimated at between 350,000 and 500,000.
The Polisario representative said that so far he is “frustrated” at what Morocco is doing and its statements.
“I hope that it will be just an accident,” Boukhari said. “I hope … they will really engage in a very serious negotiation.”
He said the Polisario Front also hopes that Morocco joining the AU “can give the African Union and the United Nations a new motivation to increase their cooperation to resolve the conflict of Western Sahara.”
Travel Daily News
From Tuesday 28 March, the Moroccan flag-carrier will begin operating direct non-stop flights three times per week from Manchester Airport to Mohammed V International Airport. The service will operate on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
MANCHESTER, UK – Royal Air Maroc announced the launch of a new route between Manchester and Casablanca.
This exciting launch sees Manchester Airport become only the third UK airport to operate flights to Casablanca with Royal Air Maroc, with the airline also currently running services from London Gatwick and London Heathrow.
The new service will use Boeing 737-800 aircraft, with both business and economy class seating available. The scheduled flight time is approximately three hours and twenty minutes.
As well as offering direct flights from Manchester to Casablanca, Royal Air Maroc’s new service opens the door for connections to 33 African destinations. Key connections through Casablanca, the second-largest hub to Africa, include Lagos, Accra, Nairobi and Banjul. There is also an opportunity for flight connections to Brazil, as well as daily connecting flights to popular tourist destinations such as Marrakech and Agadir.
Royal Air Maroc serves over 90 destinations in four continents, bringing Africa closer to the rest of the world. The airline’s UK & Ireland General Manager, Achraf El Hassani, said:
“Royal Air Maroc is delighted to launch the only non-stop service from the North of England direct to Casablanca, with thrice-weekly flights between Manchester Airport and Mohammed V International Airport. We are thrilled to be providing yet another invaluable link from the UK to Africa and look forward to welcoming passengers on board our service from 28 March.”
Manchester Airport is the UK’s third largest with more than 25.6m annual passengers. It has more than 210 routes served by 70 plus airlines. On the announcement of the Royal Air Maroc service, Stephen Turner, Commercial Director at Manchester Airport, said: “We are pleased to see Royal Air Maroc launch services from Manchester Airport. Being the only airport outside of London with this carrier firmly reinforces our position as the UK’s Global Gateway for the North.
“I am sure the 22m people in our catchment area, which spans as far north as Scotland, south to the Midlands, east across Yorkshire and west to Wales and Merseyside, will welcome the route should they wish to access Casablanca for business or leisure.”
Mobile internet connections in Morocco reached 15.82 million at end-December 2016, growing at an annual rate of 18.6 percent according to the latest quarterly statistics from national regulator ANRT.
In the same period, the fixed broadband market saw an 8.6 percent increase in ADSL subscriptions, bringing the total to 1.23 million.
Looking at the overall LTE customer base, the country closed 2016 with 2.8 million connections, following the launch of the first LTE commercial offers in June 2015.
Monthly ARPU for mobile internet users (including data-only and data & voice) increased by 12 percent year-on-year to MAD 19 (excl. VAT) in December 2016, while ADSL ARPU was up by 3 percent to MAD 97 (excl. VAT).
As for the total mobile customer base, Maroc Telecom increased its market share since September 2016, holding 44.2 percent of the country’s 41.51 million connections (+1.3 percentage points in the quarter) and widening the gap with Orange Morocco (formerly Meditel) and Wana, with 32.8 and 23.0 percent share respectively. Mobile penetration reached 122.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2016, compared to 127.3 percent a year earlier. This annual change is partly the result of the stricter measures adopted by the regulator to track the number of subscriptions.
The number of mobile subscribers in Morocco reached 41.5 million at the end of 2016, an increase of 3.6 per cent over 2015, according to the country’s national telecom regulator ANRT.
The penetration rate reached 122.6 per cent, the Rabat-based agency said in a report, adding that growth in post-paid customers increased by 11.8 per cent to reach 2.98 million subscribers.
The number of pre-paid subscribers reached 38.53 million. The landline users declined by 6.8 year-over-year to stand at 2.07 million users with a penetration rate of 6.12 per cent.
World Bulletin / News Desk
On Monday, Morocco’s agriculture and fisheries ministry said failure to reinstate the accord would put thousands of jobs at risk, both in Morocco and in Europe.
