Opinion

A proposal for the future of the Saharawis

Hach Ahmed Bericalla
photo_camera Hach Ahmed Bericalla

First of all, I would like to express my gratitude to my friend Dr. Abdelatif Haidara for his invaluable support, without which the planning and organisation of this 2nd International Conference for Dialogue and Peace in Western Sahara would have been a difficult, if not impossible, task. It is no coincidence that Senegal, this sister country, is hosting a peace event, as Senegal and its wonderful people have always been a benchmark for democracy, tolerance and coexistence. Under the presidency of President Macky Sall, Senegal has played and continues to play a leading role in the African Union and worldwide in the resolution of territorial conflicts and the restoration of peace and stability in many parts of our continent. It is not surprising that President Macky Sall's name is mentioned as a possible successor to the current UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres. By hosting this conference, the name of Senegal and Dakar will become part of the collective Sahrawi memory, associated with their hopes and dreams for a future of peace and prosperity.  

Dear friends. 

The event that brings us together here today is part of the Movement Saharawi for Peace's efforts and vocation to establish itself as a "third way" in the search for peace and to be able to contribute to the solution of an old African problem, that of Western Sahara, which for half a century has been disrupting peace, the stability of North West Africa and the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. 

Allow me, on behalf of the political leadership of the Movement, to express my gratitude to all the leaders, political figures, intellectuals and experts who have travelled from different continents to join us in this call for peace, and especially to those who have come from so far away, such as our Latin American friends who have travelled from Santiago de Chile, Buenos Aires, Lima and other no less distant places. 

I would also like to express our gratitude to our Mauritanian brothers and neighbours, to the many personalities, political leaders and intellectuals present here in a gesture of great value in favour of peace and stability in our region and, of course, of loyalty to the many ties of neighbourliness and culture that unite us.  

As you know, for three decades the international community, through the main decision-making body of the United Nations, the Security Council, has been working tirelessly to facilitate a settlement of the problem of Western Sahara. No less than three UN Secretaries-General and more than ten UN special envoys have already been involved in this dossier without any progress being made towards an agreement that would put an end to the dispute and bring to an end the worst cycle of instability known to this region of our continent. The diametrically opposed positions of the parties and the atmosphere of permanent confrontation between the two main powers in the region, Algeria and Morocco, have prevented progress towards a settlement. For half a century, the Saharawis have suffered the consequences of this rivalry as the main victims of a war that has brought death, exile and suffering of all kinds.  

In order to introduce a turning point in this long process, hundreds of former military and civilian officials who were militants in the Polisario decided to open a new path by constituting, on 22 April 2020, an independent political force under the name of "Movement Saharawi for Peace". We were accompanied at that event by several children and descendants of members of the Sahara Assembly from the time of the Spanish colonial administration. I would like to take this opportunity to welcome the presence in this room of a large delegation representing the notables of the Sahara, whom we thank for their presence and urge them to accompany us with their well-known wisdom and good judgement in this noble task, which has no other objective than to pull our people out of the tunnel in which they have been trapped and seduced by projects that are alien to their interests. 

We have taken this step in an attempt to influence the course of events, to open a path of hope for the Saharawis and to put an end to the journey to nowhere that we have been on for five decades. We decided to move away from radicalism and defend, through a moderate, realistic and responsible approach, the possible solution, the solution in which there are neither winners nor losers and which guarantees the Sahrawi people their most basic rights in coexistence with the Kingdom of Morocco and the other peoples of the Maghreb.  

In order not to limit ourselves to shouting from the immensity of the desert and remain in rhetoric, we decided to launch a draft plan for a solution, which we announced at the Conference for Peace held in the Canary Islands, in the city of Las Palmas in September last year. In the Canary Islands we sowed a small seed of hope and optimism.  

On this occasion, I would like to recall some aspects and sections of it, as we believe that it is a tangible, viable and suitable formula to be submitted to a negotiation process with the Kingdom of Morocco either directly or through the mediation carried out by the current UN Special Envoy, Staffan de Mistura who, incidentally, we note that in two years he has not been able to make a single millimetre of progress, perhaps because he has not had the capacity or audacity to innovate and explore other paths or meanders. Unfortunately, so far, he has not been able to move away from the footprints left by the twelve emissaries who have preceded him, including heavyweights of world diplomacy, and who ended up failing. We hope that the same will not happen to him, and we express our willingness to help him out of the vicious circle. 

The document drawn up by the MSP contains the basic elements of a draft Statute that, while respecting and recognising the Kingdom's main symbols of sovereignty, would provide the Saharawis with a political, legislative and judicial system in accordance with universally recognised standards of self-government. Their insertion into the Kingdom's political system with the proper guarantees will mean the end of the dispute and will strengthen the image and prestige of the Kingdom of Morocco as a modern constitutional monarchy at the international level.  

