|Recently France, the United States (under George W. Bush) and Spain conveyed no doubt as to their support for the proposal Morocco made in 2007 to supposedly grant Western Sahara ‘autonomy’ within the Moroccan kingdom. Implicitly, these countries have recognised Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara, while adopting an official position that indicates otherwise. Thus, since the adoption on 30 April 2007 of UN resolution 1754, Moroccans have reiterated their position that they will not negotiate anything other than their own proposal, insisting that they have garnered support from France and, more importantly, from the Bush administration and the current Obama administration, following Hillary Clinton’s declarations in Morocco in December 2009.
During all the recent negotiations, Moroccans refused to discuss POLISARIO’s counter-proposal, thus ignoring recent UN resolutions which insist on ‘negotiations without preconditions and in good faith … with a view to achieving a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution, which will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara’. POLISARIO’s counter-proposal submitted to the United Nations in 2007, which conforms to international legality, does not reject outright the Moroccan ‘autonomy’ option, but insists that any proposal be considered only as a third option (independence and integration being the others) as part of talks between the two parties. POLISARIO is also committed to accepting the results of the referendum – whatever they are – and to negotiate with the Kingdom of Morocco, under the auspices of the United Nations, the guarantee that it is prepared to grant to the Moroccan population residing in Western Sahara, as well as to the Kingdom of Morocco, in terms of Morocco’s political, economic and security interests in Western Sahara, in the event that the referendum on self-determination would lead to independence.
The perpetuation of this impasse is inevitable, despite the optimism of former US diplomat Christopher Ross, formally appointed in January 2009 to serve as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s personal envoy to Western Sahara. Prudently, Ross first arranged for an informal meeting between the two parties in Dürnstein, Austria, on 10–11 August 2009. Unsurprisingly, no progress was made despite a fairly positive statement issued at the end of the meeting. The two parties however agreed to pursue yet another informal round of discussions in Armonk, near New York. According to Ban Ki-moon, the meeting would be ‘based on guidelines provided by resolution 1871 (2009) and other previous resolutions of the Security Council’. But the talks produced little headway because the reality on the ground was and still is favourable to Morocco, not only because Morocco has consolidated its colonisation of the territory, but because it also exploits illegally, with no fear of punishment, the natural resources of Western Sahara, primarily phosphates and fisheries. The European Union is complicit in this exploitation through the fisheries agreement with Morocco, which includes Western Saharan waters, notwithstanding the doubts that the European Parliament has expressed on the reasonableness of EU policy; in fact, it deemed EU fishing in Western Saharan waters to be illegal. In view of Morocco’s intransigence and the support it receives from external actors, it is thus not surprising that the second informal meeting held in New York to prepare for the fifth round failed, like the previous ones, to produce any tangible results. Given that neither side has accepted the proposal of the other as the sole basis for future negotiations, it is obvious that, short of unforeseen developments, the status quo will undoubtedly persist.
GEOPOLITICS AS IMPEDIMENT TO RESOLUTION OF THE CONFLICT
The United Nations is responsible for the decolonisation of Western Sahara, but the key to breaking the stalemate and implementing the legal solution lies in the hands of France and the United States, which, even if they do not recognise Morocco’s sovereignty over the territory, have allowed Morocco to consolidate its control over Western Sahara. The ingredients that have led to the status quo are in fact contained in UN resolutions, which while reaffirming the right to self-determination for the people of Western Sahara, encourage POLISARIO to seek with Moroccans – the colonisers – a ‘mutually acceptable’ political solution. In other words, each party has a veto, even if Morocco has the advantage.
France, regardless of its ‘official’ position, considers Western Sahara as an integral part of Morocco. Since 1975, successive French governments have never hidden their opposition to an independent Sahrawi state that would purportedly fall under Algeria’s influence. In addition, the emergence of an independent Sahrawi state is seen as a destabilising factor for the Moroccan kingdom, in which France has considerable political, economic, military and cultural interests. With nearly 70 per cent of total foreign direct investment (FDI) in Morocco, France is the largest trading partner and major investor. Of course, France’s steadfast support of Morocco’s irredentist claims has complicated further Algerian–French relations. The French government is of the conviction that the resolution of the conflict lies between Algiers and Rabat, an attitude that irritates Algiers.
