Connect with us


Resignation Is the Right and Honourable Thing for President Obasanjo to Do

13 min read.

Mediating the war on Tigray requires neutrality, impartiality, undivided attention, and freedom of action unencumbered by institutional and individual conflicts of interest. Olusegun Obasanjo has failed the test.



The Genocidal War on Tigray and the Future of Ethiopia
Download PDFPrint Article

The glimmer of hope that came from the joint announcement by United States and European Union Special Envoys that negotiations to end the war on Tigray would begin, the siege lifted and humanitarian access fully granted, is now dimmed by the recent relapse to war. The many people who were sceptical about the start of the talks are not surprised by this resumption of the war that will consume many more young lives. Reports of killings of children in Mekelle through indiscriminate aerial bombardment and drone strikes add more setbacks to the commencement of negotiations.

A further hindrance has been the insistence that the African Union (AU) mediator, former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, remain involved in the process despite the reservations of a key party to the negotiations. In order to prevent further bloodshed, the honourable thing for former president Obasanjo to do is to resign.

The AU needs to avoid political wrangling with Tigray about keeping its mediator and instead focus on fast-tracking the appointment of a new envoy who has the approval of all parties, and begin negotiations on substantive politico-military agenda items.

As the war on Tigray approaches its second year, Ethiopian, Amhara, and Eritrean forces still control some areas of the region. Legitimately expected and essential public services such as ground and air transportation, electricity, telecommunications, banking services, and fuel deliveries, remain blocked. Humanitarian assistance has been reduced to a trickle despite the readiness of the UN and other agencies to supply aid. It would seem that the aim is to exterminate Tigrayans by starving them to death.

The continued lack of progress in implementing confidence and trust-building measures (primarily, an end to aid blockages, the lifting of the siege, the resumption of all public services and the withdrawal of forces from Tigrayan territory) has resulted in a dangerous waiting game. The statements by the envoys have become meaningless.

Without the lifting of the siege, it is highly likely that fighting will resume at the slightest provocation. This waiting game could constitute a “slow death” for Tigrayans – an abominable result that should be rejected. The relapse into military confrontation is disastrous for the long-suffering people of Tigray who have already gone through unimaginable suffering, for the people of Ethiopia and for any hope of peace in the Horn of Africa. Everyone, including the AU mediator, should be working tirelessly to avoid such an outcome.

It is important to note here that empires do not collapse overnight. What is at stake is nothing but the survival of the Ethiopian state, with dreadful implications for its 110 million population and for the Horn of Africa region. The AU Commission leaders knew about the war, the atrocities and Eritrea’s full involvement, but they remained silent and later provided tacit legal cover-up. The failure of African leaders to intervene rapidly and de-link an individual mediator from the process will render AU irrelevant in the resolution of the war on Tigray.

Why should Obasanjo resign? 

Mediation is only as effective as the political will and trust the parties invest in ending the conflict. The mediator is the guarantor of the parties’ trust in the process. According to the UN Guidance for Effective Mediation, the “acceptability of the mediator and the mediating entity” are critical factors in determining the success of the process. Mr Obasanjo neither inspires trust nor satisfies the other criteria of a mediator, as outlined by the UN.

The ‘non-rejectability’ test

The UN states that mediation is a voluntary process that requires the consent of the parties to the conflict to be effective. Without consent, it is unlikely that parties will negotiate in good faith or be committed to the mediation process. A mediator cannot be imposed on the parties to negotiation; he or she must get their unreserved consent before the appointment.  In other words, the choice of a mediator needs to pass the “non-rejectability” test.

Mr Obasanjo fails to pass this test, as Tigray has expressly rejected his role as mediator.

Impartiality, in appearance and in fact 

The UN further states that “impartiality is a cornerstone of mediation – if a mediation process is perceived to be biased, this can undermine meaningful progress to resolve the conflict”. 

Impartiality, both in fact and in appearance, is an essential requirement for a mediator. The principle of omni-partiality requires that the mediator is always on both sides of the negotiation to guide the parties to points of agreement and narrow areas of divergence. Thus, an accusation against, or even a reservation regarding the mediator’s impartiality by parties to the negotiation is a sufficient condition for the mediator to step aside. Whether the partiality is real or perceived does not matter, as reservations of this kind damage confidence in the mediator and undermine trust in the mediation process.

Several factors place the impartiality of Obasanjo in serious question. He was appointed by the leadership of the AU Commission, which has been accused of taking a partisan position on the war on Tigray. Furthermore, he served as head of the AU Election Observation Mission during the August 2020 elections in Ethiopia, which were denounced and boycotted by the Tigray government and other Ethiopian forces. Despite this, Obasanjo’s team judged the election to be free and fair, thereby endorsing the rejected polls.

“Impartiality is a cornerstone of mediation – if a mediation process is perceived to be biased, this can undermine meaningful progress to resolve the conflict”.

Moreover, once appointed as mediator, Mr Obasanjo failed to ensure impartiality, both in appearance and in fact. He has conducted official and publicly televised visits with the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed, to areas and regarding issues that have nothing to do with the mediation. The aim of these visits has been to showcase the country’s “progress” and convey an aura of “stability” and “development” at a time when Ethiopia is facing its highest number of deaths and displacements yet due to conflict and starvation, with an economy that is in free fall.

In addition, reports indicate that Obasanjo enjoys unique access to the highest levels of the Ethiopian government – a privilege not granted to other diplomats. Obasanjo should have avoided the social and publicity events that show him to be overly close to one of the parties to the mediation. These visits have been perceived as illustrations of the “proximity of the High Representative to the Prime Minister of Ethiopia”.

Moreover, his efforts thus far have yielded no concrete outcomes. On the contrary, his pronouncements and actions have created even more confusion. In a BBC interview, Obasanjo backed a stance that makes lifting the siege and the humanitarian blockade a precondition for the start of negotiations – a position that the Ethiopian government believes is its only leverage over Tigray. Linking the provision of humanitarian aid to millions of civilians with peace negotiations is contrary to international human rights and humanitarian laws.

While the cardinal rule of a mediator is to objectively understand both the context and specificity of a conflict, Obasanjo is already armed with prescriptive templates that narrowly profile the resolutions of the conflicts in Ethiopia and, in particular, Tigray, Oromia, Gambella, Benishangul and Gumuz. Perhaps more concerning is Obasanjo’s recent brief to the AU’s Peace and Security Council. The report characterizes the armed conflicts in Ethiopia as “internal ethnic tensions in western Ethiopia; on and off tensions between Eritrea and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF); recent deteriorating security situation between Ethiopia and Sudan over alleged skirmishes at the common border; reports of the arrest of suspects allegedly plotting terror attacks in Addis Ababa; and the attacks by al Shabaab in the Ferfer district of Ethiopia near the border with Somalia.”

