Press Conference, Historical General Assembly 1991: A Reality Check

ELLA BROWNLIE, AL QUDS AL ARABI (Opinion)

This afternoon a press conference was held in the Historical General Assembly 1991. At this event, the delegates were individually grilled on the content of their working papers; proposals for decolonization in the Western Sahara. Yet the discussion revealed that the committee has some work to do.

Many of the delegates appear to have submitted working papers, based on idealistic plans with serious practical, financial and logical flaws.

Superficial solutions and blatant contradictions are apparent in several of the delegates’ proposals. Italy remains adamant that Moroccan settlers should be given citizenship in the new regime, yet refuses to allow them to vote in the election of a country they would inhabit.

Saudi Arabia, in turn, is attempting to build a “mixed mission” legal system, based on cooperation between Saharawi tribes and the Moroccan rule of law. Yet when questioned, the delegate admitted that a central authority would be needed to govern the region overall, and appeared to assume that the losing party would be happy to cooperate under such an arrangement.

Then there was the outright hypocrisy. Nigeria has been quick to decry the human rights violations committed by POLISARIO forces, but when questioned about their recognition of SADR as a sovereign government, they failed to explain why their government is supporting a regime that also abuses human rights.

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In addition, several delegates appeared very vague on where the funding for their projects was coming from. Both the United States and Libya mentioned the World Bank and the United Nations Development Program as a potential source of funding for their social projects in the Western Sahara. Both assumed that this would be an infinite financial resource.

Likewise, Singapore and her allies are proposing a temporary ban on foreign exports out of Western Sahara, in the hope of preventing the exploitation of these resources by Morocco. When questioned about how this ban would affect local Saharawi, whose livelihoods are dependent on such exports – the delegate from Singapore admitted that these exporters would need to be compensated by the World Bank.

Greater creativity by the delegates will be required going forward. Throwing money from the World Bank at a problem, will not necessarily fix it.

It would be beneficial if Libya could provide slightly more innovative ideas regarding the type of ‘social programs’ they see being initiated. Their coalition is proposing the DDR agreement; a straight swap. Militia and armed forces trade in their guns and other weapons for “social programs” funded by, you guessed it —the World Bank. 

This flawed assumption that Moroccan or Saharawi parties will give up a struggle of territory and communal identity for “social programs” doled out like sweets by paternalistic beneficiaries, demonstrates a lack of imagination on the behalf of the committee.

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This committee is fighting to reverse the brutal legacy of colonialism, yet propositions like these seek only to perpetuate the theme of imperialism and to reduce the autonomy of African nations. Identity issues in the Western Sahara, and indeed the entire Middle East, require far more attention than the sticking plaster solutions proposed so far..

Going forward, there are three key areas that all states need to address in detail. A decision must be made on which parties will vote in the referendum, backed by strong reasoning. States also need to demonstrate a procedure to deal with the aftermath of the election result, based on an informed social assessment of the perspective of both parties. Ultimately, comprehensive and financially viable plans are ncessary for reconstruction in the Western Sahara; based not on paternalistic philosophy, but a genuine commitment to the economic and social empowerment of this African state.

Following this recent press conference, we hope to see delegates prepared to fill some substantial gaps in their working papers, or to make some very good friends at the World Bank.

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