Anatomy of a Stalemate?
By Erik Jensen
Responding to the changes that have taken place since the first edition of the book, the second edition of this valuable work, on this ongoing conflict that has bedeviled Maghrebi politics and relations, takes the issue up to the present and looks ahead at what scenario could take place in future. It explores historical events that explain the current political and diplomatic attempts to resolve the issue at the United Nations and the various proposals by the conflicting parties.
Erik Jenson was head of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) for five years and had an exclusive insight into the working of the peace process in a sensitive and important part of North-West Africa. He gives a thorough and detailed explanation of the different contentious stages of the attempted resolution of this conflict since its inception in 1975 when Spain ceded the territory to Morocco and the Polisario Front contested the take over and launched a guerrilla war against Morocco from its base in Tindouf, south-west Algeria.
Being a consummate diplomat, Jenson has carefully avoided providing an opinion on the conflicting parties or who was at fault and went to a great length to preserve his professional credibility and impartiality in a complex political environment. His accurate account of various incidents, tergiversations and successive events as well as arguments is well documented and up to date.
The book provides a good description of historical, diplomatic and political background to the conflict especially during the cold war when the West was more supportive of Morocco and the Soviet bloc more sympathetic to the Polisario. It also explains the failure of the Organisation of African Unity (now African Union) to address the issue and how it came about to figure prominently at the UN and the different stages it went through to reach the current stalemate despite attempts by the UN Security Council to find ways of accommodating the conflicting parties. Following recent constitutional reforms in Morocco, the issue needs an urgent compromise to create a more favourable climate to resumption of normal relations between Morocco and Algeria, North Africa’s powerful neighbours. The prevailing situation continues to present a serious impediment to peace, security and stability to the North-West Africa region increasingly threatened by terrorist activities, arms smuggling, abduction of foreigners for ransom and lawlessness in the Sahel. And as the author pointed out, “James Baker and Kofi Annan when he was UN Secretary General both subscribed to the view that self-determination can be exercised in different ways. The end is what counts“.
This is a valuable book with incisive analysis on the Western Sahara imbroglio to benefit students of international affairs, academics, journalists and diplomats interested in one of the most intractable problems of the twenty-first century.
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