The EU and Morocco agreed Tuesday to push ahead with an agriculture trade accord, a day after Rabat warned Brussels that failure to do so would damage ties.
“Ours is a model partnership, rich and multi-dimensional. The EU and Morocco are determined to preserve and develop it,” EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said in a joint statement with Nasser Bourita, a senior Moroccan diplomat, after talks in Brussels.
“Talks between the EU and Morocco will continue in an atmosphere of serenity and mutual confidence,” they said.
Morocco suspended ties with Brussels last year after an EU court annulled the trade deal on the grounds it illegally applied to the Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony controlled by Rabat where the Polisario Front, backed by Algeria, is fighting for independence.
The EU’s top court reversed the ruling in December, arguing that the accord did not apply to the Western Sahara because the 28-nation bloc did not recognise it as part of Morocco.
Additionally, it could spur new migrant flows to Europe just as the bloc is trying to cope with an influx of refugees crossing the Mediterranean.
The ministry also warned that if the deal is not implemented, Morocco “would have no other choice but to turn to other countries”, including Russia, China, India and Japan as well as African and Arab Gulf nations.
Mogherini has pushed hard for trade deals with countries such as Morocco to help them develop their economies, which could curb the number of migrants leaving for Europe.
“Recalling the strategic importance of their links, the two sides expressed their wish to get down to work and build cooperation in all areas of shared interest,” the joint statement said.
by Robin Emmott
The European Union promised on Tuesday to maintain a farm deal with Morocco, seeking to reassure Rabat that the accord was not endangered by an EU court ruling that the country’s trade accords do not apply to the disputed Western Sahara region.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini made their pledge to Morocco’s Deputy Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita in Brussels, a day after Rabat threatened to end economic ties with the bloc if there was any change to the accord.
“Appropriate measures would be taken where necessary to secure the implementation of the free-trade agreement for processed agricultural products and fishery products between the European Union and Morocco,” the EU said in a statement.
An EU official said the bloc had not changed its position, despite the European Court of Justice ruling in December that deals involving trade of agricultural products and fisheries between the EU and Morocco did not apply to Western Sahara.
Western Sahara, which has significant phosphate reserves and offshore fishing, has been contested since 1975 when Spain, the former colonial power, withdrew. Morocco fought a 16-year war with the Polisario group, which established a self-declared republic there.
The European Union is seeking a political solution acceptable to Western Sahara and to Morocco, while respecting United Nations principles, the EU official said.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott; editing by John Stonestreet)
by Tom Finn and Rania El Gamal
State-owned energy giant Qatar Petroleum (QP) is exploring oil and gas in Morocco and Cyprus as it aims to expand its liquefied natural gas (LNG) assets abroad while trimming costs at home, chief executive Saad al-Kaabi said on Monday.
“You will see us going internationally with some of the partners we have in Qatar, this year and next year… We are in growth mode,” Kaabi told reporters at the company’s headquarters in Doha.
QP, the world’s largest LNG producer, has been pursuing deals in Cyprus where it “won a bid for 40 percent of a plot for exploration” and recently “went into Morocco for exploration”, Kaabi said.
QP is merging two liquefied natural gas divisions, Qatargas and RasGas Co Ltd, to save hundreds of millions of dollars following a more-than-two-year slump in oil prices that has forced Gulf countries to reduce state spending.
The economy of the tiny Gulf monarchy, which has a population of 2.6 million, has been strained by the oil slump and QP has fired thousands of staff and earmarked a number of assets for divestment.
To maintain dominance over key competitors the United States and Australia, QP is reducing costs at its domestic operations and looking to expand overseas through joint ventures with international oil companies, Kaabi said.
He added that supplies of LNG from the United States were not a threat to business.
“I’m not worried at all about a gas glut. Gas is going to be needed for a very long time,” Kaabi said.
Qatar, a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), shipped 76.4 million tonnes of LNG in 2014, or 32 percent of global supply, according to the International Group of Liquefied Natural Gas Importers.
A moratorium on new Qatari gas production since 2005 has hobbled domestic expansion opportunities as domestic crude output declines.
In November, QP received U.S. regulatory approval to build a $10 billion LNG plant with partner Exxon Mobil.
The company is also interested in the Mozambique gas business of Italian energy group Eni and could opt to join Exxon in buying a multibillion-dollar stake, Reuters reported in September.
