Mwl. Julius Nyerere, the founder of Tanzania once said: “Africa won’t be totally and truly independent until all African countries and Africans are free.” His vision of freedom was not confined within boundaries and flags but the whole mankind. He leapfrogged almost all thinkers as far as independence is concerned. To him freedom was a necessity for everything any human being anywhere aspired to do. In a nutshell, freedom is life and life without it is worse than death for it.
Another Kenyan doyen of freedom fighting Dedan Kimathi averred: “Better die standing than living kneeling.” All this aimed at highlating the essence and necessity of freedom.
Now we’re evidencing Morocco colonizing Western Sahara (as-Ṣaḥrā’ al-Gharbīyah) the same way Israel does to Palestine. Sadly though no African countries even African Union is squeezing Morocco to let Western Sahara become free! It is as if Western Sahara does not exist and if it does it is the region of Morocco! How silly this is?
This former Spanish colony was garrisoned by Morocco since 1960 when many African countries were achieving their independence. Apart from its rich phosphate deposits and fishing waters, Western Sahara has few natural resources and lacks sufficient rainfall for most agricultural activities. There are rumours that there may be rich off-shore oil and natural gas fields, but the debate persists as to whether these resources can be profitably exploited, and if this would be legally permitted due to the non-decolonized status of Western Sahara.
Western Sahara ‘s economy is centred on nomadic herding, fishing, and phosphate mining. Most food for the urban population is imported. All trade and other economic activities are bridled by the Moroccan government. The government has encouraged citizens to relocate to the territory by giving subsidies and price controls on basic goods. These heavy subsidies have created a state-dominated economy in the Moroccan controlled parts of Western Sahara, with the Moroccan government as the single biggest employer.
In other words Morocco is doing exactly the same as the Jewish nation has been doing for Palestine, where it subsides and supports new settlements that cost poor Palestinians to live without a place to call home.
The recent episode proving how AU is but a let down involves a Human Rights Campaigner, Aminatou Haidar who, by the way of hunger strike, has returned home after suffering a lot of denial as she was returning from New York to receive a civil courage prize.
Haidar billed as ‘Gandhi of Sahara’, is renowned for her resistance without violence. Her theme-cum-sin is just to remind the Moroccan authorities to do the right thing… to stop occupying Western Sahara. As she completed a month long tour of US, Moroccan authorities were pushed to the limits so as to act by denying her entrance after she arrived at the airport, as her passprt and identity card were thereof confiscated. Her sin, once again, was to state her home as Western Sahara instead of Moroccan Sahara. She was extradited to Lanzarote in the Canary Islands where she started hunger strike. In November, after her case attracted international condemnation, Moroccan authorities offered to release her if she would publicly acknowledge Morocco ’s “sovereignty” over Western Sahara. She refused to do so. Since then she has maintained her hunger strike as her health was deteriorating, the authorities later bowed and granted her the right to return home back.
Staying put and upholding her right to return to Western Sahara, Haidar even rejected obtaining refugee status in Spain without travel documents. She was therefore effectively confined to Lanzarote.
Sadly though, Haidar is recognized by international community excluding Africa. Women and Human Rights groups in Africa have nary agitated for her plight. Recent information has it that her accounts were broken by the authorities and she is branded an evil person colluding with enemies to sabotage Morocco. Amnesty International has already sternly reprimanded Morocco and advised it to allow Haidar to return to her home, something that was later complied with after it was regarded as a just-plain-wrong advice.
Haidar became physically weak. Her health was at particular risk because she suffers from anaemia and a stomach ulcer. She refused to take her regular ulcer medication, as part of her hunger strike. She was hospitalized thanks to the escalation of the deterioration of her body. But again, neither Moroccan authorities nor African Human Rights groups saw this as a danger and a denial of human paramount right-life. What annoys is the truth that even countries that ratified the ban on capital punishment were but onlookers!
What Moroccan authorities did is tantamount to a death sentence to this true Human Rights activist. Death for her is better than life, if her freedom is not granted. Just like Dedan Kimathi, she thought it was better die standing than living on knees. The treatment she received was just to relieve and calm the pain as she continued her hunger strike. This was said by her lawyer Ines Miranda who was recently quoted by Reuters news agency.
It is very sad that Africa is crowing of having Nelson Mandela-the doyen of liberation in South Africa. But the same did not paying any damn to the plight of Haidar whose health was deteriorating day by day! Why should African countries wait to enjoy the pride of having heroes like Mandela once they’re through, but the same betray them during making? We still bitterly remember many African countries, headed by former Malawian Dictator Hastings Kamuzu Banda, who used to conduce with the apartheid regime in South Africa as they looked at Mandela as a terrorist.
One would think this grave mistake was enough of a lesson not to repeat the same. To prove my point, ask yourself how many Africans know Haider, even bothered to rise their voices for Western Sahara? But ask them about Palestinians liberation fighters, they know most of them… if not all!
Spanish artists and film stars, including an Oscar-winning director, made a video promoting her cause that became popular on YouTube. British artists and intellectuals appealed to Prime Minister Gordon Brown to help. Amnesty International joined the urgent appeal to keep Haidar alive. The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights sent staff to be with her in the Canaries, and conducted an interview with her, also widely circulated. A growing number of legislators in Europe and the United States have been issuing statements supporting Haidar.
Even in East Africa, some of the doyens Human Rights Fighters are forgotten simply because they’re not in politics. Ask Kenyans where this magazine is published of Dr. Willy Mutunga, Prof. Makau Mutua and others, that are not in politics. They’re not known even highly regarded compared to politicians.
Going back to Western Sahara, besides being shame-cum-challenge to AU, if it keeps mum, the whole meaning of the independence of Africa will become meaningless as per Nyerere. Once again, by sitting on this, AU’s proved to be nothing but a let down. It’s time that Morocco be forced to release Western Sahara the same way Boer South Africa did.
It is upon Human Rights organizations in Africa, to sound the trumpet to see to it justice is done to Western Saharan people. It is time for freedom now for Western Sahara. It is time for freedom for Aminatou Haidar. Had she died, Moroccan authorities would be held responsible. And on this line, Human Rights campaigners must agitate for the banning of Morocco from International community, shall it keep its ears sealed or AU keep on gerrymandering about such legit issue of freedom for Western Sahara.
Nkwazi Mhango is a Tanzanian living in Canada. He writes regularly for “The African Executive” and also has a blog entitled “Free Thinking Unabii”. He is a regular contributor to AfroSpear.