On counterproductive solidarity

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afrol News editorial, 7 September - afrol News has recently in public been termed a mouthpiece of Morocco's Makhzen oligarchy by parts of the international solidarity network for the Sahrawi people for reporting on evidence that Moroccan prisoners of war have been tortured by Sahrawi officials.

The harshest critique against afrol News came from a Spanish online newsletter, 'Sahara Info', redistributing Western Sahara related articles from the international press. Additionally, the newsletter's editors spice up the work of independent journalists with expressive comments like "LIES!", to give their readers a proper possibility to make up their own minds.

'Sahara Info' for years has redistributed (without any permission) afrol news articles on Western Sahara, Morocco, Algeria and Mauritania. As our news agency's coverage of the conflict usually has been noted as pro-Sahrawi - although we have worked hard to maintain an independent and balanced view - this and several other pro-Sahara newsletters always have been quick to redistribute our copy.

Recently, an inquiry by the highly regarded French organisation Fondation France Libertés has caused shock and disbelief in the international pro-Sahara movement. The foundation earlier has documented Moroccan human rights violations against Sahrawis, until now financed several projects in the Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria and supports Western Sahara's right to choose independence.

France Libertés therefore always has been known for its integrity and thorough work. Last month, however, the foundation stuck to its high moral standards and published an inquiry, which must have caused great pain for its authors. They had found overwhelming evidence of executions, torture and ill-treatment of Moroccan prisoners of war, which - disregarding international law - have endured decades in the Sahrawi camps.

The inquiry - which is bound to have errors, like any inquiry - was sufficiently thorough and came from a sufficiently respected source. It could therefore not be overlooked as the usual Moroccan propaganda. This position was shared by the independent press and by a substantial part of the pro-Sahrawi movement. Although the report was painful reading for all Western Sahara activists, many have already urged Sahrawi authorities to take action.

afrol News last week published an unvarnished and large article on the France Libertés inquiry and on reactions in the solidarity movement. No details were spared and the inquiry was presented as absolutely trustworthy. On earlier occasions, afrol News has reported on human rights abuses in Morocco, which have been published on a much narrower source basis (individual victims, pro-Sahrawi groups, etc).

This article - where the solidarity movement had been given its fair chance to comment the inquiry - was later redistributed by 'Sahara Info', placed under the category of "Lies from the Makhzen" - i.e. terming afrol News a Moroccan propaganda mouthpiece. After demanding a public excuse from 'Sahara Info', the newsletter has published a note saying that afrol News was not considered a Moroccan mouthpiece but that France Libertés indeed was. Therefore, the afrol News article would remain under the category "Lies from the Makhzen".

We at afrol News defend the right of free opinion and therefore also Sahara Info's right to term us and France Libertés a Moroccan mouthpiece. We however doubt that these elements of the solidarity movement are making a productive contribution to the freedom of the Sahrawi people using this rhetoric.

Throughout the history of solidarity work, there have always developed sectarian elements, believing in "the cause" and caring less about the corpses on the road to fulfilment. One may recall the communist movement's uncritical support of the murderous regime in Kampuchea in the 1970s or - more recently - unabated support for the Castro regime in Cuba by sectarians unwilling to criticise human rights violation when they are not committed by the United States.

This kind of sectarianism never has helped "the people" these individuals claim to defend, and, on the longer run, not even "the cause" they claim to fight for. This uncritical support only alienates the general public - which has a greater intellectual capacity than these individuals think - and it often causes the movement to develop authoritarian leaders.

For the Sahrawi, on the other hand, it is time to be able to freely choose their future. This includes that the international community must facilitate the promised referendum on independence, but it also means that within the camps, one needs to look at the structures of democracy and transparency.

The Sahrawi leadership is impressingly democratic given the physical circumstances - i.e. being an exiled government confined to a refugee camp. Nonetheless, Sahrawis and their government urgently need democratic training before they can create a democratic Western Sahara.

This includes critical investigations into the doings of their leaders, which is best done by an independent press, still completely missing in the camps. With a truly independent press, pressuring government, those scandalous findings by France Libertés would probably have been avoided. The last thing Sahrawis need is the kind of censorship advocated by organs like 'Sahara Info'.

By afrol News editor

Rainer Chr. Hennig

Published with the kind permission of afrol News

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