(Reporting by Tom Finn and Rania El Gamal; Editing by Pritha Sarkar)
Growth in service and construction industries lowered Morocco’s official unemployment rate to 9.4 percent last year from 9.7 percent in 2015, the country’s planning agency said on Monday.
Services and construction created 38,000 and 36,000 jobs respectively, according to Monday’s report. Manufacturing created 8,000 jobs.
The government has been developing manufacturing in areas such as car, aerospace and electronic components, in an effort to reduce reliance on agriculture and create more jobs in its crowded big cities.
Agriculture, which accounts for some 15 percent of Morocco’s gross domestic product and employs more than half its workforce, lost around 32,000 jobs last year. Along with the rest of North Africa, the country suffered its worst drought in 30 years, and its cereal harvest declined by more than 70 percent.
The Finance Ministry has forecast the economy will grow by 4.5 percent this year, up from 1.6 percent in 2016, as agriculture recovers from the drought
by Aziz El Yaakoubi
Morocco’s government said on Monday it would end economic cooperation with the European Union if the bloc does not honour a farming deal, weeks after an EU court ruled that trade accords do not apply to the disputed Western Sahara region.
In a statement to MAP state news agency, the agriculture ministry said the EU should resist any attempts to block Moroccan products entering into the European market but did not explain why the pact might be at risk.
“In the absence of a frank commitment from the European Union, Morocco will have to make a decisive choice whether to continue with EU trade or to undo it without looking back, and focus on building new trade routes,” the ministry said.
The European Court of Justice ruled in December that deals involving trade of agricultural products, processed agricultural products and fisheries between the EU and Morocco did not apply to Western Sahara.
The ruling was claimed as a victory by the Polisario group seeking independence for Western Sahara, which Morocco calls its own. Last month, Polisario sought to have the EU apply the ruling to block a shipment of fish oil to a French port from the territory.
Rabat had said the European court ruling would not impact current trade deals in any way. The agriculture ministry said on Monday that current agreements with EU ensured thousands of jobs and could trigger migrant flows if their implementation fails.
An EU diplomatic source told Reuters the ministry’s statement came after Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete referred in a written reply to a question in the EU parliament to the “separate and distinct” status of Western Sahara.
Moroccan agriculture minister Aziz Akhannouch said Monday’s statement was not a response to Canete’s remarks, but that his comments reflected an attitude seen within EU institutions.
“It is about what the European court decision means,” the minister told Reuters by telephone. “For Morocco it means the deals should be implemented like they have been since their signature.”
Akhannouch said European officials have not yet started official talks on the meaning of the ruling but that Morocco has been preparing for its potential effects.
“We are reasonable people, we know that we need Europe and Europe needs us. But we want them to see all the efforts Morocco does to make the partnership work,” he said.
Without going into details of the trade deals, the court had signalled some EU fisheries in disputed coastal waters would be in violation of the ruling. It said agreements signed with Morocco could not include Western Saharan resources because the region’s inhabitants had not agreed to that.
Western Sahara, which has significant phosphate reserves and offshore fishing, has been contested since 1975 when Spain, the former colonial power, withdrew. Morocco fought a 16-year war with Polisario, which established a self-declared Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.
A 1991 ceasefire was meant to be followed by a U.N.-backed referendum on self-determination including the question of independence. The vote has never happened mainly because of disagreements on who could take part and Morocco since 2006 has promoted its own autonomy proposal.
The two sides often engage in diplomatic sparring but tensions on the ground have also increased since August last year, when UN peacekeepers were forced to deploy after Morocco forces and a Polisario unit faced off in a buffer zone between Morocco-controlled area and territory held by Polisario.
Last month, Morocco rejoined the African Union, having left decades ago because it had allowed Polisario recognition. Analysts expect Morocco to try use its position inside the AU to promote its own autonomy plan for Western Sahara against Polisario.
(Reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi; Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Catherine Evans)
Nasser Bourita says Rabat will never change stance that Western Sahara is an integral part of its territory.
Last Monday, AU members at a summit in Ethiopia decided to allow Morocco back into the group [EPA].
Morocco will “never recognise” Western Sahara’s independence despite rejoining the African Union after a decades-long dispute over the territory, Deputy Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita said.
Last Monday, the AU approved Morocco’s re-entry into the bloc which it quit in 1984 in protest at the admission of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) declared by the Polisario Front at the height of a war for the territory.