The United States, too, supports the position of Morocco, a reliable ally in the Arab world (Zoubir 2009a). A priori, the US does not oppose the right to self-determination of peoples, but in the case of Western Sahara geopolitical considerations are the driving force in the US attitude toward this particular question. There were times, as under the George H.W. Bush's administration, in the late 1980s, when the United States was open to the idea of an independent Sahrawi state. Then, in 2003, the United States supported the second Baker Plan, under which the Sahrawis were to enjoy autonomy for a period of five years before holding a referendum on self-determination that would include the three options, of which independence was one, as inscribed in UN resolutions. Moroccans have objected to such referendum in spite of the numerical advantage of Moroccan settlers in the territory, who would have been allowed to vote under the 2003 proposal. At the time, the George W. Bush administration had promised Algerians that if Algiers and POLISARIO accepted the plan, the United States would impose that solution at the Security Council. However, perhaps not wishing to aggravate the rift with the French over the issue of Iraq, coupled with the threat of a veto from France, the United States was pushed to renege on its promise. The Bush administration then supported the 2007 Moroccan autonomy proposal despite its illegality – for what gives Moroccans the right to offer autonomy to Sahrawis? – and its utter ambiguity (Theofilopoulou 2007).
It would be naive to believe a reversal of the US position in this conflict under the current Obama administration, despite the seeming shift in attitude towards the autonomy proposal. There have been some indications that the Obama administration may not be decidedly biased in favour of Morocco. Indeed, in June 2009 it appeared that the US no longer supported unequivocally the Moroccan autonomy plan; Obama evaded mentioning the autonomy plan in his letter to King Mohamed VI, which was interpreted as a reversal in US policy on the question. A passage in the letter was particularly revealing: ‘I share your commitment to the UN-led negotiations as the appropriate forum to achieve a mutually agreed solution … My government will work with yours and others in the region to achieve an outcome that meets the people’s need for transparent governance, confidence in the rule of law, and equal administration of justice’ (quoted in World Tribune 2009). Citing diplomatic sources, the report in which the letter was quoted suggested that ‘The United States no longer supports or endorses the Moroccan autonomy plan … . Instead, the administration has returned to the pre-Bush position that there could be an independent POLISARIO state in Western Sahara’ (ibid). United States officials refused to confirm or deny such reports, stating only that the US encourages the parties to engage in discussions under United Nations auspices (see video statement listed below in 'NOTES').
Undoubtedly, by referring to international legality, which in the case of Western Sahara would include the option of independence, Obama seemed to abide by the values he promised to uphold. However, as UN Security Council Resolution 1920 demonstrates, the United States does not seem to have undertaken any shift in policy toward Western Sahara. What is certain is that the administration is torn between continuing to support a traditional ally and setting a new course that would contradict the interests of that ally. The conflicting pronouncements in Obama’s letter and those issued by Hillary Clinton during her visit to Morocco in November 2009 highlight the policy constraints of the new administration. During her visit to Marrakech in November 2009 to attend the Forum for the Future, Hillary Clinton responded to the question as to whether the Obama administration had changed its position on the autonomy plan by saying that, ‘Our policy has not changed, and I thank you for asking the question because I think it’s important for me to reaffirm here in Morocco that there has been no change in policy’ (Clinton 2009a). In another interview, she was asked what she meant by her affirmation that there was ‘no change in the Obama administration’s position as far as the Moroccan autonomy plan in the Sahara is concerned’. Her response was:
'Well, this is a plan, as you know, that originated in the Clinton Administration. It was reaffirmed in the Bush Administration and it remains the policy of the United States in the Obama Administration. Now, we are supporting the United Nations process because we think that if there can be a peaceful resolution to the difficulties that exist with your neighbors, both to the east and to the south and the west that is in everyone’s interest. But because of our long relationship, we are very aware of how challenging the circumstances are. And I don’t want anyone in the region or elsewhere to have any doubt about our policy, which remains the same' (Clinton 2009b).
