While Morocco recenty advanced its own Western Sahara dossier by welcoming Ukraine into its fold, it may well have lost credibility with African countries after an unfortunate incident at a conference in Australia.
What was supposed to be a diplomatic celebration of African unity instead developed into an undiplomatic altercation, effectively highlighting the profound political divisions prevalent across the continent.
At the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Organisation of the African Unity (OAU) that took place on May 25th, Kamal Fadel, a representative of the Sahrawi people of Western Sahara and the Polisario Front, was met with intense hostility from Moroccan embassy officials, according to The Guardian.
A video, seen by Guardian Australia, shows Moroccan officials meeting Fadel at the entrance of the event and attempting to block him from entering. Fadel, (below) who had been formally invited to the event, was met with verbal abuse and the video depicts Fadel attempting to push himself into the event as one of the Moroccan officials claims: “I swear he hit me, he punched me!” Chris Hedley, an AFP agent can be heard in the video responding: “For the record, he did not hit you.”
The altercation forced Australian federal police officers and other African ambassadors to intervene, with Hedley heard saying in the video, “This is a total embarrassment for the African missions here and I, as a police officer, shouldn’t have to be dealing with this.”
Hedley later told the three Moroccan officials, as they blocked the entrance to the hall: “You have embarrassed yourself and any goodwill you had with the people here is gone.”
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In 1975, Spain’s withdrawal from its former colony led to a power vacuum, setting the stage for a protracted conflict. Morocco, seeking to assert its claim over Western Sahara, engaged in a 15-year war against the Algeria-backed Polisario Front. However, despite Morocco’s belief that the region is part of its sovereign territory, the international community remains divided, as illustrated by this intense 30-minute altercation. This incident serves as a stark reminder of the persistently high tensions surrounding the Western Sahara issue, as well as the continuous inability for the international community to reach an agreement.
Many might argue that it also demonstrated that Moroccan diplomacy also has room for improvement as such incidents give a poor image of the kingdom to other countries who witnessed the drama. The incident also raises questions over Morocco’s membership of the OAU which it rejoined in 2017 after an absence of over 30 years due to the Western Sahara dispute.
Fadel was able to later enter the event as he was escorted inside by other African diplomats.
In a letter to South African high commissioner Marthinus Van Schalkwyk, the individual who invited Fadel to the event, Fadel wrote: “This was a very serious incident. I was mistreated, pushed around … and intimidated.” Fadel also commented on the actions of the Moroccan officials saying they “caused grave embarrassment to all the Africans and their friends who were celebrating an African historical and important day…the celebrations held on this auspicious occasion are also meant to showcase our unity and pride as Africans. It is an occasion of joy and hope, not of aggression and intimidation.”
Van Schalkwyk responded to Fadel’s letter, stating: “the efforts to prevent your attendance as serious, unacceptable and in no way an indication of how our guests should be treated…you were fully within your rights to attend the event at our invitation but also to attend it without any obstruction or abuse.”
In an official statement, Fadel expressed his “sincere thanks and gratitude to all the African ambassadors who did the right thing and prevented the attempt to hijack the Africa Day event in an unprecedented and illicit manner”.
The Moroccan embassy in Canberra did not respond to a request for comment, according to The Guardian.