For the Sahrawi people, it will, of course, be an unprecedented experience in their history. They will be equipped with the tools to manage their own affairs, through modern institutions based on the civic values of citizenship, equality and democracy. At last, after the long colonial night and the failed and painful Tindouf project, indigenous Saharawis will be able to reunite in their homeland and exercise their rights as full citizens and not as refugees, stateless persons or pariahs. They will have the opportunity to participate as actors and managers in the development of their land, to benefit from its natural resources and to enjoy a dignified life in an atmosphere of peace and tranquillity under the rule of law. 

As we announced in the Canary Islands, the project is based, among others, on the models of Iraqi Kurdistan and the associated state of Puerto Rico, as well as the statutes of Catalonia and the Basque Country in Spain. Logically, the proposal for "broad autonomy" presented to the UN by the Moroccan government in April 2007 was also taken into account, which the MSP considers a good starting point for a compromise formula. As we have already stated on many occasions, we want to test the flexibility and elasticity of the offer and its comprehensiveness, convinced that it is possible to reach a point of convergence between the fundamental rights of the Saharawis and the high interests of the Kingdom of Morocco.

Hach Ahmed Bericalla
Hach Ahmed Bericalla

Movement Saharawi for Peace proposal

The draft comprises a preamble and 54 articles of what would be the framework of the basic institutional norm or Special Statute of the new entity. Its name and symbols should be defined by the future Sahrawi Legislative Assembly.  The Statute would define the nature and attributes of the Sahrawi Entity on the basis of particular links with the Kingdom of Morocco, through recognition of the supreme authority of H.M. the King, as set out in articles 41, 42, 43 and 46 of the Kingdom's Constitution. Defence and foreign policy would form part of the exclusive competences of the State, without prejudice to specific prerogatives in the field of security and public order, as well as foreign action, which are indispensable for the Sahrawi Entity and which must be the subject of an agreement. 

Laws are promulgated in the name of the King, and it is His Majesty who appoints the President of the Sahrawi Executive proposed by the Sahrawi Legislative Assembly. The latter, as a lower house, would be composed of 95 parliamentarians elected by universal suffrage. A quota for women's representation in the Assembly should be regulated by law.  

The Council of Notables would act as the upper house, forming the legislative branch of the entity together with the Assembly. This Council would be composed of 75 members and should reflect a balanced representation of the tribal mosaic by a combination of direct election for two thirds and the remaining third by direct appointment by the chief executive.      

In addition to the chairperson, it would recommend the appointment of two vice-chairpersons or government delegates, whose names would be proposed or appointed by the chief executive as the highest representatives of the Entity government in or for the two regions of the territory, Saguia el Hamra and Ouad Deheb. These positions, which would form part of the cabinet, could be appointed on the basis of tribal criteria, but taking into consideration the candidates' personal skills, academic background, honesty and ability to ensure good governance. 

It is pertinent to emphasise that the breadth and diversity of powers conferred under the under the Statute will constitute, along with the guarantees, a major test of the strength and solidity of Morocco's democratic system as a framework for coexistence between Saharawis and Moroccans. It will also be proof of the seriousness and credibility of the model of self-government proposed as a solution in the eyes of the international community. It is therefore necessary that the public powers and the set of powers and laws that will govern the entity be defined and guaranteed beyond any doubt. This is, no more and no less, the formula that will put an end to a conflict of almost half a century in which Saharawis and Moroccans have paid a high price in human lives, wounded, orphans, widows, not to mention the enormous suffering and trauma of the people, especially the indigenous Saharawi population of the Tindouf camps. 

Therefore, the guarantees should also be reciprocal and include respect for the Statute and its place in the Kingdom's Constitution, as stipulated in point 29 of the 2007 Proposal. In addition, international guarantees should be provided for compliance with the agreements to be signed, as well as arbitration mechanisms to settle and/or renegotiate possible disputes in the interpretation of laws or to resolve hypothetical clashes of powers between the Saharawi executive and the Central Government.

Hach Ahmed Bericalla
Hach Ahmed Bericalla

Connecting and coordinating instruments

The Statute should include multiple and diverse instruments for liaison and coordination between the executive and institutions of the Sahrawi Entity and those of the Kingdom of Morocco in all areas, including those relating to security and external action. It would propose the permanent presence, in the lower and upper houses of the Kingdom, of a group of Saharawi notables and deputies, 8 and 10 respectively. They should be democratically elected in the framework of legislative elections or by the Saharawi Assembly once it is constituted. Equally useful and meaningful would be the allocation to the New Entity of a ministerial quota or post and/or one or more secretaries of state in the Central Government, as well as a quota in the Kingdom's diplomatic corps. 

The Central Government would have a representative or delegate in the region's capital and/or a governor appointed by the King, while the Saharawi executive could have a delegation in the Kingdom's capital under the Secretariat for Relations with the Central Administration. 

