As Morocco is readmitted to the African Union at the continental body's 28th summit in Addis Ababa, it is pushing for the suspension of Western Sahara, placing the AU in a difficult position. The AU has long backed self-determination for the Moroccan-occupied territory, and recognized the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) as the representative of its people. Morocco dropped out of the Organization of African Unity (precursor to the AU) in 1984 in protest at the SADR's admission to the body. At Addis Ababa, Rabat won the backing of a simple majority of AU members for its return to the body. Among the dissenting votes was South Africa, whose ruling African National Congress (ANC) issued a statement calling the readmission of Morocco an "important setback for the cause of the Saharawi people." Rabat stopped short of explicitly demanding the AU withdraw its recognition of the SADR, with King Mohammed VI saying in a statement: "On reflection, it has become clear to us that when a body is sick, it is treated more effectively from the inside than from the outside." SADR's Foreign Minister Mohamed Salem Ould Salek, howver, said Morocco's readmission represents "a victory of the Sahrawi people since Morocco had finally accepted to sit alongside its neighbor, Western Sahara." (Africa in Fact, Feb. 1 via AllAfrica; BBC News, Sahara Press Service, SPS, Jan. 31; The East African, Jan. 30 via AllAfrica)
The UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported Jan. 6 that 2016 had more recorded migrant deaths than any previous year. According to preliminary figures, 363,348 migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Europe arrived successfully while 5,079 died at sea. At least 300 more fatalities are expected to factor in, as the figures do not yet reflect more recent events off Spain, Morocco and Tunisia. The IOM suspects there are additional unreported deaths in areas between North Africa and Spain where there was less reliable data collection. The IOM expressed its dismay over the current migrant situation, expressing the need to find "creative means to permit safe, legal and secure migration." The IOM also began training rescuers in Libya to strengthen migrant lifesaving efforts.
For the first time in history, governments around the world have agreed to legally binding limits on global temperature rises as the Paris Agreement (PDF) on climate change became effective on Nov. 4. All governments that have ratified the accord are now legally obligated to cap global warming levels at 2 C above pre-industrial levels—regarded as a limit of safety by scientists. But environmentalists and other groups have said the agreement may not be enough. According to Asad Rehman of Friends of the Earth: "The Paris agreement is a major step in the right direction, but it falls a long way short of the giant leap needed to tackle climate change. Far tougher action is needed to rapidly slash emissions." Greenpeace also agreed that while the agreement is a major step forward, it needs stronger force. Andrew Norton, director of the International Institute for Environment and Development, further pointed out that governments would need to take measures to ensure that the poorest and most vulnerable countries get adequate financing to tackle climate change problems..
Thousands of Moroccans held protests in several towns and cities after a fish vendor was crushed to death in a garbage compactor while trying to retrieve fish confiscated by police Oct. 28. The death of Mouhcine Fikri in the northern town of al-Hoceima immediately sparked widespread outrage on social media, and protests quickly spread to Marrakesh, Rabat and elsewhere. The protests, on a scale rarely seen in Morocco, were called by the February 20 Movement, which organized demonstrations during the "Arab Spring" of 2011. Angry postings on social media referred to "hogra," a term for official abuse and injustice.
The passing last week of Mohammed Abdelaziz, longtime leader of Western Sahara's Polisario Front, occasioned confusion in media coverage as to the difference between Arabs and Berbers—which is fast becoming a critical issue in the contest over the Moroccan-occupied territory. Most embarrassingly, the New York Times writes: "The Polisario Front was formed in the early 1970s by a group of Sahrawis, indigenous nomadic Berber tribesmen, in opposition to Spain's colonial presence in Western Sahara. When Spain withdrew from the region in 1975, the Sahrawis fought attempts by both Mauritania and Morocco to claim the territory." The Sahrawis are not Berbers. They are Bedouin Arabs who arrived from across the Sahara centuries ago. The Berbers are the actual indigenous people of North Africa, who had been there for many more centuries before that. Ironically, the Times goes on to state: "He was selected as secretary general [of Polisario] in 1976 after the death in combat of the front's military leader, Al Ouali Mustapha Erraqibi. Later that year, he was elected president of the self-declared Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic."
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, on a tour of North Africa, on March 5 visited the sprawling refugee camps at Tindouf in the Algerian desert, where nearly 200,000 Sahrawi Arabs displaced from Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara have for more then four decades been exiled. Ban called the Tindouf refugee camps "among the oldest in the world," and called on the parties involved in the Western Sahara conflict to end the "unacceptable" plight of the Sahrawi. Ban meet with refugees and their representatives at Smara Camp, and later with leaders of the Polisario Front, which seeks independence for Western Sahara, including the group's secretary general Mohamed Abdelaziz. Ban also visited the headquarters of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) in Laayoune, Western Sahara's capital. The UN-mandated referendum on the territory's status has been stalled for over 20 years, with Morocco and the Polisario Front unable to come to terms (Jurist, AFP, March 6)
Clashes between Berber and Sahrawi students at universities in the Moroccan cities of Marrakech and Agadir on Jan. 23 have left two Berbers dead, with the second succumbing to his injuries four days later. The Amazigh Cultural Movement, representing Berber students, is blaming the youth wing of the Polisario Front in the killings, and calling for a government crackdown on the organization. The rival protests concerned the fate of Morocco-occupied Western Sahara, where the Polisario Front seeks to establish an independent Sahrawi Arab republic. Berbers (Amazigh) in the territory oppose establishment of an Arab nationalist state, and say that Berbers are repressed in those areas of the the territory controlled by Polisario, as well as in the Polisario-run Tindouf refugee camp just across the border in Algeria. (SIWEL, Bladi, Jan. 28; Telquel, Amazigh24, Jan. 27)
Moroccan-born Younis Abdurrahman Chekkouri, who spent 13 years in the Guantánamo Bay prison, was released Sept. 17 as part of the Obama administration's effort to wind down and eventually close the detention center. The US never formally charged Chekkouri with a crime, but according to military documents he was believed to have been an associate of Osama bin Laden and to have run al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan. Chekkouri was cleared for release by the Guantanamo Review Task Force (PDF) in January 2010. Rights group Reprieve after his release reported that he was still being held by local authorities in his native Morocco. The prisoner release is the first since June, when six Guantanamo detainees were transferred to Oman. The prison's population is now reduced to to 115.