“Not only does Morocco not recognise – and will never recognise – this so-called entity,” Bourita told website Le Desk in an interview on Sunday.
“It will (also) redouble its efforts so the small minority of countries, particularly African, which recognise it, change their positions.”
AU membership would not change Morocco’s stance that the Western Sahara is an integral part of its territory, he said.
READ MORE: Moroccans have lost trust in their politicians
Monday’s summit in Addis Ababa followed an intense diplomatic battle with the Polisario’s backers, led by Algeria and South Africa, which opposed Morocco rejoining the AU.
Meanwhile, the head of Western Sahara’s Polisario Front has said “all options are open” in its independence struggle from Morocco, but called for talks after the kingdom rejoined the African Union.
Polisario head and SADR president Brahim Ghali told AFP in an interview on Sunday that the move did not fundamentally change the situation.
“We always look for the peaceful way” to resolve the conflict, Ghali told AFP at a Sahrawi refugee camp in Tindouf, southwestern Algeria.
“But all options remain open,” he said, hinting that a return to armed struggle was possible.
READ MORE: Making sense of the recent tension in Western Sahara
Thousands of Sahrawis are settled in five camps around Tindouf, where they receive aid from UN agencies and international NGOs.
Efforts to reach a negotiated solution for the territory have borne little fruit.
Ghali, who took over as leader of the Algeria-backed Polisario on the death of his predecessor Mohamed Abdelaziz in May 2016, said he hoped new UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres will push for a return to talks.
“We hope that he will have the necessary support of the Security Council to lead the negotiations that will enable the self-determination of our people,” Ghali said.
A UN peacekeeping force, MINURSO (United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara), was set up in 1991 to monitor the ceasefire and organise a poll on the future of the territory.
The SADR, which remains a member of the AU, demands independence and a UN-supervised referendum to resolve the conflict.
Morocco, which controls 90 percent of the territory including its three main towns, insists it is an integral part of the kingdom and that only autonomy is on the table.
Terence McNamee, Greg Mills and J Peter Pham
Features, Opinion & Analysis
The continued denial of “self-determination” for the Sahrawis is a central argument of the 15-member states who voted against Morocco’s readmission to the African Union.
If Morocco eventually gets its way, “defeat into victory” — a phrase popularised by famed Word War ll Field Marshal William Slim — might prove an apt description of its new approach towards the African Union (AU).
By joining the AU without the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) exiting the organisation, Rabat appears to have accepted defeat in one key political battle.
But victory in the war is now within reach.
Following a vote this week by 39 (out of 54) African states in favour of its readmission to the AU after a 33-year absence, King Mohammed VI, addressed the 28th AU Summit.
He gushed that Morocco, a founding member of the AU’s predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), was coming “back home, after having been away for too long”.
The North African country left the OAU in 1984 after SADR was controversially invited in despite fierce opposition from Morocco and nearly 20 other members.
SADR claims sovereignty over the Western Sahara territory, which Morocco claims as its own.
Until recently Moroccan officials averred that the kingdom could not (re)join unless SADR’s seat at the AU was withdrawn on the grounds that co-membership would be tantamount to recognition.
For decades, the struggle to preserve sovereignty over this disputed territory has come to be viewed as something of a sacred obligation within Morocco.
Until recently it was virtually taboo, something that was never spoken about in terms other than the official narrative — ie the Western Sahara is an ineluctable part of Morocco and always has been, end of story.
For all King Muhammed VI’s genuine popularity and importance to national identity, the existence of the monarchy in its present form was widely seen to be dependent on the outcome in the Western Sahara, since its cause had become a national rallying point almost as important as the royal house’s descent from the prophet Mohammed and the sovereign’s role as “commander of the faithful”.
Perhaps it remains so. But Morocco has opted to change tactics and play the long game.
Retaking a seat in Addis Ababa alongside SADR suggests that Morocco’s leadership is not only assiduous but also increasingly willing to permit civil society, intellectuals and others to contribute to the debate.
It also reckons that African opinion has irreversibly shifted its way.
Support for the Polisario Front — the liberation movement that proclaimed SADR and fought (and largely lost) a war against Morocco until a UN-brokered ceasefire in 1991 (which left the kingdom in possession of virtually the entirety of the territory, including all of its coastline) — is slumping under the relentless weight of Rabat’s nimble diplomacy and economic heft.