This being said, the US displayed a tougher stand toward Morocco during the hunger strike of Haidar. The US was instrumental in resolving the case (Jamaï & Rhanime 2010), thus making it possible for Haidar to return to Western Sahara.
One of the major questions to be asked is whether the White House, despite the seemingly even-handed approach, will succumb to the Senate’s pressure to endorse Morocco’s illegal annexation of Western Sahara (Zunes 2010), at the risk of alienating Algeria, a major actor in the war against terrorism in the region (Zoubir 2009b).
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* Yahia H. Zoubir is a professor of international relations and management and director of geopolitical research at the Euromed School of Business and Management (Marseille). He is the co-editor with Amirah-Fernandez Haizam of 'North Africa: Politics, Region, and the Limits of Transformation' (Routledge 2008).
* This article was published by the Association of Concerned African Scholars (ACAS) and originally published as ‘Le conflit du Sahara occidental : enjeux régionaux et internationaux’, in Luis Martinez (ed), 'Changement et continuité au Maghreb' (Centre d’études et de recherches internationales, February 2010), http://www.ceri-sciences-po.org/archive/2010/fevrier/dossier/art_yz.pdf
* Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
* See video statement (English with Arabic subtitles) on Al-Muhaajar TV, http://www.elmuhajer.com/statedepartment.php, accessed April 2010.
Chinkin, Christine. 2008. Laws of Occupation. Paper presented at the ‘International Conference on Multilateralism and International Law with Western Sahara as a case study’, Pretoria, South Africa (4-5 December 2008): http://www.arso.org/ChinkinPretoria2008.htm, accessed April 2010.
Clinton, Secretary of State Hillary R. 2009a. Remarks With Moroccan Foreign Minister Taieb Fassi-Fihri. Marrakech, Morocco (2 November): http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2009a/11/131229.htm, accessed April 2010.
Clinton, Secretary of State Hillary R. 2009. Interview With Fouad Arif of Al-Aoula Television. Marrakech, Morocco (3 November): http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2009a/11/131354.htm, accessed April 2010.
Hufbauer, Gary Clyde, and Claire Brunel (eds). 2008. Maghreb Regional and Global Integration: A Dream to Be Fulfilled (Washington, DC: Peterson Institute for International Economics): http://www.iie.com/publications/briefs/maghreb.pdf, accessed April 2010.
Jamaï, Aboubakr, and Abdelkader Rhanime. 2010. Enquête à Washington – Affaire Haidar Histoire d’un ratage. Le Journal, 22 January: http://www.lejournal-press.com/articles_plus.php?id=2195 (access to the article is no longer available as the Moroccan authorities have shut down the newspaper ever since this article was published, though Morocco ostensibly justified Le Journal’s closure on financial grounds).
Mundy, Jacob. 2006a. Neutrality or Complicity? The United States and the 1975 Moroccan Takeover of the Spanish Sahara. Journal of North African Studies 11(3): 275–306.
Mundy, Jacob. 2006b. How the US and Morocco seized the Spanish Sahara. Le Monde Diplomatique (English edition), January: http://mondediplo.com/2006/01/12asahara, accessed April 2010.
Polisario. 2007. Proposal of the Frente Polisario for a Mutually Acceptable Solution that Provides for the Self-Determination of the People of Western Sahara, 10 April: http://www.arso.org/PropositionFP100407.htm – en, accessed April 2010.
Theofilopoulou, Anna. 2007. Western Sahara–How to Create a Stalemate. Peace Brief. (Washington DC, United States Institute of Peace): http://www.usip.org/resources/western-sahara-how-create-stalemate, access April 2010.
World Tribune. 2009. ‘Obama reverses Bush-backed Morocco plan in favor of POLISARIO state’ (July 9): http://www.worldtribune.com/worldtribune/WTARC/2009/af_morocco0547_07_09.asp, accessed April 15, 2010.
Zoubir, Yahia H. 2010. Conflict in Western Sahara. In David Sorenson (ed), Interpreting the Modern Middle East (Boulder: Westview): 303-336.