In view of the importance and need to enhance communication between Saguia el Hamra and Ouad Deheb, and between them and the Kingdom's main cities, and to promote tourism, trade and cooperation with the surrounding area, it is proposed that a Saharawi public air transport company be set up with private capital participation. This company would be equipped with a minimum of medium-sized aircraft and would depend on the RAM to train the crews and technical equipment necessary to be able to "fly itself". Control of the territory's airspace will remain in the hands of the Central Administration. 

A satellite TV channel and public radio stations should also be included in the public property and media under the control of the Sahrawi Entity.  

In the field of education, the Sahrawi public university should be set up by expanding the existing faculties and degree courses and dividing them between the territory's two main cities. It would also strengthen vocational training centres by improving and expanding the existing system through cooperation agreements with other regions. 

In health, strengthening public health infrastructures, building more primary care centres and improving the quality of general hospitals to progressively cover as many specialities as possible. 

With regard to security, the future corps of the Sahrawi entity should be made responsible and entrusted with the full capacity to ensure internal security and the use of legal force to preserve order, stability and coexistence in the territory, as is the case in Iraqi Kurdistan or the corps operating in Catalonia or the Basque Country, for example. In this context, a professional security corps of between six and eight thousand troops should be envisaged to maintain public order, traffic and the surveillance of public buildings and property. Hundreds of young people who are now in the Polisario militias should join these units as an incentive to demobilise and disarm.  

Hundreds of young people currently unemployed in the territory should also be added.  Part of these corps, which would be provided with training and the capacity to operate in the desert, could participate alongside state forces in border and coastal surveillance and eventually in defensive activities in the territory, particularly in anticipation of extending effective control east of the berm and covering the rest of the territory, considering its size and proximity to a high-risk area such as the Sahel. To this end, it is proposed to create a coordination structure associated with the FAR command that would cover training, equipment (vehicles and light material) and advice. 

At the police and intelligence level, the possibility of creating similar mechanisms with the corresponding bodies of the Moroccan state is also proposed. 

It is essential for the Sahrawi Executive to have an external projection, especially in those places where there is a Sahrawi population or where there are possibilities for cooperation in economic, commercial, cultural, educational, health, sporting or any other area that is useful or of interest to the territory, without undermining the interests and policies of the Central State. This is an international arena in which the Sahrawi Entity should show its own personality, participate in the negotiation of agreements with the European Union or other bodies relating to the territory, in short, defend the viability of self-government and the recognition of its legitimacy on its own. 

From this perspective, as in Catalonia, the Basque Country and Kurdistan, the creation by the Saharawi executive of a Secretariat for External Action should be envisaged, as well as the opening of information offices or delegations which, in coordination with the Kingdom's diplomatic missions, would attend to any activity or transaction that requires the agreement of the central administration. In France, Mauritania, Spain and other places where part of the Sahrawi community has settled or where there are possibilities for cooperation and trade, it would be advisable to open delegations.  

Other countries should be encouraged and persuaded to open diplomatic missions in the territory and accredit them to the Saharawi executive in order to take an interest in its economic development projects and plans and to encourage foreign investment. 

With a view to planning the economic and social policy of the future entity and the aim of continuing the strength experienced to date, it would be appropriate to define the territory's population, the percentage of current and future natural resources, as well as the set of permanent revenues that will serve as the territory's GDP. Also the set of economic and social areas that will be managed by the new authority, as well as the fixed and extraordinary transfers from the central administration. 

The opinion and interests of the Saharawi entity should be taken into account in the central administration's major projects or works in the territory by participating in planning and allocating quotas in management and manpower.  The powers of the self-government in matters of taxation, import, export and all matters related to customs duties and other fiscal obligations should also be taken into account.

Hach Ahmed Bericalla
Hach Ahmed Bericalla

The Entity's executive

In principle there could be thirteen (13) secretariats that would make up the future Saharawi cabinet and they could be the following, if approved by the legislature: 

  1. Trade, Finance and Economic Planning. 
  2. Security and Internal Affairs. 
  3. Transport, Communications, and Public Works. 
  4. Environment, Energy and Urban Planning. 
  5. Relations with the Legislative Assembly and Central Administration. 
  6. Education, Vocational Training and Culture. 
  7. Tourism, External Action and Investment Promotion. 
  8. Agriculture, livestock and water resources. 
  9. Fisheries and Industry 
  10. Labour and Social Affairs 
  11. Housing and Local Administrations. 
  12. Youth and Sport. 
  13. Health and Consumer Affairs.

Other considerations

As envisaged in the autonomous proposal submitted by the Government of Morocco in 2007, a general amnesty will have to be proclaimed when the Statute enters an advanced stage of implementation, and the return of refugees and displaced persons will have to be facilitated. This amnesty should include a royal pardon or reprieve for political prisoners. The Saharawi entity should provide justice and compensation to the families of the victims and also to those of the repression in the Tindouf camps, especially the survivors and relatives of the prisoners in the notorious Rashid prison.  