The message has finally got through: Morocco is a country of serious political and economic clout, integral to the continent’s development and prepared to play a leading role in its future.
And Morocco comes without preconditions.
But make no mistake: an emboldened Morocco inside the AU may be better placed to effect a final blow to the Polisario’s dreams of real statehood than it ever was outside the continental body.
If that is indeed the thinking, how that process might unfold bears careful consideration.
Consequences for the AU, for regional security and prosperity, and, above all, for the Sahrawi people are sure to be significant.
In human welfare terms, the Sahrawis have most to lose by maintenance of the status quo.
The historically nomadic Sahrawi tribes have long been pawns in regional power plays — most recently involving rivals Morocco and Algeria since Spain withdrew from what was then known as Spanish Sahara in 1976.
The Western Sahara is one of several intractable conflicts that has defied African and wider international efforts to facilitate its “solution” for decades.
At its heart, not unlike Cyprus or Israel/Palestine, lay sharply contrasting interpretations of key historical events, which shape the opposing communities’ identities as well as their sense of justice and what is rightfully theirs.
In general, the international community has been equivocal in the face of each side’s competing claims, encouraging dialogue and emphasising the need for a peaceful resolution.
Only about a quarter of UN member states currently recognise SADR (although, in a number of cases, the ‘recognition’ came in the form of a declaration years ago and the jus legationis has never been exercised) and over the years several have de-recognised it.
Until yesterday’s vote, the AU Commission had, by its own admission, more or less buried its head in the sand. Since 2002, the body did little more than continually reiterate its support of the on-going efforts by the UN to find a solution to the conflict consistent with relevant Security Council and General Assembly resolutions that will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara.
The continued denial of “self determination” for the Sahrawis is a central argument of the 15 member states who voted against Morocco’s readmission.
In a brief article published in these pages last month, South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Co-operation used the term no less than eight times in support of SADR’s claim to independence.
It was foreign policy reduced to cookie-cutter platitudes: no acknowledgement that the concept of ‘self determination’ is highly contested terrain not just in Africa but across all continents.
In international law the principle often collides with “territorial integrity”, with no clear track to reconcile the two. Moving negotiations over the Western Sahara to the corridors of the AU will matter not if leading members like South Africa continue to frame “self-determination” exclusively by decolonisation and “all-or-nothing” proposals.
In its crude, Manichean world defined by liberation struggles and race, Pretoria continues to see Morocco as a colonial power.
Unsurprisingly the African National Congress (ANC) has responded negatively to Morocco’s readmission, describing the decision as “regrettable” and “a significant setback to the cause of the Sahrawi people and their quest for self-determination and independence in the Western Sahara”.
Self-determination is not, however, simply a moment of liberation.
Questions of viability — the ability to control, defend and administer a defined territory and population — should be of primary concern.
Africa’s most recent experience of new statehood affords a harrowing reminder.
South Sudan garnered near unanimous support from its own people and overwhelming backing from the international community for its newfound independence in 2011.
Even Khartoum eventually came around to endorsing the breakaway of the south and was the first state to recognise it.
Yet chaos and mass violence in South Sudan has expanded nearly year on year since independence. Worldwide, only Syria is worse.
None of this is to gainsay the strength of nationalist sentiment in Western Sahara. For all Morocco’s investment in the territory and concerted efforts to bring a Sahrawi elite into the establishment, there is no avoiding the continuing perception of an occupation, complete with checkpoints, allegations of mistreatment by security forces and the like. That does not make independence any more of a panacea, but it does illustrate that despite growing acceptance of the Moroccan position within the AU it still has much work to do to counter the almost irresistible lure of “independence” among some Sahrawi communities.
With Morocco inside the AU it seems more likely that attention will focus more and more on the role of Algeria, which is essential to any deal on the Western Sahara. Morocco has always maintained that Polisario is not only backed and funded by Algeria, but in fact has no sovereign decision-making power; its leaders take direct orders from Algiers, which is less committed to the Sahrawi people than it is to anything that might unsettle Morocco. Algeria has used the Western Sahara as a political football in its fight for regional supremacy and a means to consolidate domestic support in a country still struggling with the consequences of its brutal, murky civil war and the myriad sources of potential instability within its borders. But so, to a more limited extent, has Morocco.
Religion, economics, and demographics are a potentially explosive mix.
