Kenya says it has not abandoned a decades-old policy in which it supported the African Union’s call for free self-determination of the Sahrawi people.
In a diplomatic note sent to embassies and representatives offices of international organisations in Nairobi, Kenya walked back on a controversial tweet last week in which President William Ruto appeared to end recognition of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) in favour of an autonomy offer by Morocco.
Instead, Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Macharia Kamau said Nairobi has not departed from supporting the African Union call, as well as mediation programmes under the UN, to have the people of Western Sahara decide their future.
“Kenya’s position on the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic is fully aligned with the decision of the Organization of African Unity (now African Union) to admit SADR to its membership on 22nd August 1982, and the AU Charter which calls for the unquestionable and inalienable right of a people to self-determination.
“Further, the country aligns itself with decisions of subsequent AU Assemblies of Heads of State and Government on SADR,” Kamau said in the note dated September 16.
Last week, a day after President Ruto took office, he tweeted: “Kenya rescinds its recognition of the SADR and initiates steps to wind down the entity’s presence in the country.” This was posted after he had earlier met Sahrawi President Brahim Ghali, who attended his inauguration, and later Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita.
The tweet was later deleted.
However, the President also did say that Kenya supports the United Nations framework “as the exclusive mechanism to find a lasting solution of the dispute over Western Sahara.”
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The Foreign Ministry in Kenya told embassies all formal declarations will, in future, be made only through formal diplomatic documents, not social media, in an apparent move to prevent another gaffe.
The President indicated that relations with Morocco will, nonetheless, be speeded up “in areas of trade, agriculture, health, tourism, energy, among others, for the mutual benefit of our countries.”
The announcement would have upended a decades-old policy in which African countries generally support the call for a referendum for a region claimed by Morocco as part of its territory.
The SADR has had a seat at the African Union since 1982 and had, for a long time, caused Morocco’s withdrawal from the AU, then known as the Organization of African Unity (OAU) until 2017 when Rabat returned to the bloc.
The decision means Kenya has joined the US in recognising Morocco against SADR but it is the only African country to do so publicly.
During Uhuru Kenyatta’s presidency, Kenya’s policy was to side with SADR. When Kenya’s then Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed ran for the Chairperson of the African Union Commission in 2017, she visited the SADR government in Algeria. That decision is said to have disadvantaged her as Morocco mounted a lobbying against her quest for AU chair.
Western Sahara has been claimed by Morocco since 1975. And Kenya had argued that the boundaries of Western Sahara as vacated by the Spanish colonialists should be left unchanged.
Initially occupied by the Spanish, the Western Sahara was claimed by both Mauritania and Morocco. Mauritania later dropped its claim, leaving Rabat to call the region as its Southern Provinces.
In 1979, the UN General Assembly passed Resolution A / RES / 34/37 which provided “the unequal rights of Western Sahara people in their own discretion and liberty, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations, the Charter of the Organization of the African Unity and the purposes of the General Assembly.”
The dispute between the two sides had been floated in the UN systems, including at the International Court of Justice. But a referendum meant to determine the future of the region is yet to be organised as both sides disagree on who should participate.