By Linn Washington Jr.
ALGIERS, ALGERIA—Keith Mokoape, a retired South African Army Major General, applauds African-Americans for their assistance in the bitter fight to end racist apartheid in his homeland.
Mokoape now hopes that African-Americans will help end the festering sore surrounding the ‘Last Colony’ in Africa.
The Western Sahara – an obscure country on the Northwest coast of Africa – holds the distinction of being the last colony on the African continent.
In a twist on colonization in Africa, historically conducted by Western European nations, the current colonizer of the Western Sahara is an African country — Morocco.
“Africa-Americans have a total responsibility to support freedom in the Western Sahara,” Mokoape said during a December interview in Algiers where he attended a conference on the plight of the Western Sahara.
Most Americans know nothing about the volatile Western Sahara controversy despite that nation’s location as the closest country on the African continent to America’s east coast.
Morocco’s occupation of the Western Sahara is rampant with brutality and discrimination directed against the indigenous population – the Saharawi – according to persistent reports from entities as diverse Amnesty International and the U.S. State Department.
“The same situation of men, women and children being beaten, jailed and killed that once existed in South Africa exists in the Western Sahara today,” Mokoape said, speaking in his capacity as chair of the South African Chapter of Friends of Western Sahara. “If we believe in justice, then we have to stand up.”
Morocco illegally annexed the Western Sahara in 1975 following the withdrawal of Spain, the European nation that took colonial control of the Western Sahara in the mid-1880s. The Western Sahara is bordered by Morocco on the north, Mauritania on the south and Algeria on the east.
Mohamed Abdelaziz, president of the Western Sahara government-in-exile, said, “Black Americans do not realize there is still a colony in Africa. The Western Sahara is not covered in the media.”
President Abdelaziz, during an interview in December, said, “This is a matter of justice and rights. African-Americans know the meaning of oppression and lack of freedom.”
Morocco has refused repeated demands from the United Nations and the African Union to relinquish its control over the Western Sahara…control that was secured by a military invasion accompanied by injection of thousands of Moroccan citizens.
Since 1975 Morocco has blocked the UN/AU supported referendum where the Saharawi would decide through democratic vote to either become an independent nation or officially a part of Morocco.
The Moroccan Embassy in Washington, DC, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Morocco controls 80+ percent of the Western Sahara, including its mineral-rich inland and coastal fisheries. Morocco uses the billions earned from exporting minerals and seafood to fund its occupation. Due to the brutality of that occupation many Saharawi now live in refugee camps located in southwest Algeria or in other countries.
“The injustices African-Americans suffer, we suffer here,” Mohamed Salem said. Salem, 29, born in a refugee camp, founded the Saharawi Voice.com blog in 2010 to “share” the views of Saharawi youth who are increasingly outraged at their impoverishment.
While the United States does not formally recognize Morocco’s claim of sovereignty over the Western Sahara, American support has both enabled and emboldened Morocco’s intransigence.
Similar to the military support America once provided, the white- racist government in South Africa, America provided over $1-billion in weapons to monarchy-ruled Morocco during Morocco’s 16-year war with The Polisario Front that ended with a 1991 ceasefire centered on conducting that referendum.
The Polisario Front is the entity representing the Saharawi. The Front had fought Spain and later Morocco.
The Polisario capture of 80 armored vehicles that Morocco purchased from the racist South African government led to retired Major General Keith Mokoape’s formal introduction to the Western Sahara controversy in 1987. At that time Mokoape was a ranking commander in the ANC’s army then at war with South Africa while the Polisario was at war with Morocco.
“The Polisario invited us to see how they fight and take equipment back to Angola to use against the South Africans. I kept in touch with them since then,” Mokoape said. Mokoape rose from an ANC foot soldier to the ANC’s Chief of Military Intelligence.
Mokoape, President Mohamed Abdelaziz and many around the world want the U.S. to pressure its ally Morocco to end colonization of the Western Sahara.
Lucy Offiong, a vice-president of the Nigeria Labor Congress, urged “all Africans” to support the struggle of the Saharawi against Morocco during her remarks at that Algiers conference that Mokoape attended.
“There’s been too much talk, talk,” Offiong said. “We need action on this problem. Restore freedom to the people of the Western Sahara.”