For the return of refugees, priority should be given to those originally from the territory (those registered in the 1974 Spanish census and their descendants). To this end, the creation of a joint commission composed of specialists in the field and the advice of the notables is recommended to determine priorities, criteria and plans for relocation and reintegration. It is likely that there will be an avalanche of people from the Tindouf camps, as well as from neighbouring countries, into the territory, making it imperative to have a contingency plan ready. In this sense, it would be useful to involve interested countries (the United States, Spain, Germany, France, the Gulf States, etc.), as well as financial institutions and private capital to create an international fund for the reconstruction of the territories east of the berm.  

Between 30 and 40,000 social housing units should be built for returned refugees and no less than 50,000 jobs should be created to reduce unemployment in the territory and to integrate the returned labour force. 

Another aspect that the future entity will have to take into account is the creation of a special item in the region's budget to care for the thousands of orphans, widows and invalids resulting from the war and exile. This will be crucial to promote confidence-building, demobilisation, disarmament and the return of exiles. 

Urban land distribution policies and the allocations earmarked for social coverage, the "inaach", are extremely important instruments that need to be readjusted, better used and adapted to the needs of reintegration and in favour of low-income or vulnerable families. In any case, good governance, transparency and equality in the management and distribution of resources and budgets, in short, the implementation of laws capable of curbing corruption, nepotism, mismanagement and illicit enrichment, will be key. 

Once the pre-agreement has been reached, it would be appropriate to provide for a three-year transitional period under a provisional executive appointed by the King and the creation of a mixed commission for the transfer of powers and the application of the Statute in several stages, the first of which would culminate in elections and the constitution of the First Saharawi Legislative Assembly, as well as the formation of the new executive resulting from the ballot box. 

The final phase of the process should consider the fulfilment of the requirement of self-determination recommended by international bodies and public opinion, as stated in points 8 and 27 of the 2007 Autonomy Proposal. The elections to the Sahrawi Legislative Assembly in the region will constitute a first plebiscite with the presence of international observers, as could be, subsequently, the calling of a general consultation or referendum for the ratification of the Statute. 

Here then, dear Sahrawi and Moroccan brothers and sisters, is a proposal for a solution halfway between the diametrically opposed positions that have so far marked the UN-sponsored political process. It is a reasonable and balanced proposal designed on the basis of a moderate and realistic approach capable of guaranteeing, equally, the rights and interests of all parties. This is what we had planned to present to the UN Envoy in a meeting we requested during his last tour in the conviction that this proposal constitutes a realistic "road map" in line with the concept of a "consensus solution" contained in all Security Council resolutions since 2007. 

From our point of view, the Moroccan offer made and registered in the United Nations is an unrepeatable opportunity and given that over five decades many occasions have been wasted, we have the firm will, as Saharawi representatives, not to let that happen again and we have the proven certainty that this way we reflect the feeling of the majority of the Saharawis today in 2023.  

As we announced in the Canary Islands, we propose the creation of a Saharawi body or Commission for dialogue and peace to which we invite representatives of the traditional authority both in the territory and in the Tindouf camps, as well as representatives of civil society and political currents. The purpose is to unify criteria and agree on a strategy to promote and accelerate the peaceful solution through a pact with the Kingdom of Morocco with no other purpose than to save what can still be saved, to start building the future and to leave a minimum legacy for future Saharawi generations. 

It is up to the Moroccan authorities to take a step forward and demonstrate with facts that their autonomy proposal is indeed serious, credible and true. 

We ask our African, Latin American and European friends here present to accompany, encourage and support us on this journey towards the future. 

We invite the Polisario to abandon its radical positions and to associate itself with this endeavour, to make common sense prevail for once over slogans and romantic legends, in other words, to stop dragging the Saharawis towards collective suicide. (Bono). 

We urge the leaders of the armed group, who again declined our invitation to this Conference for dialogue and peace, we urge them, we beg them to silence their weapons as required by the resolutions of the African Union and not to sacrifice more lives of young people overwhelmed by the lack of horizons in an asymmetrical, absurd and useless war. 

We call on the sensible people at the top of the organisation to join this moderate and pragmatic vision, to pluck up courage and take a step in the right direction and together corner the negotiators of the other side to make the most of their announced commitment to a "mutually acceptable solution" with international guarantees, because, in the end, as the great Dutch philosopher, Erasmus of Rotterdam said, "a disadvantageous peace is far better than a just war". There is still time. 

THANK YOU VERY MUCH 

Hach Ahmed Bericalla, first secretary of the Movement Saharawi for Peace Address to the 2nd International Conference on the Sahara, for dialogue and peace.