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STATESMAN OPINION: THE WESTERN SAHARA DISPUTE – A CASE FOR GHANA TO RECONSIDER ITS POSITION

General News

Ghana has always been admired by the international community as a neutral arbiter in international disputes. This puts Ghana in a very strong position among the comity of nations in the resolution of international disputes, as we are seeing today in neighbouring Togo, where our President, Nana Akufo-Addo, is leading efforts to find a fair and democratic solution to the political crisis there between the ruling party and the opposition. The dispute between the Kingdom of Morocco (“Morocco”) and the Polisario Front, over Western Sahara, is one of such dispute where Ghana must, once again, show leadership by remaining neutral but actively so. Ghana cannot be seen to be taking sides in the dispute and most importantly, against a very strategic trading partner.

Ghana has always been admired by the international community as a neutral arbiter in international disputes. This puts Ghana in a very strong position among the comity of nations in the resolution of international disputes, as we are seeing today in neighbouring Togo, where our President, Nana Akufo-Addo, is leading efforts to find a fair and democratic solution to the political crisis there between the ruling party and the opposition. The dispute between the Kingdom of Morocco (“Morocco”) and the Polisario Front, over Western Sahara, is one of such dispute where Ghana must, once again, show leadership by remaining neutral but actively so. Ghana cannot be seen to be taking sides in the dispute and most importantly, against a very strategic trading partner.

 

Before setting out the reasons why Ghana needs to take a neutral stance in the dispute over Western Sahara, it is important to set out the background to the dispute. The Western Sahara area has been the subject of a long standing territorial dispute between Morocco and the Polisario Front, who claim to be representing the indigenous people of Western Sahara. Western Sahara is rich with phosphate and fishing opportunities, and a strong indication of oil deposits off the coast. It is, thus, without any question as to why Morocco and the Polisario Front would want to control Western Sahara.

The dispute in itself commenced around 1975, when Spain, who colonized Western Sahara, withdrew from the area and instead of holding a referendum on self-determination, it signed over the territory to Morocco and Mauritania. In 1979, Mauritania relinquished its claim to the territory, leaving Morocco. However, in 1976, the Polisario Front declared Western Sahara as the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (“SADR”) and sought to establish a sovereign state.

In August 1979, Ghana recognized SADR and in 1984, supported its membership as a sovereign member of the Organisation of African Unity. The United Nations recognized SADR as a “non-self-governing territory” which ought to be decolonized. According to the UN Charter, a “non-self-governing territory” is a territory “whose people have not yet attained a full measure of self-government”. SADR is a fully recognized founding member of the African Union, and the African Union recognizes and supports the inalienable right of the Sahrawi people for self-determination. That notwithstanding, Ghana strongly led the support of Morocco’s recent admission into the African Union.

Ghana is therefore in a position to maintain a neutral stance to ensure that the dispute over Western Sahara is resolved amicable, in the interest of the parties involved, as well as the international community. Ghana’s neutral stance will have a positive impact on its foreign policy on the international stage, and affect its economic development significantly. Here is why.

Firstly, Ghana’s current position, that is recognizing SADR as a sovereign state, is contrary to the position taken by the United Nations. As explained above, the United Nations recognizes SADR as a territory whose people have not yet attained a full measure of self-government. How then can Ghana be seen to be taken a contrary position? The United Nations’ stance is to encourage the parties to resolve the dispute amicable, and in a manner that is acceptable to all parties, and also to remain a credible, impartial mediator in a dispute where both sides have entrenched positions. Ghana, aligning itself with the United Nations, will reinforce its position within the United Nations as a nation that seeks the interest of the international community.

Secondly, there are multiple precedents of states withdrawing their recognition of SADR, and thus Ghana needs not to worry about being the first nation to do so. In fact, presently, there are 52 states that have reconsidered their position on SADR and have withdrawn their recognition of SADR as a sovereign nation. Again, this step is consistent with the international position, especially given that only 32 countries recognize SADR as a sovereign state.

Thirdly, Ghana has recently renewed its trade and diplomatic relations with Morocco, and therefore presents the appropriate time and opportunity to withdraw its recognition of SADR as a sovereign state. In February 2017, the King of Morocco, His Majesty King Mohammed VI, visited Ghana and during his visit, several agreements for cooperation were signed between the two countries in the areas of trade, agriculture, education and many others. The King was also honoured by the President of the Republic of Ghana and awarded the highest state honour of Ghana, known as the Companion of the Order of Ghana (CSG) (Honorary Division). A neutral stance in the dispute over Western Sahara by Ghana will be construed as good faith by Morocco.

With the foregoing in mind, it is obvious that it is in the political and economic interest of Ghana to withdraw its recognition of SADR and maintain a neutral stance in the dispute over Western Sahara. The outcome, whether in favour of SADR or Morocco, will still be beneficial to Ghana.