Diplomatic Daybreak

By Jackson Foltz

Of all of the sociopolitical issues that grip the North African region, it is the issue of women’s rights that has rooted itself as a recurrent focal point of the Moroccan civil discourse. However, even from amidst the plight that faces the women of Morocco and their long-term pursuit of an egalitarian standing—a pursuit that has been stymied by rape cases in which the victim is left exposed to social ostracism—a new theme seems to have achieved play within the international cycle. Diplomacy is having its day once again for Morocco, as it is for several other North African states.

At no time was this wave of diplomatic developments more visible than in the recent announcement that Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania and the Polisario Front have agreed to reconvene this December in pursuit of a peace settlement regarding the Western Sahara. The subject has seen at least five years of down time since the last round of UN-brokered talks in 2012, a period throughout which an eight-hundred-member peacekeeping mission has remained across the territory.

Despite the lull between meetings, previous failures to reach an agreement motivate skepticism that the talks will achieve a referendum or declaration of independence. The only notable development since the last round came in 2016, with the death of former Polisario Front and Sahara Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) President Mohamed Abdelaziz Ezzedine, though this is unlikely to motivate a change in accommodations that may be deemed agreeable by all parties.  

Indeed, the regional dynamic that is Algerian support for the SADR remains salient, and it is not without great compromise that the former would concede this geopolitical pawn. The versatility of the SADR as both a cloak for the weakness of the Algerian economy as well as a check on Moroccan regional power is too valuable for Algiers to quietly part with. Nevertheless, Algiers’ firmness is not uninfluenced by the variable of time, as waiting too long to settle with Morocco could mean losing the sovereignty that determines their seat at the table in the first place.           

Nearby Tunisia has also participated in the diplomatic season, accompanying Morocco to the recent German Group of 20 program that encourages private investment in Africa. For a continent projected to double its economy in size by 2050, the implementation of these efforts cannot come soon enough. 

Retaining this dynamic of time sensitivity, recent conversations amongst young African leaders provide additional evidence of new diplomatic beginnings. In particular, a generational critique of Pan-Africanism has led young Africans to identify professionalism in international relations and the domestic cultivation of a sense of community as forefront concerns. On this latter point, the 15th Andalusian Atlantics Festival in the coastal Moroccan city of Essaouira—part of a trend dubbed by some as an urban renaissance—bears witness to the effectiveness of interfaith cooperation as has been advocated for by the maturing Africans who long for a new norm in relations.

If nothing else, these developments may be understood as conciliatory to the resident diplomats that have maintained hope in cooperation despite rejections and divisions. Their resilience is not in vain—a new dawn in the Westernmost Kingdom of Africa arises.

Jackson Foltz is a junior at the University of Pennsylvania, where he is majoring in International Relations