While supporting the negotiations with Tigray, Obasanjo proposes “re-establishing strained intercommunal relations” to address armed conflicts in parts of the Oromia and Benishangul-Gumuz regions. Does this mean the armed conflicts outside Tigray could be dealt with within the current dialogue, and not through negotiations?

Obasanjo’s report dramatically underplays the war crimes, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and genocide caused by the nationwide internal and war on Tigray, and grossly underreports their true human and economic costs. The internal wars within Ethiopia, the intervention by Eritrean armed forces, and the armed conflict with Sudan in the border areas and Al Shabaab in the Somali region have claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and displaced more than six million people. More than half a million lives have been lost in the war on Tigray.  Obasanjo has shown no genuine interest in the atrocities committed by Eritrea, accountability, and reparations for the victims of the war. His report fails to express empathy and demonstrate solidarity with victims of the war.

Obasanjo is already armed with prescriptive templates that narrowly profile the resolutions of the conflicts in Ethiopia.

After expressing doubts about the impartiality and integrity of Obasanjo and the lack of consultation regarding his appointment by the AU in the first letter written to the UN Security Council on 23 August 2021, the Tigrayan government announced that it would “only accept impartial and neutral mediators and not those that have displayed partiality towards the Government of Ethiopia. Those who endorsed the war on Tigray publicly or tacitly supported and attempted to bestow credibility to the sham elections conducted in June 2021 will not be accepted by the Government of Tigray”.

It further accused the AU of failing “to rise to the occasion when the war broke. They abandoned their core mandate of preventing the war when the Government of Tigray repeatedly appealed for their preventive diplomacy before and in the early stages of the war. The AU was proven incapable of pronouncing itself when combined Eritrean, Ethiopian, and Amhara forces aided by non-African forces invaded Tigray and committed atrocious crimes. The Government of Tigray is deeply disappointed by Mr Moussa Faki, AU Commission Chairperson, who even went further to endorse the genocide and war on Tigray officially. The Government of Tigray strongly believes that the AU cannot provide any solution to the war in Tigray, which it has officially endorsed”. It added that “the Government of Tigray reserves its right to reject any imposition of mediation without prior substantive consultations”.

In a recent open letter, the President of Tigray accused the AU of betraying the foundational principles of the Union. “The silence of the African Union over the war and the atrocities perpetrated by the forces ranged against us was a betrayal of the Foundational Principles of the Union. We have consistently condemned the failure of the African Union Chairperson and his High Representative to take a position consistent with their solemn obligations under the Constitutive Act of the Union, the Protocol establishing the Peace and Security Council, and a host of other commitments entered into. In the considered view of the People and Government of Tigray, the leadership of the African Union Commission has yet to redeem its failures and restore our trust.” This latest letter from the president was the final nail in the coffin of Obasanjo’s mediation role. Tigray has decided that Obasanjo is not impartial enough to mediate the war.

Possibly due to pressure from the regimes in Addis Ababa and Asmara, the Obasanjo brief recommends inviting Eritrea into the mediation effort, requesting the AU Commission “to extend a formal invitation to the Republic of Eritrea to join ongoing AU-led efforts aimed at finding lasting diplomatic solutions to the conflict between the Federal Government of Ethiopia and the TPLF”. The brief notes that “Eritrea has sided with Ethiopia in the conflict with TPLF,” significantly underreporting the role that Eritrea played and is still playing as an omnipotent foreign force in the war on Tigray. It then states that “realities continue to prove that brokering genuine peace between Addis Ababa and Mekelle requires the involvement of Asmara.”

The proposal reveals the inconsistencies of the AU’s position on the war on Tigray. Despite the presence of incontrovertible evidence since the beginning of the war, the AU has long maintained a policy of silence and turned a blind eye to the major role of the Eritrean armed forces in the war on Tigray and the ensuing atrocities. This policy of ignoring Eritrea’s destructive role in Ethiopia’s current conflicts is to be contrasted with the EU and US positions, which publicly confirmed the participation of Eritrean armed forces in the war on Tigray and called for their immediate withdrawal and for perpetrators to be held accountable. The US government went further to issue an executive order that sanctioned the Eritrean regime for the atrocities in Tigray.

Without mentioning Eritrea’s role in the war on Tigray, the reasons forwarded to justify its involvement in the mediation speak volumes about the AU’s inability to master the intricacies of Ethiopian, Tigrayan, and Eritrean relations, or to decipher where Obasanjo’s actual bias lies. What is more, if the AU were to endorse such a recommendation, it would fly in the face of everything the AU stands for.

The AU was proven incapable of pronouncing itself when combined Eritrean, Ethiopian, and Amhara forces aided by non-African forces invaded Tigray and committed atrocious crimes.

Furthermore, with the proposal to invite Eritrea into the negotiations, the AU mediation is entering a legal minefield. As with previous statements by the AU Commission, the Obasanjo report mentions nothing about the circumstances and legality of the Eritrean armed forces’ entry into the war, nor of the crucial role they played. While the Ethiopian government had not made an official statement inviting Eritrea’s intervention, Eritrea, along with the Amhara and Ethiopian forces, played a crucial part in the execution of the war on Tigray.

For many months, and despite a great deal of evidence to the contrary, the administration of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed denied the participation of Eritrean soldiers in the conflict. Eritrea also vehemently denied its involvement. This suddenly changed on 23 March 2021, when the Prime Minister cautiously admitted before parliament that Eritrean forces had been in Tigray since the beginning of the conflict. Eritrea then followed suit. Both parties, by and large, hinted that Eritrea had sent its forces to Tigray in self-defence, without providing further details. These admissions did not clarify whether Ethiopia had invited the Eritrean forces into Tigray. What is clear, nonetheless, is that Ethiopia has never openly criticized the Eritrean intervention or the atrocities Eritrean forces have been accused of committing in Tigray, much less demanded that these forces leave Tigray. In addition, Eritrea still occupies certain areas of Tigray and is heavily deployed alongside the federal and Amhara forces in west Tigray.

In light of these developments, it is apparent that the Eritrean forces are working closely with the federal government forces. This has also been established by independent investigations, including by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, which showed that Ethiopian and Eritrean forces regularly conduct joint operations. Thus, the war on Tigray is not an international armed conflict where internationally recognized states use force against each other.

