On a recent casual dinner conversation with one of my new West Saharan acquaintances in Dar es Salaam, I jokingly quizzed him on whether or not he would be on the side of Morocco’s football national team, supporting them in their FIFA semi-finals against France.
His response to my question was instinctively and characteristically one of unequivocal rebuke: he will never, at any one point, support Morocco on anything, until such time when Morocco unconditionally granted independence to his dear country, famously known as Sahrawi.
After taking time to visit social media platforms on Sahrawians’ responses to Morocco’s qualifications for the 2022 World Cup Semi-Finals in Qatar, I immediately realized that his answer did apparently mirror a majority of his people’s sentiments elsewhere.
Football is a very sentimental game that arouses deep-seated senses and passions of nationalism or even racism. On a positive note, it could also prove to be a powerful tool for and symbol of peace and reconciliation, if purposefully used to that end.
However, those who have a clear understanding of the colonial history of the Moroccan occupation of Sahrawi will certainly appreciate the Sahrawians position on Morocco’s current successes in the FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
There is absolutely no denying that Morocco’s occupation of Sahrawi is indeed an illegal occupation that must be consistently resisted by and through all means necessary, especially, by all those who stand for freedom, peace, self-determination and democracy.
Morocco’s colonial occupation of Sahrawi is consequently no different from other colonial occupations elsewhere. The only interesting difference is that this colonial occupation is an occupation of one Arab-African nation by another Arab-African nation!
Morocco has claimed authority over Western Sahara since 1975 after the Spanish colonialists left, but the United Nations does not recognize Moroccan control, calling Western Sahara a “non-self-governing territory.”
Morocco controls the most populous area along the Atlantic coastline, more than three-quarters of the territory.
While the UN brokered a cease-fire in 1991, a long-promised referendum on the territory’s status is yet to be held. The Moroccan-controlled area, which Rabat calls its “Southern Provinces,” is represented in the Moroccan parliament.
However, civil liberties are severely restricted, particularly as they relate to independence activism.
Another recent key setback in the Sahrawi people’s struggle for self-determination was the US government’s December 2020 hypocritical recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over Sahrawi.
This is very much in sharp contrast with the current US government’s denunciation of Russia’s invasion and occupation of some large swaths of Ukrainian eastern territories, referring to it as a blatant violation of international law and the sovereignty of an independent country.
Also, FIFA and other global sporting bodies were so quick to denounce and ban Russia from participating in international sporting events for invading and occupying Ukraine.
However, they do not see it fitting to do the same against Morocco, whose colonial occupation of Sahrawi is clearly in violation of a rules-based international order.
I commend the African Union and a number of other African countries, including Tanzania, for their continued support of the Sahrawi people’s struggle and their quest for independence and self-determination.
Let Morocco’s unheralded and yet deserved success in this year’s FIFA World Cup in Qatar, serve as a stark reminder to the world that the country is still the only remaining colonial power in Africa, occupying as it illegally does, Western Sahara, and that, that must stop.
John Kitoka is a Dar es Salaam-based analyst of international affairs. He can be reached on +255 755 622697 or email@example.com. These are the writer’s own opinions and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of The Chanzo Initiative. Do you want to publish in this space? Contact our editors at firstname.lastname@example.org for further inquiries.