Zoubir, Yahia H. 2009a. The United States and Morocco: The Long-Lasting Alliance. In Robert E. Looney (ed), Handbook on US-Middle East Relations (London/New York: Routledge): 237-248.
Zoubir, Yahia H. 2009b. The United States and Maghreb-Sahel Security. International Affairs 85(5): 977-995.
Zunes, Stephen. U.S. Lawmakers Support Illegal Annexation. The Huffington Post 7 April: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stephen-zunes/us-lawmakers-support-ille_b_525401.html, accessed April 2010.
Eviction notice: Housing the Games
2010-07-01, Issue 488
A recent report highlights the social backlash of international sporting events by documenting the preparation for the Commonwealth Games in Delhi in October. ‘The 2010 Commonwealth Games: Whose Wealth? Whose Commons?’, shows that the costs fall primarily on the local poor and marginalised, shocking numbers of whom are evicted and displaced. Despite clear indicators that a proposed host city will need to evict people to prepare for a sporting event, steps to protect the local population prior to accepting a host bid have not been taken by international organisers or national governments, reports Dana Wagner. While cities worldwide vie to host prestigious mega-events, history suggests that the resident poor will continue to pay, as thousands of South Africans and Indians have for events in 2010 alone.Delhi is soon to be a world-class city. In October the first Commonwealth Games (CWG) held in India will camp out in the capital city. Seventy-one national teams will be welcomed by 26 new stadiums, a web of new transit networks including an almost US$2 billion airport terminal, and a Games Village priced at US$230.7 million.
The city is set to accommodate 10 million tourists in 2010 who, if all goes well, won’t confuse world class Delhi with another Delhi – city of 150,000 homeless people, hundreds of informal slum clusters, and an estimated 60,000 beggars. A recent report by Housing and Land Rights Network-Habitat International Coalition (HLRN-HIC) describes the latter Delhi and details direct steps by the local and national Indian governments to clear the streets in preparation for the CWG.
The report, ‘The 2010 Commonwealth Games: Whose Wealth? Whose Commons?’, is a biting account of the social impact of the CWG on Delhi’s poor and marginalised, who have faced unprecedented formal and indirect eviction to accommodate the USD$1.6 billion mega-event.
‘We’ve been used to evictions for mega-events … but this size and magnitude, it’s really alarming,’ said Shivani Chaudhry, report co-author and human rights activist.
Delhi won its bid to hold the CWG in 2003. According to the report, from 2003-08, almost 350 slum clusters holding 300,000 people were demolished and only one third of these residents relocated. Between 2004-07 alone 45,000 homes were razed.
‘Close to 400,000 people are going to be displaced because of this event, and that’s a conservative estimate,’ said Miloon Kothari, HLRN coordinator and co-author of the CWG report.
In the largest documented single move, Delhi authorities cleared homes along the Yamuna River, adjacent to the Games Village, for a 2004 beautification project. More than 35,000 families were evicted.
‘The argument is that it’s for the prestige of the country, so people have to be sacrificed. It completely violates human rights,’ Chaudhry said.
While the scale of evictions seen in Delhi is uncommon, Chaudhry said the history of mega-events is a stunning pattern of nearly uninterrupted human displacement.
The group of international mega-events most notably includes the CWG, the summer and winter Olympic Games and the football World Cup, and cities that have vied for and joined the league of the world class, host city are many. Each host has a trailing legacy of formal evictions and informal displacement. A 2009 UN report by Raquel Rolnik, special rapporteur on adequate housing, found that evictions, displacement, and sweeping action against the homeless have become host city norms.
A widely cited but still stinging example is the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, where 15 per cent of the population were evicted. Twenty years later with Beijing as the Olympics host, nine central infrastructure projects required one million square meters of land but the number of evictions is unreported by the Chinese government and its media dispatchers.
Europe too is familiar with human shuffling for mega-events. For the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, 200 families were evicted. To prepare for the 2012 London Olympics, a minted Compulsory Purchase Order gives local government the power to force residents out for projects in Olympic districts.
‘Every Games in history has had evictions and every city gets away with it,’ Chaudhry said.