Eritrea’s involvement, as such, does not change the situation into that of international armed conflict, as it is helping the Ethiopian government and its allies.

Since Tigray is not an independent country, it has no business negotiating with any entity except the federal government of Ethiopia. The negotiation is an internal Ethiopian issue. Although this fact is easily overlooked, the negotiations will determine Tigray’s relations with Ethiopia, not (or only indirectly) with Eritrea. There is no legal basis to involve Eritrea in the mediation effort without the consent of the negotiating parties.

In addition to the legal, practical, and ethical considerations, on what political basis should Eritrea take part in mediations to resolve the causes of an internal war in Ethiopia?

The Eritrean, Ethiopian, and Amhara governments grew very close during the months before the war on Tigray. They have a shared antagonism towards Tigray and its government. The Ethiopian regime allowed Eritrean forces to kill, displace, destroy, and commit atrocities in Tigray. Eritrea has few allies – the Ethiopian and Amhara governments are the only two in the region – and it will sacrifice its own people to avoid losing these two newly made friends. The regime in Asmara thrives only in a region that is besieged with instability, not a peaceful one, let alone a successful one. The very mediation effort between Tigray and Ethiopia threatens the Eritrean regime. A successful peaceful resolution of the war between Tigray and Ethiopia has the potential to unravel the entirety of Eritrea’s regional influence after the end of the triumvirate Abiy–Isaias–Farmaajo security pact. Thus, Eritrea is the most significant threat to the mediation process.

The negotiations will, among others, look at Ethiopia’s relations with neighbouring countries bordering Tigray, including Eritrea and Sudan. The post-war future of Ethiopia will determine how Eritrea will interact with Tigray. That’s why Obasanjo’s suggestion to invite Eritrea to the negotiation table never boded well for Tigray. While Ethiopia may welcome this, for Tigray it is likely to be a non-starter. There is no reason why Eritrea should have the unique privilege of being invited to a negotiation process that will define Tigray’s relations with Ethiopia.

With the proposal to invite Eritrea into the negotiations, the AU mediation is entering a legal minefield.

The same Obasanjo brief mentions that “unresolved disputes between Ethiopia and Sudan over the Al-Fashaqa area remain a source of tension . . . with Ethiopia accusing its neighbour of harbouring elements of the TPLF in its territories”. Thus, in applying the same logic, one is forced to ask why Obasanjo did not propose to invite Sudan – which, according to the report, supports Tigray – to the mediation table. Why extend an invitation to Eritrea but not Sudan? With Eritrea, Sudan, and more countries at the table, the mediation will only become more complex and unlikely to bear any peace.

In mediation parlance, impartiality is often ensured by objectively answering the big question: has the mediator passed the non-rejectability test, which requires that parties to the conflict must unreservedly consent to the mediator’s role?  Is the mediator impartial? In principle and practice, a mediator’s credibility is beyond redemption once he/she is perceived as partisan by any of the parties to the conflict. This principle is not only informed by but also consistent with African mediation experience. Obasanjo himself has become an issue in this process, and he needs to recuse himself for the sake of peace in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa. When the mediator’s impartiality comes into question, or even when a mediation effort lacks progress, or any of the conflicting parties refuse to cooperate, the long-standing practice is for the mediator to resign. The experiences of Said Dijinnit in the Burundi mediation, and Kofi Annan and Lakhdar Brahimi in the Syria process are instructive. Never before has a mediator insisted on staying put when one of the parties has opposed their participation. What explains Obasanjo’s unprecedented inclination to remain as a mediator contrary to established principles and practices?

What is to be done? 

As a mediator, Obasanjo’s impartiality has been questioned by one of the parties, and it is only natural that he should step aside. His resignation would help avoid unnecessary political wrangling, prevent forum shopping, fast-track the selection of new mediators, and commence the negotiation on substantive agenda items.

The AU has no legal or political basis for ignoring Tigray’s position and has no right – legal or political – for opposing the selection of a mutually agreeable mediator. The AU must prevent the current rhetoric from becoming a political handicap, rendering the body irrelevant to the resolution of the war on Tigray.

A new mediator needs to be appointed quickly with the consultation and consent of all parties.

Mediating such a war requires neutrality, impartiality, undivided attention, and freedom of action unencumbered by institutional and individual conflicts of interest. Thus, the full-time availability of the mediators is a prerequisite for the successful engagement of the parties. An additional prerequisite for a successful mediation is a deep understanding of the context of the war on Tigray, the crises in Ethiopia, and the situation in the Horn of Africa, a quality some of the potential mediators possess.

Negotiations also require enforcement mechanisms and punitive measures against spoilers and violators of agreements. These necessitate strong government backing by states with influence with both parties as guarantors of such a process.

So far, none of the parties has rejected Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta’s offer to lead the mediation. As an outgoing president he remains a viable option if the incoming government of Kenya, the AU, IGAD, and the UN were to support him. Given that he has been officially engaging the parties with the support of international actors, continuing what he has started would allow the smooth and speedy resumption of mediation.

A successful peaceful resolution of the war between Tigray and Ethiopia has the potential to unravel the entirety of Eritrea’s regional influence.

Given that state backing is crucial to any mediator’s success, political, diplomatic, and financial support for the office of the mediator, as well as the AU, IGAD, UN, EU, US and China is necessary. If for any reason President Uhuru is unable to take up the role, there are several other potential mediators that could be acceptable to and possess leverage with both parties and the international community. As is often the case, the US and EU may not explicitly show their preference on this and other matters related to the mediation to avoid being accused of undermining AU and African mediation efforts.

At the same time, to avoid competing and fragmented mediations, it is crucial to ensure that there is only a single mediation process. A consultative approach helps to avoid parallel initiatives and build confidence.

Support The Elephant.

The Elephant is helping to build a truly public platform, while producing consistent, quality investigations, opinions and analysis. The Elephant cannot survive and grow without your participation. Now, more than ever, it is vital for The Elephant to reach as many people as possible.

Your support helps protect The Elephant's independence and it means we can continue keeping the democratic space free, open and robust. Every contribution, however big or small, is so valuable for our collective future.


Prof. Mehari Taddele Maru is currently a Professor Migration Policy Centre and Academic Coordinator of the Young African Leaders Programme at the School of Transnational Governance and at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy. He is also a Fellow at the United Nations University Institute on Comparative Regional Integration Studies (UNU-CRIS), Bruges, Belgium.


