Donald Trump’s inglorious reign as American President has come to an end, but to the president renowned for his bellicose jingoism, it is a season of playing the blame game necessitating in using a chunk of his usual ‘alternative facts’ intended to scuttle the results of the recently-held US elections which had been adjudged free-and-fair and won by the opposing Democratic Party. Just recently, he took his game of brinkmanship further down the precipice when he played the do-gooder’s role by signing a proclamation recognising Moroccan sovereignty over the desert lands of Western Sahara, in effect, granting Morocco the lands which have for over half a century belonged to the Sahrawi people of North Africa.
The Western Sahara territory has been a bone of contention between Morocco and the pro-independence Polisario Front for over fifty years, a conflict which had erupted after the withdrawal of Spain which granted the administrative control of the territory to Morocco and Mauritania, but not its sovereignty. The Moroccan troop’s attempts at forcing their presence on the Sahrawi people in an all-out war in the mid-seventies had met with stiff resistance – and with other attempts at grabbing the entire territory in the early nineties to no avail, an agreement for a cease fire was eventually reached in 1991, between government of Morocco and the Polisario Front, representing the Sahrawi people. A promise of a referendum on independence was also scheduled for the following year. To this day, most of the inland parts of the Western Sahara are governed by the Polisario Front while some of the territory remains under Moroccan occupation. This had been the situation until President Donald J. Trump intervened with his jiggery-pokery and ripped asunder the thin thread that once held both parties together. And now, anarchy looms.
Trump’s sudden romance with Morocco, a country belonging to the African Continent he once rubbished as “shithole countries” is just a last-ditch attempt at gaining cheap relevance to cover up for his notoriety as ‘America’s worst President.’ It also represents his last cry destined to ring hollow: the sting of a dying wasp. The other day, it was the United Arab Emirates that was cajoled into making peace with Israel – and now Morocco has been granted vast swathes of disputed lands, following her own ‘peace’ deal with Israel. While peace is good and in fact, “the fruit of righteousness,” as the Holy Bible has it, I wonder why some Arab nations which had never had a clear-cut bone to pick with Israel are being dragged to the negotiating table while the elephant in the room: Palestine, which is at daggers-drawn with Israel, having been occupied for over half a century is sidelined or worse, taunted with ridiculous, inefficacious ‘peace packages’ like Donald Trump’s “Deal of the Century,” which has been pilloried by observers and critics for its one-sided nature. The American President remains a biased arbiter in the present Saharan conflict and he cannot feign ignorance of the consequence of his intervention which is tantamount to tossing a stick of dynamite in a tinderbox. His endorsement of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara will surely end up another chimera because the problem will persist even after Donald Trump is gone and his last vestiges consigned to the rubbish bin of history. In fact, by Trump’s insincere act, the skirmishes will now gain more momentum with one side claiming what’s ‘rightly mine’ and the other, ‘what’s mine by virtue of America’s fiat.’ With an internecine war now imminent, comes the US again stoking up the conflict with the sales of weapons overtly to its favoured side – the Moroccan Army – and covertly to the opposing Polisario Front. This, for all intents and purposes, is realpolitik in action – and this is what Trump is interested in.
The problem in the Sahara reminds me sadly of my own country, Nigeria, where there is an ongoing conflict in the oil-rich Bakassi Peninsula between my country and Cameroon as a result of some colonially-imposed boundaries executed during the infamous scramble for and partition of Africa by the colonisers. In most cases, the colonial powers simply grouped nations together undermining their indigenous boundaries and ethnic backgrounds in so far as such arrangements served their – the colonisers – economic interests. But with these powers gone and their subjects granted political autonomies comes the real problem: a dire search for a curative antidote to the sore the colonialists had left festered. This is the problem confronting Nigeria and Cameroon to this day; and it has resulted in several border clashes leading to deaths. The International Court of Justice as early as 1994, decided that Cameroon was the rightful owner of the Peninsula, basing its decision on the 1913 Anglo-German treaty, but Nigeria, would not budge – and now the killings have taken a new dimension with armed vigilante groups fighting for fishing rights and to be recognised as humans on the face of the earth.
As for the impasse in the Sahara, the incoming Biden’s administration should as a matter of urgency revoke Trump’s Moroccan endorsement and revert to the status quo ante with a view to settling the on-going conflict peacefully. If this is not done, the volatile region will be heading towards a bloody crisis with Al-Qaeda, the Ansarul Islam, the Islamic State Group in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) and other deadly armed groups around Mali and the Sahel region gaining from the instability. Even at that, America’s current position has angered Algeria, a powerful African nation that has always supported the independence of the Sahrawi people and currently has close to 200,000 Sahrawi refugees.
I trust that Joe Biden’s team will resolve this brewing conflict amicably because if war eventually breaks out, it will represent an indelible stain on the conscience of humanity. If anything, we should remind ourselves of what Libya has become and take a firm stand on the side of peace.
Martins Agbonlahor is a novelist and journalist based in Greater Manchester. His new novel: Another Poor Cow: The Dangers of Tradition in Rural Nigeria, is available in all online bookstores.