While every host city may displace to clear land for venues and transit – and some for less altruistic ‘beautification’ purposes, like India’s criminalisation of its unsightly beggars in Delhi – certain cities with a legacy of mass displacement share characteristics that Chaudhry said should serve as a warning sign for future mega-event bidders.
In the physical make-up of the city, one major indicator to foreshadow mass evictions is a deficit of existing infrastructure. Host cities in advanced countries often have adequate stadiums and more importantly transit; existing major airports as in London prior to its bid for 2012, or roadways and city transit as in Vancouver before it was 2010 Olympics host.
‘In India we don’t have that,’ Chaudhry said. ‘It all has to be built, so families have to be evicted just for a highway or a flyway.’
Another indicator that a host city will issue evictions in its preparation is a large population, Chaudhry said. Inflated populations breed large numbers of homeless. These factors combined with elements like weak human rights and housing laws create a perfect storm for forced eviction.
Countries like India and South Africa, current FIFA World Cup host, share these traits; both have high levels of social exclusion, Kothari said.
When host countries hold a significant poor population, the prickly subject of sports versus social needs becomes more relevant. Both India and South Africa have allocated vast and over-budgeted resources, citing national image-building and domestic industry promotion; a mega-event that really works for everyone. But the trickle-down effect of an international sports event is not a perfect theory.
‘It might provide benefits for the whole, but those won’t be accessible to the marginalised,’ said Davinder Lambda, president of HIC and executive director of the Mazingra Institute.
Lambda said the drive for host-city prestige has created a new form of entrepreneurial governance, where local and regional governments vie for mega-events to spur their urban development.
The large-scale urban restructuring that mega-events require – at an unnaturally rapid pace – inevitably leads to evictions, Lambda said.
‘It ends up being a large public-private partnership,’ Lambda said. ‘And it’s the local and central governments who carry out the evictions.’
SOCCER CITY, SOUTH AFRICA
Preparation for South Africa’s World Cup is another testament to urban development-driven evictions. Residents of the informal Joe Slovo settlement in Cape Town were handed a court-ordered eviction in 2008 to clear out for a pilot housing project. A high court judge had found 6,000 families to be illegal dwellers on the land and ordered their relocation to Delft, on the outskirts of the city. The neighbourhood that would replace Joe Slovo, called N2 Gateway – a project started in 2004 by developer Thubelisha Homes, would hold some 22,000 new housing units. The development project included a plan to relocate Joe Slovo residents, but this is criticised for its grossly inadequate relocation proposal and failure to include residents in any dialogue. A 2009 report by the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) found that ‘community participation in the development solution was non-existent and little care [had] been taken to ensure that housing for the urban poor [was] on well located land’.
Developers and third party government offices also faced heavy criticism for seemingly sacrificing Joe Slovo residents for a project labeled a beautification scheme to prepare for Africa’s first football World Cup.
‘The N2 Gateway evictions are most associated with the 2010 World Cup,’ said Mzwanele Zulu, who lives in Joe Slovo and is head of the group Joe Slovo Liberative Residents.
‘That development mandate was about beautifying and making sure people can’t see South Africa as it is.’
Zulu points to the Joe Slovo location, visible along the Cape Town airport corridor where thousands of international football fans have traveled en route to fill the 64,100 capacity Cape Town Stadium.
An estimated 20,000 shack dwellers in Joe Slovo have so far been evicted, Lambda said.
One ‘temporary relocation area’ (TRA) in Delft is the neighbourhood Blikkiesdorp, nicknamed Tin Can Town. People liken living conditions here to a concentration camp.
‘Residents say it’s worse than apartheid townships,’ Lambda said. ‘If the South African government wanted to hide these people, is that the way to do it?’
South Africa’s TRAs also turned out a euphemism for eviction. The COHRE report documents how families began to defy orders to leave Joe Slovo when the housing units in phases one and two of N2 Gateway started filling up with a different class of residents. Luxury cars appeared in front of the new homes as they began to fill up. The 70 percent allocation of N2 Gateway promised to now-TRA residents remains unfulfilled.