The Myth That Is Plastic Waste Recycling in Kenya

The quantities of recycled plastic in Kenya remain insignificant, but the long-term ecological cost of disposing plastic waste in the environment will be immeasurable.



The Myth That Is Plastic Waste Recycling in Kenya
Download PDFPrint Article

One aspect of modern Kenyan urban living that takes getting used to are the regular, well-timed garbage collection days. Miss your day and you will have to keep the trash a week longer awaiting the next collection date when the beaten-up lorries full of garbage labour through city estates in mid-morning collecting the waste produced by city dwellers.

Should you find yourself in the central business district at around midnight, you may run into these rickety trucks collecting food waste from city restaurants, discarded cartons from offices, and empty drink cans from the city’s clubs that they ferry to the few landfills scattered around the city.

The barely roadworthy trucks are part of the more than 205 lorries working at the city’s many collection points in a hectic bid to keep Nairobi County hygienic. So profitable is the waste collection business that private contractors and cartels have infiltrated the trade.

In Nairobi alone, the county’s garbage collection service is complemented by nearly 150 private sector waste operators who also serve this city of over 4 million residents. Private investments have done a lot but not nearly enough to address the garbage crisis that plagues Kenya’s towns and cities.

Kenya’s urban households produce the bulk of the country’s solid waste, including a major share of the estimated 24 million plastic bags that are used and discarded every month. A significant portion of the plastic waste ends up in dumpsites alongside scrap metal, paper materials, glassware, and medical and toxic waste. Plastic waste constitutes a significant portion of this trash, and poses the biggest challenge to solid waste management in Kenya.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), 73 per cent of all plastic waste generated in Kenya goes uncollected. The National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) reports that between 2 and 8 per cent of the plastic waste is recycled while the rest is disposed of at dumpsites such as Dandora and Ruai in Nairobi, Kachok in Kisumu, and Kibarani at the coast. In Mombasa alone, some 3.7 kilogrammes of per capita plastic waste end up in the ocean, contributing to the 1,300 billion pieces of plastic that find their way into the Indian Ocean every year. Experts estimate that there will be more plastic than fish species in all the oceans globally by 2025.

Kenya banned plastic carrier bags in 2017, at the same time that the United Nations Environment Programme was launching the Clean Seas campaign to reduce marine litter. From June 2020, visitors entering game reserves, forests, beaches, protected areas and conservancies are no longer allowed to carry plastic water bottles, cups, cutlery, plates, drinking straws, and packaging within the protected areas.

On the production end, there are industry-led plastics initiatives such as the Kenya Plastic Action Plan and the creation of the Kenya Extended Producer Responsibility Organization (KEPRO), whose mandate is to ensure that plastics are mapped, ferried, sorted, and where possible, put back into circulation. Given the low garbage collection rates, and the even lower sorting rates, recycling has been misleadingly touted as the key to managing plastic waste.

For context, the cumulative global plastic waste produced since 1950 is estimated at 8.3 billion tonnes — half of which was produced in the last 13 years alone — at an average of 300 million tonnes annually.

In Kenya recycling doesn’t work    

Recycling has its limitations. Despite being cited as a major solution to the problem of plastic waste, a solution that has been taken up by 34 of the 54 African states,  numerous reports have proven that it costs more to recycle than to dispose of the waste. That of course begs the question: costlier for whom?

While disposing plastic is cheaper than recycling, the long-term ecological cost to Kenyans living close to landfills and downstream is provably much higher. Kenyan plastic manufacturers are in the business for profit and, for the most part, recycling does not offer them value for money.

According to Kenya’s PET plastic industry’s joint self-regulation effort, once plastic waste enters the recycling conveyer, it is assembled and packed into bales that are sold as industrial goods and sent to the dozens of recycling plants around the country to be sorted by quality, industrial variety, texture and colour. The waste is then shredded, sanitized, melted down, and moulded into smaller, smoother plastic pellets.

These pellets, known as nurdles, are bought and once again melted down and fashioned into other plastic products, ready for re-use by industries. This form of recycling is the optimal pathway for plastic waste, but it rarely is feasible. Recycling plastic waste is a lengthy and costly process that is avoided by many plastic producers.

To put it in context, less than 45 per cent of Nairobi’s overall waste is recycled, most of it undergoing what is referred to as down-cycling, open recycling, or cascaded recycling.

Cascaded recycling refers to the process of using recycled plastic waste to make an item of a lower quality than the original product. These items typically have reduced recycling potential, which destines them for the landfill after use. Models of cascaded recycling in Kenya’s informal settlements therefore turn the triangular recycling loop into a one-way direction to an incinerator or landfill.

Recycling plastic waste is a lengthy and costly process that is avoided by many plastic producers.

Global research led by plastics expert Dr Roland Geyer claims that only 9 per cent of all the plastic waste ever produced has been recycled. Kenya’s cascaded recycling rates are harder to quantify but an authoritative plastics report states that only 14 per cent of global plastic packaging waste was collected for recycling in 2013. Only 8 per cent of that amount was down-cycled, of which 4 per cent atrophied during the process while only 2 per cent was recycled into a product of equal or higher value.

Even locally, recycling plastic is a costly process and sorting it, many experts assert, is unfeasible, which means that there is no way out when dealing with plastic waste other than banning the production and use of plastics.

Kenya and the global dumping of plastic waste 

The non-feasibility of recycling plastic waste has been an open secret among plastics industry insiders since as far back as the 1970s. As early as 1973, senior executives of plastics multinationals had already ruled out plastic waste recycling on a large scale. Instead, these multinationals paid for misleading big-budget advertisements extolling the virtues of plastic products, and lying about the ease with which plastics could be recycled for other uses, while also placing the responsibility of recycling or disposing plastic waste on the end-user. However, the mounds of plastic waste that are now an eyesore in many urban areas belie the claim that recycling is the solution.

Old industry memos and library archives show that as far back as the mid-1980s Kenyan scholars like Kamau Hezron Mwangi had begun to call for a serious look into the efficacy of recycling  while, in the mid-1990s, researcher Dr J.N. Muthotho and his team demanded for greater research across specific plastic products supply chains. The growing concerns linked to plastic products, their quality, disposability and the economics of the industry paint an image of an industry that has always been well aware of the problems caused by plastic waste but has lacked the motivation to address the issue. In an increasingly consumerist society, plastic has continued to be affordable, readily available, cheap, convenient, and yet very difficult to dispose of.

