In Rabat on Sunday, Hillary Clinton once again reiterated unwavering US policy support for Morocco’s autonomy initiative to resolve the enduring problem of the Western Sahara. This is the third time since Hillary Clinton became Secretary of State that she has spoken out in clear and unambiguous terms about long standing US policy support for this kind of solution, calling it “serious, credible and realistic.” If some of us were hoping that the third time would hold a special charm, it appears we may have to wait a bit longer for reason to prevail in what should be a collective search in the Maghreb for a better tomorrow for the regions’ people, and Western interests there as well.
As the Sahara/Sahel region continues to descend into ever greater uncertainty, increasingly dominated by the activities of allied global terrorist and criminal gangs seeking to destabilize the already fragile political circumstances of North Africa for their own monetary and ideological gains, it is well past time for responsible leadership in the region to adopt more flexible approaches to regional problems and abandon dead-end ideas that only perpetuate an already threatening turmoil.
Some tens of thousands of refugees have now been warehoused in southern Algeria with no hope for their future for better than three decades. Recent press and think tank reports leave no further doubt that those refugees are being lured, at alarming rates, into exactly the kinds of activities that are certain to contribute to yet further chaos in the Sahel. Guns from Libya are fueling the problem and in the past several months yet another 20,000 refugees in northern Mali have been cast into the impending catastrophe of the southern Sahara and Sahel.
Enough should be enough. The refugees in southern Algeria have homes to go to and families, as well as a government, waiting to welcome them in Morocco. If only they were free to leave.
Secretary Clinton has it exactly right. Morocco’s initiative to grant the Sahara a wide ranging autonomy is “serious, credible and realistic.” Indeed, it’s the only such proposal that is, and it needs to be implemented without further dangerous delay. In the meantime, those who want to leave the refugee camps and return home should also be allowed to do so – freely – also without further delays.
Robert M. Holley, Senior Policy Advisor, Moroccan American Center for Policy