Seven SADC members have defended their decision to opt for a parallel African Ministerial Conference held in Morocco in support of the United Nations’ political process to deal with the regional dispute over Western Sahara.
Representatives of Angola, Madagascar, Zambia, Malawi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania and Eswatini were among the 38 countries that accepted Morocco’s invitation.
Represented by their senior ministers, the countries insisted that they were following a UN resolution passed in Mauritania last year and not snubbing the Pretoria Conference, which also took place on Monday.
The Eswatini Minister of Public Works and head of delegation, Christian Ntshangase, said their presence in Morocco was in line with the UN framework in resolving the Western Sahara question.
“We are aware that there is another meeting in Pretoria, but we believe that this is the conference that would assist the UN to find a lasting and peaceful solution to this region,” said Ntshangase.
Nigeria, a West African superpower, echoed the sentiments of the SADC members when its Foreign Affairs Ministry permanent secretary, Mustapha Lawal Sulaiman, justified their attendance.
“We insist that there should be no parallel process. The Western Sahara issue has been dragging on for too long, and Africa must now speak with one voice,” he said.
South Africa and SADC have been at the forefront of calling on Morocco to allow Western Sahara to achieve self-determination, a tenet viewed as a key cornerstone in the liberation of the continent.
President Cyril Ramaphosa, Rwanda leader Paul Kagame and Egypt President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi comprise the AU troika that has been mandated to work with the UN to find a peaceful outcome to the Western Sahara dispute.
Ramaphosa is on record as saying that the “cause of Western Sahara is our cause”.
The 38 countries that met in Morocco on Monday were unanimous that the continent needed to speak with one voice and that all efforts to break the deadlock must be done through the UN.
Morocco Minister of Foreign Affairs Nasser Bourita called for the same unity of purpose.
“Africa’s best interests call on us to come together.
“It forbids us to fight.
“Our watchword should resolutely be that of unity, cohesion and coherence,” he said.
Quizzed on the purpose of running a parallel conference to South Africa, Bourita insisted that Morocco had no intention of causing division.
“This conference is an exact illustration of that royal vision, in that it aims precisely to unite and move forward.
“No to division, yes to cohesion, no to rearguard squabbling and yes to rallying for Africa’s real priority causes,” he said.
The ministerial conference concluded with 13 declarations.
Chief among them was “the unanimous adoption of decision Assembly/AU/Dec693 on the report of the chairperson of the AU Commission on the Sahara issue, which affirms the exclusivity of the United Nations as the framework for seeking a mutually acceptable, realistic pragmatic and lasting solution to the Sahara issue”.
The ministers also reaffirmed their commitment to the effective implementation of the mandate of the AU troika to preserve the ongoing political process with the exclusive mandate of the UN under the supervision of the Security Council.