Ending Kenya’s relationship with plastic

A radical behavioural shift by producers, packaging firms and end-users is required in order to rid the Kenyan environment of plastic pollution. The ban on plastic carrier bags has had an estimated 80 per cent efficacy rate. Industry insiders including manufacturers and distributors now say that the ban should be extended to disposable tableware, plastic straws, plates and cutlery.

The mounds of plastic waste that are now an eyesore in many urban areas belie the claim that recycling is the solution.

This, the stakeholders say, will reduce the amount of single-use plastic in landfills, reduce waste, minimize animal deaths, improve human safety, and save our water systems. However, a concerted effort is needed to ban single-use plastic bottles, plastic straws, and plastic packaging and replace them with organic, biodegradable plastic (BDP) alternatives.

Most BDP products in the Kenyan market are made of thermoplastic starch that uses a polyester similar in material strength to plastic. Currently there is only one manufacturer in the country. However, researchers are coming closer to finding organic alternatives to plastics.

Reimagining a post-plastic country

In Kenya, the stakeholders have to begin to reimagine new models of ridding the country of plastic waste in the everyday life and habits of Kenyan citizens. Nairobi and its environs alone is estimated to produce between 2,400 and 3,000 tonnes of general waste every single day, an estimated 20 per cent of which is plastic waste.

“People don’t want to stop using plastic. It is cheap and easy to use so I understand why people like [it]”, says Kinuthia, an unlicensed collector in Uthiru.

A consumer culture that creates an ever-increasing demand and use of plastic products ought to be overhauled, reimagined, and refashioned.

Even within economic circles, the focus on GDP as a measure of economic progress while ignoring the social, ecological and cultural impacts is increasingly frowned upon. As far back as the late 1980s, the World Bank President Barber Conable recognised that the ecological cost of economic production has to be accounted for. “Current calculations ignore the degradation of the natural-resource base and view the sales of nonrenewable resources entirely as income . . . A better way must be found.” he wrote.

Kenya’s plastic producers and importers have to begin to consider how to shift the society away from plastic products and integrate the alternatives in the marketplace. Kenyans have the opportunity to have a national conversation around local plastic producers and importers, if we are to work effectively towards phasing out all plastic products sold in the market.

With imports valued at an estimated US$883 million, Kenya’s plastics sector has a critical duty to phase out plastic products so as to, at the very least, ensure that the end-user does not have to choose between affordability, disposability, and sustainability of the packaging when making a purchasing decision.

The plastic waste crisis calls for Kenyans to design products with their life cycle and their end in mind at the outset. Therefore, designing products with their utility and disposal in mind is critical. For example, utilizing snap-together parts in appliances minimizes the use of screws, making the end product easier to disassemble, recover, and recycle at the end. This evolution in design proactively shapes the journey of a product in order to ensure that as much material as possible is recycled back into the production conveyer.

Even within economic circles, the focus on GDP as a measure of economic progress while ignoring the social, ecological and cultural impacts is increasingly frowned upon.

On 24 March 2021, Kenya’s Centre for Environment Justice and Development (CEJD) held a consultative forum with 24 grassroots Civil Society Organisations in the waste management sector with support from Break Free From Plastic. The members used the existing legislative framework that bans single-use plastic carrier bags in the country to launch the CSOs for Zero Plastics in Kenya network that integrates the input of stakeholders in the affected sectors. Still, this push by CSOs towards a wider ban seems to have created a policy tension between the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) and multi-nationals that rely on plastic products for packaging.

In 2018, NEMA tried to extend the ban on plastic carrier bags to single-use plastic containers such as bottles made of PET. However, the companies involved in the production of PET products instead proposed a self-regulated, industry-led solution under PETCO.

Despite NEMA’s pledge in 2018 to make PETCO membership mandatory for all plastic industry players, its membership remains voluntary. This lapse has slowed the acceptance of membership by stakeholders and by industry players and minimized compliance. Kenya currently has eight PET converters, but only one of them is a PETCO member. Moreover, an estimated 900 bottling plants use PET containers but only eight (1 per cent) are members of PETCO.

The future of a post-plastic Kenya requires consolidation of existing industry efforts, ramping up scientific research on alternatives, a shift in consumer behaviour and robust incremental policies in enforcing the bans and restrictions. Only then can Kenya secure its ecology, manage the diverse interests of the stakeholders involved and still manage its ecological health with posterity in mind.

Continue Reading


Microplastics: the Destruction of Marine Life and the Blue Economy

Even as Kenya’s land-based resources continue to shrink because of a rapidly growing population, microplastic pollution of Kenya’s Indian Ocean is putting in jeopardy the country’s maritime resources.



Microplastics: the Destruction of Marine Life and the Blue Economy
Download PDFPrint Article

Five scientists, Joyce Kerubo, John M. Onyari and Agnes Muthumbi from the University of Nairobi, Deborah Robertson-Andersson from the University of Kwa Zulu Natal, and Edward Ndirui Kimani from the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI), undertook a research study last year that returned a harsh verdict of a high presence of microplastics (MPs) in Kenya’s Indian Ocean.

MPs are plastic pellets, fragments, and fibres that enter the environment and are less than 5mm in dimension. The primary sources of MPs are vehicle tyres, synthetic textiles, paints, personal care products, and plastic products that have disintegrated into tiny particles because of environmental turbulence.

The study by the five scientists, Microplastic Polymers in Surface Waters and Sediments in the Creeks along the Kenya Coast, Western Indian Ocean (WIO), identified four polymer types in Kenya’s Indian Ocean. High-density polythene is the most abundant at 38.3 per cent, followed by polypropylene (34.6 per cent), low-density polythene (27.1 per cent), and medium density polythene (17.1 per cent). The research findings were published in the European Journal of Sustainable Development Research on 18 October 2021.

The concentration of MPs in the surface waters along the Kenyan coastline was higher compared to other parts of the world, the study warned. The findings of the study also confirmed those of previous studies on the presence of MPs in Kenya’s Indian Ocean.

The scientists also cautioned that the documented information on the specific polymeric composition of these particles in seawater and in the sediments along the Kenyan coast was insufficient. The findings, the study offered, demonstrated the extent of exposure to MPs in Kenya’s ocean ecosystems, therefore justifying policy intervention in the management and disposal of plastic waste, and the protection of the ocean’s rich biodiversity for sustainable development.

It drew testing samples from three creeks: Tudor and Port Reitz in Mombasa County and Mida in Kilifi County. Tudor Creek covers an area of approximately 20 square kilometres and is fed by two seasonal rivers—Kombeni and Tsalu—that originate around Mariakani, about 32 kilometres northwest of Mombasa. The two seasonal rivers collect runoff containing plastic and other waste from the mainland and discharge it into the creek.

