EXPLAINER: How Morocco needs to end its occupation of the Western Sahara

A regional summit in solidarity with the Western Sahara has determined to use Morocco’s joining the African last year to get it to end its 44-year occupation of the former Spanish colony.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, welcoming representatives of 27 countries to the gathering in Pretoria on Tuesday, said the African Union could not advance its agenda of silencing the guns on the continent until the Saharawi people were free and able to exercise their right to self determination.

All that is required is Morocco to end Africa’s last colonial vestige and abide by its promise to the United Nations to have a referendum in the territory it annexed in 1975.

Opening the summit, SADC current chairperson President Heine Geingob of Namibia castigated members of the 15-nation regional group for attending a meeting in Morocco designed to detract from the SADC solidarity conference.

ANC chairperson Gwede Mantashe said Morocco has used money from resources stolen from Western Sahara to fund the Marrakesh meeting.

He said the ambassador who Morocco was sending to South Africa shortly would be told firmly that the occupation of Western Sahara had to end.

Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo said by hosting the Marrakesh meeting, Morocco had shown it was concerned about a strong expression of solidarity for the Saharawi people and the determination to see an end to Western Sahara’s occupation.

He said the summit would insist that the African Union remain central in the process of getting freedom for Western Sahara.

Morocco would prefer this be handled by the United Nations where it has played a stalling game for decades.

Obasanjo repeated the often heard assertion that as members of the African Union, Morocco and Western Sahara were members of the same family and must settle their dispute peacefully.

He said Morocco was admitted to the African Union last year with a view to putting additional pressure on Rabat to quit Western Sahara.

Ramaphosa said international solidarity had played a major role in ending apartheid and colonialism and it would work to free the Western Sahara.

Jean-Jacques Cornish is an Africa correspondent at Eyewitness News. Follow him on Twitter: @jjcornish.