A remarkable series of barely noticed counter terrorism operations, labor strikes, and social protests in Algeria in January showed that the North African country may be facing a year of upheaval. Six years after leaders in the fellow North African states of Tunisia and Egypt were ousted, simmering instability in Algeria could lead to the ouster of its longtime president as well.
The consequences for the U.S. of a failed Algerian state must not be minimized. The U.S. State Department considers Algeria to be an important counterterrorism partner.
First, the military junta imposed a state of emergency on Algeria’s border with Tunisia upon the return of 800 Tunisian jihadists who had been fighting for jihadi groups abroad, including the Islamic State.
Second, cities in northwest Algeria and the coastal province of Bejaia experienced several days of labor unrest and riots. It began at the start of 2017, when the regime of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who is nearly 80 years old and has been largely incapacitated by a stroke, implemented a robust austerity plan, cutting spending by 14 percent and increasing taxes on consumer products. In response to the protests, Algeria’s security forces arrested about 100 people, half of whom were under 25.
The political and labor disorder has led the regime to call on religious leaders to quell the dissent. The Ministry of Religious Affairs has issued directives to imams to promote in their Friday sermons the maintenance of national stability as a religious duty. Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal warned that the regime will block any attempt aimed at “destabilizing” the country and asserted that the protests “are not related to the Arab Spring.”
Social unrest has also hit Algeria’s southern Saharan region because of a significant spike in electricity prices. In the February 1, 2016, issue of The Weekly Standard, John Schindler and I noted:
Together with the struggling Algerian economy, the fight to succeed Bouteflika may very well produce a series of increasingly public convulsions within Algeria’s formidable security and intelligence establishments, who are the country’s real rulers.
Our analysis has not changed. Indeed, the case is even stronger now, as the price of natural-gas and oil exports — the foundations of the nation’s economy — have not recovered enough to satisfy the demands of Algeria’s 40 million people.
To make matters worse, Algeria continues to squander significant resources on the so-called “Bouteflika mosque.” The $1.4 billion price tag on the mosque, with a capacity for 250,000 worshippers and the world’s tallest minaret, has diverted funds away from health care and social services. One purported rationale for building the Bouteflika mosque (or the Djamaa El Djazair mosque, as it is more properly known) is that it will serve to contain radical Islam. But that argument does not hold water in a country with 30,000 mosques.
The $1.4 billion price tag on the ‘Bouteflika mosque,’ with a capacity for 250,000 worshippers and the world’s tallest minaret, has diverted funds away from health care and social services.
Despite all its troubles, Algeria remains a key oil supplier to Europe and could help save energy-starved European countries from dependency on Putin’s Russia, not to mention the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, the Islamic Republic of Iran. Hence the U.S. has an important interest in maintaining a stable Algeria. Moreover, American oil and agricultural companies have recently secured deals with Algeria, and there is plenty of room for growth for U.S. companies in Algeria’s energy sector.
But the dangers of Algerian jihadism are alive and kicking. Mokhtar Belmokhtar — dubbed the “one-eyed sheik” after his injury in a botched explosion — is believed to still be active in Algeria. The U.S. has sought multiple times to liquidate him, but Belmokhtar — also known as “the Uncatchable” — has evaded all assassination attempts.
Belmokhtar, who named his son after Osama bin Laden, allegedly engineered the attack on the Tigantourine gas plant in eastern Algeria in January 2013. The terrorist assault resulted in the deaths of 40 oil workers, including three Americans.
Algeria’s formidable security apparatus has extensive institutional memory and experience in counterinsurgency warfare against jihadis. Between 1991 and 2002, at least 150,000 Algerians died in a civil war between Islamists and the military state. Most people who lived through the atrocities of this war have little appetite for another such conflict.
Youth employment hovers around 32 percent, and the younger generation’s readiness to effect change in stagnant Algeria could lead to a new revolt. The December 2016 U.N. Arab Human Development report examined Algeria and the age category 15 to 29. The Economist wrote in connection with this document: “Arabs make up just 5% of the world’s population, but they account for about half the world’s terrorism and refugees.”
Dire warnings have been issued about a pending implosion in Algeria and a flood of migrants to Europe. At least one prominent Algerian expert views this prediction as off the mark. Nonetheless, the dangerous mix of radical Islamism, economic instability, and growing youth unrest could be the recipe for a new Arab revolt in North Africa.
— Benjamin Weinthal is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @BenWeinthal