Surrounding Tudor creek are several densely populated informal settlements that include Mishomoroni and Mikindani that may add MPs to the ocean. According to the study findings, the majority of the MPs were fibrous materials from textiles and ropes, probably from wastewater from washing clothes and from fishing activities.

Other key facilities that could contribute to the pollution include shipping activities at the Port of Mombasa, meat processing at Kenya Meat Commission (KMC), Coast General Hospital, Container Freight Stations (CFSs) and Kipevu Power Station. Before it was rehabilitated, Mombasa County Government dumped a lot of waste at Kibarani, near the two creeks and just next to the ocean.

Tudor Creek recorded the highest pollution, also as a result of rain runoff from Kongowea market and Muoroto slums, and Mikindani sewage effluent. Moreover, according to the study, which could, however, not determine the proportions, many industries on Mombasa Island release their effluent into the sea, increasing MPs in sediments.

Mida Creek was used as a control in the study as it does not have river inflows. In addition, the creek is in a marine reserve that forms part of the Watamu Marine National Park and Reserve. However, MPs from different polymers were found in sediment and surface water samples from all the sites—including Mida Creek which is within Watamu National Marine Reserve—which the researchers had thought to be safe from pollution by industrial effluent, sewage disposal, and fishing activities.

Many industries on Mombasa Island release their effluent into the sea, increasing MPs in sediments.

The study attributed the pollution at Mida Creek to high tourism activities, boat and dhow fishing activities, densely populated villages such as Dabaso, Ngala, and Kirepwe and the mangrove vegetation cover of tall trees that binds soil particles thus favouring the accumulation of MPs.

According to a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report released in March 2019, plastic—which makes up a sizable proportion of marine pollution—can now be found in all the world’s oceans, but concentrations are thought to be highest in coastal areas and reef environments where the vast majority of this litter originates from land-based sources.

In Kenya, daily plastic consumption is estimated at 0.3 Kilograms per person. In 2018, Kenya imported between 45,000 and 57,000 metric tonnes of plastic.

Earlier in 2020, KMFRI had carried out its own study—Microplastics Pollution in Coastal Nearshore Surface Waters in Vanga, Mombasa, Malindi and Lamu, Kenya—that painted an even gloomier picture of MP pollution.

The four sampling locations represented the South coast, Mombasa and the North coast of Kenya’s coastal nearshore waters, and looked into considering fishing, recreation, and industrial activities, as well as the municipal effluent that finds its way into these target areas.

The objective of the study was to assess the abundance MPs and their composition in Kenya’s coastal near-shore waters during the two rainy seasons at the Kenyan coast: the north-east monsoon which runs between November and March, and the south-east monsoon which runs from April to October.

The results showed a widely varied distribution of MPs between the two seasons, with the overall highest concentrations occurring during the south-east monsoon when surface runoff from rainwater and from effluent from the major towns is high.

As confirmed in other research studies, the concentrations recorded by KMFRI, were quite high compared to other parts of the world. This provided baseline data for MPs, showing that population, anthropogenic activities and seasonal variations a play key role in influencing pollution by MPs.

Total MP concentrations in all the study areas during the north-east and the south-east monsoon seasons ranged between 83 MPs/m³ and 8266 MPs/m³ and between 126 MPs/m³ and 12,256 MPs/m³ respectively, with a mean of 3228 MPs/m³. The highest microplastic levels were found in Mombasa at 12,256 MPs/m³ during the south-east monsoon season, where runoff and effluent due to heavy rains are thought to be the primary source. The next highest levels were found in Malindi, occurring during the south-east monsoon season, because of inflows from River Sabaki.

Boat activities and tourism during the north-east monsoon season and runoff from the town during the south-east monsoon season mostly affected Lamu, while fishing activities, as well and runoff from the town, could be responsible for the abundance of MPs recorded in Vanga.

Solid waste management remains an enormous challenge in coastal towns, with Mombasa County facing the biggest challenge due to a burgeoning population. Although most of the solid waste generated in the county is organic—largely from households, hotels, restaurants and agricultural produce markets, the largest being Kongowea and Marikiti—plastic takes up a significant share.

In its County Sessional Paper No 01 of 2019, Mombasa County estimated daily waste production at 2,200 tons, 68 per cent of which is organic. Approximately 18 per cent of this waste is plastics, cardboard, paper and metals.

Other inorganic waste such as e-waste, construction waste and junk makes up an estimated 14 per cent of the waste generated. Public and private health facilities generate an estimated 2 to 3 tonnes of biomedical waste daily.

Solid waste management remains an enormous challenge in coastal towns, with Mombasa County facing the biggest challenge due to a burgeoning population.

Most of the solid waste generated is disposed in undesignated open grounds—in VOK, Kwa Karama, Kadongo, Junda, Saratoga, and Mcheleni. It is disposed in the same form as it is generated without being recycled or reused. Disposal of solid waste in the open has continuously had a negative environmental health impact through the contamination of water sources.

Moreover, with the limited investment in solid waste recycling and recovery systems, disposal methods in the county have been a contributor to public nuisance.

There are two designated dumpsites, namely Mwakirunge in Kisauni and Shonda in Likoni. However, these dumpsites are poorly managed and do not respect the prescribed environmental health standards while Mombasa County government’s budgetary allocation for solid waste management is not sufficient to meet the desired results.

MPs are harmful to human health, experts say. The ingestion of MPs by species at the base of the food web causes human food safety concerns, as little is known about their effects on the food that finally lands on our menu.

The minuscule size of MPs renders them invisible to filter-feeding fauna, leading to unintentional ingestion. In a study published in December 2020 in the Africa Journal of Marine Science, W. Awuor, Agnes Muthumbi and Deborah Robertson-Andersson confirmed the presence of MPs in marine life. The study investigated MPs in oysters and in three species of brachyuran crabs.

They did sampling in eight stations distributed between three sites—Tudor, Port Reitz and Mida Creek—in January and February 2018, during low spring tide. The sample comprised 206 crabs and 70 oysters.

The study identified MP fibres of different colours—red, yellow, black, pink, orange, purple, green, blue—as well as colourless ones. Colourless fibres were the most prevalent, comprising at least 60 per cent of the total MPs. The mean lengths of the MP fibres were between 0.1 and 4.2 mm.

The study exposes MP pollution along the Kenyan coast and its uptake by marine fauna, and thus strengthens the case for better control of plastic waste in the ocean. “Marine plastic litter pollution is already affecting over 800 marine species through ingestion, entanglement and habitat change,” said the head of UN Environment’s coral reef unit, Jerker Tamelander, in 2019.

