Kenya: Ruto Commits to UN Framework on the Resolution of Dispute Over Sahrawi

Nairobi — President William Ruto has reiterated Kenya’s commitment to UN-led efforts towards the amicable resolution of the dispute over Sahrawi, a partially recognized State agitating for independence from Morocco.

The development on Wednesday came hours after Ruto’s administration announced that it would rescind Kenya’s recognition of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) further committing to “initiate steps to wind down the entity’s presence in the country.”

President Ruto made the comment after receiving a message from Morocco’s King Mohammed VI.

Ruto’s announcement caused mixed reactions from foreign-policy analysts with a senior official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who declined to be named, saying the announcement “came as a bit of a surprise.”

State House later retracted part of a twitter thread on the matter only maintaining its commitment to the UN framework.

“Kenya supports the United Nations framework as the exclusive mechanism to find a lasting solution of the dispute over Western Sahara,” Ruto’s tweet read.

Kenya is among 41 UN member states which recognize Sahrawi and has been at the forefront championing for the de-escalation of the conflict between Sahrawi and Morocco.

Sahrawi’s leader Brahim Ghali even attended Ruto’s inauguration on Tuesday is his capacity as SADR’s President.

Sahrawi Republic has been seeking to transition form a semi-autonomous region to self-rule, a push that Morocco has vehemently objected opposing proposals for Western Sahara to decide its future through a referendum.

Talks on the matter have not yielded much consensus in the past despite Morocco having committed to open dialogue following its readmission to the African Union (AU) in January 2017 after a 33-year absence to protest the recognition of Western Sahara.

The UN Mission for the Referendum on Western Sahara (MINURSO), the United Nations framework on Sahrawi, has been renewed at least twice amid sustained efforts to build consensus between Sahrawi and Morocco.

The latest extension of MINURSO’s mandate was announced in October 2021 when the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) renewed the mission’s tenure for a year-long period lapsing on October 31, 2022.

The UNSC resolution received 13 votes in favor and two abstentions from Russia and Tunisia.

The Western Sahara question has threatened to destabilize the Kenya-Morocco ties in the past, the most significant incident occurring when Western Sahara opened an embassy in Kenya in February 2014.

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Kenya was also forced to issue a clarification in April 2021 after Ruto reportedly endorsed Sahrawi’s bid during a private audience with El Mokhtar Ghambou, Morocco’s Ambassador to Kenya.

According to the Moroccan envoy, Ruto had maintained during the said meeting that Kenya should remain impartial and support a UN peace initiative on the matter.

“Kenya should never give up its neutrality and should rather work directly with the UN to support the peace process on the Sahara issue,” the envoy quoted Ruto as saying.

“As a non-permanent member of the Security Council, it is in Kenya’s interest to support the UN peace process regarding the Sahara issue in compliance with the Heads of States Decision 693.”

Amb Ken Osinde, then Chief of Staff in the Office of the Deputy President, subsequently wrote to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs refuting the claims published by Moroccan agencies and a number of regional news outlets amid simmering tension.

“It has come to our attention that on 24th March 2021, through an article published in a Moroccan news agency MAP, that certain claims were attributed to the Deputy President. These claims were repeated during a TV interview on 26th March 2021…

Note that the clip played during the interview is from a different event attended by the Deputy President and has nothing to do with the claims made by the Ambassador,” Osinde explained in a letter addressed to Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Raychelle Omamo.

“This communication is to inform you that these claims are false and urge the Ministry to deal with the matter in accordance with Government Protocol,” he appealed.

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