Saturday, April 08, 2006


"A far off country of which we know little" was Neville Chamberlain's explanation of his inaction over Hitler's annexation of the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia. No doubt the EU Commissioner for Fisheries has a similar thought in mind as he prepares to sign away the fish reserves of Western Sahara.

Most people are probably not even aware that Western Sahara exists - I only really knew about it through music. The Rough Guide to the Music of the Sahara is a cliched but nevertheless excellent place to start discovering the music of this area. It is also a cliche to say that rock and roll started in Africa. Of course, being a cliche, it is pretty much true, but most people think of the music of sub-Saharan Africa as being the genesis of modern pop music. It is therefore surprising to hear the similarities between the songs of the Tuareg or the Songhai or the Saharawi and American blues music.

Anyway, Red Pepper, in an excellent article this month, calls it Africa's last colony (the article is not available online, but I would strongly urge you to buy a copy). After the end of Spanish colonial rule in the mid 1970s, expansionist Morocco moved in for the kill, its eyes on the territory's rich mineral reserves. Since then, despite UN recognition that Moroccan colonial rule in Western Sahara is illegitimate, the 165,000 Saharan refugees remain under occupation. Why? Because it is in Europe and the wider world's interests to keep Morocco on side. This is somewhat ironic given the west's condemnation of the lack of stable and democratic governance in Africa:

Whilst western states impose 'good governance' elsewhere, they continue to overlook the claims of the Saharawi, who have achieved democracy in these most difficult of conditions. James Baker, the former UN envoy to the territory (and secretary of state under Bush senior), has summed up this paradox with surprising frankness, claiming that Western Sahara was a society that the west should be championing 'from a strictly human rights standpoint', if only it wasn't so important to 'maintain close relationships with Morocco'.

But the Saharawi's stubborn determination to build a state where their children get educated, their elderly and sick are provided for, and their democracy is stable counts for very little in the eyes of the west. Throughout the 1990s, the UN tried and failed to implement a peace deal. The plan was that the Saharawi would be allowed to vote in a referendum between independence or integration with Morocco. If they had had that opportunity, it is not difficult to see which outcome they might have preferred. But they did not get that opportunity. Morocco, with the tacit support of the west, insisted that its settlers should be allowed to vote in the referendum as well. Western Sahara's government, the Polisario, and its nearest ally Algeria refused, and the plans were scrapped.

And now the EU is stepping in. Joe Borg, the EU Commissioner for fisheries and maritime affairs, is currently finalising a deal with Morocco which will allow European fishermen to fish in waters off the Moroccan coast. The catch, of course, is that much of this water is not Moroccan at all - it is, or rather should be, Western Saharan:

Commissioner Borg protests that the agreement doesn't even mention Western Sahara. But that's exactly the point. By failing to define Morocco's southern border, it allows Morocco to decide where to apply the agreement, knowing full well that they will apply it to Saharawi waters. El Ayun, Western Sahara's capital, alone accounts for 40 per cent of Morocco's total fish catch, by far the largest proportion from any port.

Will this make poverty history? Of course not. It will plunder the fish reserves of the Saharawi people, and exacerbate the lie that Western Sahara does not exist. The victors will be European and Moroccan fishing corporations. Quelle surprise.

But, as Red Pepper points out, it is not too late. You can campaign against the EU-Morocco Fisheries Partnership Agreement by going here and emailing here.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shock horror - the EU acts in self-interest!

10:17 AM  
Blogger Comandante Gringo said...

One more reason to overthrow the neoliberal Euro-bourgeoisie.

4:44 AM  

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