“Waste continues to leak from land, and coral reefs are on the receiving end. They also trap a lot of fishing gear and plastic lost from aquaculture. With the effects of climate change on coral reef ecosystems already significant, the additional threat of plastics must be taken seriously.”

According to UNEP, there remains a significant lack of knowledge on the true impact of plastics on the reef environment, including the level of concentrations of MPs across coral reef eco-regions in order to understand the scale of the issue in a standardised manner.

“Marine plastic litter pollution is already affecting over 800 marine species through ingestion, entanglement and habitat change.”

Concerns about ocean pollution have been raised at a time when the country is looking at the Blue Economy as the country’s next economic growth frontier. In effect, Kenya’s land-based resources have been shrinking because of a rapidly growing population and it is therefore prudent for the government to shift the focus to the country’s ocean resources spread over an area of 245,000 km², or 42 per cent of the country’s total land mass.

Kenya has from the outset not been keen on growing the maritime sector. Even Kenya’s first independence economic blueprint, African Socialism and its Application to Planning in Kenya, published in 1965, failed to anchor the Blue Economy in the country’s economic growth agenda, despite its significant role in transporting 95 per cent of the country’s global transactions.

The Western Indian Ocean has resources worth more than KSh2.2 trillion in annual outputs, with Kenya’s share standing at about 20 per cent of this figure. The marine fishing sub-sector alone had an annual fish potential of 350,000 metric tonnes worth KSh90 billion in 2013. However, the region only yielded a paltry 9,134 metric tonnes worth KSh2.3 billion during that year.

In 2018, the then Agriculture Cabinet Secretary, Mwangi Kiunjuri, said that by failing to fully exploit the Blue Economy, Kenya was losing over Sh440 billion annually. But if the opportunities offered by the Blue Economy are to be exploited, a policy intervention in the management and disposal of plastic waste is urgently required to protect the ocean’s rich biodiversity for sustainable development.

Continue Reading


Western Sahara: Africa’s Last Colony

Meriem Naïli writes about the continuing struggle for the independence of Western Sahara. Occupied by Morocco since the 1970s, in contravention of the International Court of Justice and the UN. The internationally recognised liberation movement, POLISARIO, has fought and campaigned for independence since the early 1970s. Naïli explains what is going on, and the legal efforts to secure the country’s freedom.



Western Sahara: Africa’s Last Colony
Photo: Freepik/natanaelginting
Download PDFPrint Article

The conflict over Western Sahara can be described as a conflict over self-determination that has been frozen in the past three decades. Western Sahara is a territory in North-West Africa, bordered by Morocco in the north, Algeria and Mauritania in the east and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. A former Spanish colony, it has been listed by the UN since 1963 as one of the 17 remaining non-self-governing territories, but the only such territory without a registered administrating power.

Since becoming independent from France in 1956, Morocco has claimed sovereignty over Western Sahara and has since the late 1970s formally annexed around 80% of its territory, over which it exercises de facto control in contravention of the conclusions reached by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in its advisory opinion of October 15, 1975, on this matter. The court indeed did not find any “legal ties of such a nature as might affect the application of resolution 1514 (XV) in the decolonization of Western Sahara and, in particular, of the principle of self-determination through the free and genuine expression of the will of the peoples of the Territory” (Western Sahara (1975), Advisory Opinion, I.C.J. Reports 1975, p.12).

On 14 November 1975, the Madrid Accords – formally the Declaration of Principles on Western Sahara – were signed between Spain, Morocco, and Mauritania setting the conditions under which Spain would withdraw from the territory and divide its administration between the two African states. Its paragraph two reads that “Spain shall immediately proceed to establish a temporary administration in the territory, in which Morocco and Mauritania shall participate in collaboration with the Jemâa [a tribal assembly established by Spain in May 1967 to serve as a local consultative link with the colonial administration], and to which the responsibilities and powers referred to in the preceding paragraph shall be transferred.”

Although it was never published on the Boletin Oficial del Estado [the official State journal where decrees and orders are published on a weekly basis], the accord was executed, and Mauritania and Morocco subsequently partitioned the territory in April 1976. Protocols to the Madrid Accords also allowed for the transfer of the Bou Craa phosphate mine and its infrastructure and for Spain to continue its involvement in the coastal fisheries.

Yet in Paragraph 6 of his 2002 advisory opinion, UN Deputy Secretary General Hans Corell, reaffirmed that the 1975 Madrid Agreement between Spain, Morocco, and Mauritania “did not transfer sovereignty over the Territory, nor did it confer upon any of the signatories the status of an administering Power, a status which Spain alone could not have unilaterally transferred.”

The war

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO) is the internationally recognised national liberation movement representing the indigenous people of Western Sahara. Through the self-proclaimed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), it has been campaigning since its creation in May 1973 in favour of independence from Spain through a referendum on self-determination to be supervised by the UN. A war broke out shortly after Morocco and Mauritania’s invasion in November 1975. Spain officially withdrew from the territory on 26 February 1976 and the Sahrawi leadership proclaimed the establishment of the SADR the following day.

In 1984, the SADR was admitted as a full member of the Organisation of African Unity (now the African Union), resulting in Morocco’s decision to withdraw the same year in protest. Morocco would only (re)join the African Union (AU) in 2017. The admission of the SADR to the OAU consolidated the movement in favour of its recognition internationally, with 84 UN member states officially recognising the SADR.

In the meantime, to strengthen its colonization of the territory, Morocco had begun building what it later called “le mur de défense” (the defence wall). In August 1980, following the withdrawal of Mauritanian troops the previous year, Morocco sought to “secure” a part of the territory that Mauritania had occupied. Construction of the wall – or “berm” – was completed in 1987 with an eventual overall length of just under 2,500km.

A “coordination mission” was established in 1985 by the UN and the OAU with representatives dispatched to find a solution to the conflict between the two parties. After consultations, the joint OAU-UN mission drew up a proposal for settlement accepted by the two parties on 30 August 1988 and would later be detailed in the United Nations Secretary General’s (UNSG) report of 18 June 1990 and the UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution establishing United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO).

Since 1979 and the surrender of Mauritania, around 80% of the territory has remained under Morocco’s military and administrative occupation.

