Under his leadership, Western Sahara’s plea was heard and its legitimacy recognised globally
Massinissa Benlakehal The New Arab
Roma, 4 giugno 2016, Nena News – Africa’s last colony lost its leader, who died on Tuesday, after a long illness.
Secretary General of the Polisario Front, Mohamed Abdelaziz isn’t just the President of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). For the Sahrawi people he represents what could be assimilated as a father for an entire nation in exile.
First elected as the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic’s President in 1982, he helped found the Polisario Front, which he led since 1976.
Born In Smara (a territory of Western Sahara) in 1948, he studied there and then took part in the establishment of the national movement. This same movement prepared the conduct of the liberation struggle. During the clandestine phase of struggle against the Spanish occupation, he served as the Head of a Department. Prior to his election as the Polisario’s Secretary General, he was a Commander of a military region. In August 1976, he also served as the President of the Command Council of the revolution.
Abdelaziz, who is father of six children, was re-elected to serve as the president of SADR in 1985, 1989, 1991, 1995, 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015
By the end of 2009, Abdelaziz was under enormous pressure to resume the armed fight against the occupation. The Sahrawi youth, were convinced of the failure of negotiations, and pushed for a change in the Front’s policy. SADR’s President stood firm and convinced them of being patient, as he continued to believe in peace talks. President Abdelaziz, despite the constant failure, remained steadfast in his commitment. He believed that the only way to resolve this long-running conflict is through peaceful talks.
In 1991, the United Nations brokered a ceasefire between the Polisario Front and Moroccan occupation forces. A referendum was supposed to be organised before the end of the same year. However, twenty-five years later, the UN mission for the organisation of a referendum in Western Sahara failed to hold such an election.
In Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara, atrocities are still being committed against the Sahrawi people. Many NGOs, including European Union MPs have highlighted and condemned such practices. Natural resources are exploited in the occupied territories by the occupation forces despite international laws prohibiting such practices.
Mohamed Abdelaziz has relied on the rule of law and the international community to press for human rights protections in the occupied territories for his people. He also did the same for the protection of his occupied country’s natural resources. The deceased President of RASD has worked for over twenty years on human rights issues.
SADR’s diplomatic missions deployed in over 80 countries, including the UN, were directed, in accordance to his instructions, to seek redress, peacefully relying on the justness of their cause. A cause they keep defending despite the harsh conditions, Sahrawi people endure in the refugee camps for forty-years now. During his leadership, the Western Sahara cause was heard and its legitimacy recognised all over the world, it’s a fact. The SADR was admitted as a full member of the African Union.
As a proof of the respect Mohamed Abdelaziz commands across the African continent, he has been elected at several times to serve in the leadership of the African Union. In fact, he was elected several times as Vice-President of the Organisation of African Unity, now the African Union. SADR’s constitution – established by him – guarantees the right to vote for all Sahrawi citizens. The constitution guarantees equal rights for women, religious freedom as well as an elected government.
In the refugee camps, seen as the best organised, self-managed in the world, women serve as governors, well represented in the national leadership. Women in the Sahrawi society enjoy the same rights as their fellow men. They’re not just taking care of the camps, their families, but they also enrol in the army ranks and serve as soldiers or officers. Education institutions created in the camps have resulted in an over 90 percent literacy rate. According to NGOs, this makes them the most educated African people group considering their living conditions.
Over 6,000 children are in first-grade schools in the refugee camps, thanks to policies administered by the Front Polisario and its leadership. During the Polisario’s last congress, held in the refugee camps, late 2015; Mohamed Abdelaziz was re-elected as the SADR President. As part of his commitment to see democracy flourish in his society, he tried repeatedly to not seek re-election for the leadership of his country.
He desired to transfer power to his successor democratically, but his people continued to re-elect him. They have faith in him, as they believe he is the one who should continue guiding them in their long-running fight for independence. Many journalists, including foreigners, appreciated discussing and exchanging with Mohamed Abdelaziz every time they are in the camps. A very simple man who welcomes all guests and delegations heading to the refugee camps with widely open arms. Nena News
Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.