Deployment of MINURSO

The Settlement Plan agreed to in principle between Morocco and POLISARIO in August 1988 was submitted to the UNSC on 12 July 1989 and approved in 1990. On 29 April 1991, the UNSC established MINURSO in resolution 690, the terms of reference for it being set out in the UNSG’s report of 19 April 1991. The plan provided for a cease-fire, followed by the organisation of a referendum of self-determination for which the people of Western Sahara had to choose between two options: integration with Morocco or plain and simple independence.

In this regard, it provided for the creation of an Identification Commission to resolve the issue of the eligibility ofSahrawi voters for the referendum, an issue which has since generated a great deal of tension between the two parties. A Technical Commission was created by mid-1989 to implement the Plan, with a schedule based on several phases and a deployment of UN observers following the proclamation of a ceasefire.

Talks quickly began to draw up a voters list amid great differences between the parties. POLISARIO maintained that the Spanish census of 1974 was the only valid basis, with 66,925 eligible adult electors, while Morocco demanded inclusion of all the inhabitants who, as settlers, continued to populate the occupied part of the territory as well as people from southern Morocco. It was decided that the 1974 Spanish census would serve as a basis, and the parties were to propose voters for inclusion on the grounds that they were omitted from the 1974 census.

In 1991, the first list was published with around 86,000 voters. However, the process of identifying voters would be obstructed in later years, mainly by Morocco which attempted to include as many Moroccan settlers as possible. The criteria for eligibility had sometimes been modified to accommodate Morocco’s demands and concerns. Up to 180,000 applications had been filed on the part of the Kingdom, the majority of which had been rejected by the UN Commission as they did not satisfy the criteria for eligibility.

Consequently, the proclamation of “D-Day”, to mark the beginning of a twelve-week transition period following the cease-fire leading to the referendum on self-determination, kept being postponed and eventually was never declared.

The impasse

Following the rejection by Morocco of the Peace Plan for Self-Determination of the People of Western Sahara (known as Baker Plan II) and the complete suspension of UN referendum preparation activities in 2003, Morocco’s proposal for autonomy of the territory under its sovereignty in 2007 crystallised the stalemate [the Peace Plan is contained in Annex II of UNSG report S/2003/565, and available here].

The Baker Plan II had envisioned a four or five-year transitional power-sharing period between an autonomous Western Sahara Authority and the Moroccan state before the organisation of a self-determination referendum during which the entire population of the territory could vote for the status of the territory – including an option for independence. It was ‘supported’ by the UNSC in resolution S/RES/1495 and reluctantly accepted by POLISARIO but rejected by Morocco.

The absence of human rights monitoring prerogatives for MINURSO has emerged as an issue for the people of Western Sahara as a result of the stalemate in the referendum process in the last two decades. MINURSO is the only post-Cold War peacekeeping operation to be deprived of such prerogatives.

Amongst the four operations currently deployed that are totally deprived of human rights monitoring components (UNFICYP in Northern Cyprus, UNIFIL in Lebanon, UNDOF in the Israeli-Syrian sector and MINURSO), MINURSO stands out as not having attained its purpose through the organisation of a referendum. In addition, among the missions that did organise referendums (namely UNTAG in Namibia and UNAMET in East Timor), all had some sort of human rights oversight mechanism stemming from their mandates.

On 8 November 2010, a protest camp established by Sahrawis near Laayoune (capital of Western Sahara) was dismantled by the Moroccan police. The camp had been set up a month earlier in protest at the ongoing discrimination, poverty, and human rights abuses against Sahrawis. When dismantling the camp, gross human rights violations were reported – see reports by Fédération internationale des ligues des droits de l’Homme (2011) and Amnesty International (2010).

This episode revived the international community’s interest in Western Sahara and therefore strengthened the demand by Sahrawi activists to “extend the mandate of MINURSO to monitor human rights” (see Irene Fernández-Molina, “Protests under Occupation: The Spring inside Western Sahara” in Mediterranean Politics, 20:2 (2015): 235–254).

Such an extension was close to being achieved in April 2013, when an UNSC resolution draft penned by the US unprecedentedly incorporated this element, although it was eventually taken out. This failed venture remains to date the most serious attempt to add human rights monitoring mechanisms to MINURSO. Supporters of this amendment to the mandate are facing the opposition by Moroccan officials who hold that it is not the raison d’être of the mission, and it could jeopardize the negotiation process.

What’s going on now?

At the time of writing, the people of Western Sahara are yet to express the country’s right to self-determination through popular consultation or any other means agreed between the parties. The conflict therefore remains unresolved since the ceasefire and has mostly been described as “frozen” by observers.

On the ground, resistance from Sahrawi activists remain very much active. Despite the risks of arbitrary arrest, repression or even torture, the Sahrawi people living under occupation have organised themselves to ensure their voices are heard and violations are reported. Freedom House in 2021 have, yet again, in its yearly report, rated Western Sahara as one of the worst countries in the world with regards to political rights and civil liberties.

Despite a clear deterioration of the peace process over the decades, several factors have signalled a renewed interest in this protracted conflict among key actors and observers from the international community. A Special Envoy of the AU Council Chairperson for Western Sahara (Joaquim Alberto Chissano from Mozambique) was appointed by the Peace and Security Council in June 2014. This was followed by Morocco becoming a member of the AU in January 2017.

More recently, major events have begun to de-crystalise the status quo. The war resumed on 13 November 2020 following almost 30 years of ceasefire. Additionally, for the first time, a UN member state – the US – recognised Morocco’s claim to sovereignty over the territory. Former US President Trump’s declaration on 10 December 2020 to that effect was made less than a month after the resumption of armed conflict. It has not, however, been renounced by the current Biden administration. As this recognition secured Morocco’s support for Israel as per the Abrahamic Accords, reversing Donald Trump’s decision would have wider geopolitical repercussions.

In September 2021, the General Court of the European Union (GCEU) issued decisions invalidating fisheries and trade agreements between Morocco and the EU insofar as they extended to Western Sahara, rejecting Morocco’s sovereignty. This decision is the latest episode of a legal battle taking place before the European courts.

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), had previously reaffirmed the legal status of Western Sahara as a non-self-governing territory, set by the UN in 1963 following the last report transmitted by Spain – as Administering Power – on Spanish Sahara under Article 73 of the UN Charter. The Court rejected in December 2016 any claims of sovereignty by Morocco by restating the distinct statuses of both territories.

The last colony in Africa remains largely under occupation and the UN mission in place is still deprived of any kind of human rights monitoring. In the meantime, the Kingdom of Morocco has been trading away peace in the form of military accords and trade partnerships. This situation must end – with freedom, and sovereignty finally won by Western Sahara.

This article was first published by ROAPE.

Continue Reading