C24: M’hamed Abba Highlights All-out Development in Moroccan Sahara

M’hamed Abba, elected member of the Regional Council of Laâyoune Sakia El Hamra highlighted, before the United Nations Committee of 24 (C-24), the large-scale social and economic development underway in the Southern provinces of Morocco under the leadership of His Majesty King Mohammed VI. “The Moroccan Sahara has become a prosperous and fast-developing region thanks to the massive investments made by the Kingdom of Morocco”, since the recovery of its territorial integrity in 1975, underlined Abba who participates in the C24 Caribbean Seminar held in Caracas, Venezuela, at the invitation of the Committee’s Chairwoman, as a democratically elected representative of the Moroccan Sahara region. He said that the development in the Moroccan Sahara further accelerated with the launch by His Majesty King Mohammed VI of The New Development Model for Southern provinces, in 2015, explaining that this model is a mechanism for the application and acceleration of advanced regionalization, which aims to ensure democratic governance and integrated sustainable human development in line with the specificities of the Sahara region and in full conformity with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.  The model is implemented within the framework of a comprehensive and integrated national development strategy, which aims to improve the living conditions of local populations and carry out major infrastructure projects, in order to ensure a real take-off of the region, he pointed out, adding that through the New Development Model, more than USD $ 10 billion were invested in major projects in the fields of infrastructure, health, education, training, industry, agriculture, renewable energy and fishing. Today, the projects’ completion rate exceeds 80%. Concerning Laâyoune Sakia Al Hamra region, Abba reported that nearly 29.12 billion MAD were invested for the implementation of 90 projects in support of production sectors, such as phosphates, agriculture, aquaculture, industry, renewable energy, marine fisheries and ecotourism. These projects include, among others, the realization of a hydro-agricultural development project on an area of 1,000 ha promoting plant and animal production in the province of Boujdour, the solar power plants Noor Laâyoune (1) and Noor Boujdour (1) with a total capacity of 100 megawatts, several wind power generation fields in Tarfaya (300 megawatts), Foum El Oued (50 megawatts), and Akhfennir (100 megawatts), as well as a new industrial complex for the production of fertilizer, and a desalination of sea water plant completed in October 2022 with an overall production capacity of 26,000 m3 of drinking water per day, the speaker specified. The structuring projects that aim to consolidate the competitiveness and attractiveness of the region, also include a Technopole in Foum El Oued (2 billion MAD) which houses the multidisciplinary University Mohammed VI of Lâayoune, a high school of excellence and a skills and qualification center. In addition to the first medical school in the Southern Provinces (257 million MAD) and a University Hospital Center (1.2 billion MAD) with a capacity of 500 beds. The development of the Dakhla Oued Eddahab region also continues apace, he underlined, noting that the region’s Council is overseeing a number of structuring projects that have been launched or are underway, with a total budget of 4, 63 billion dirhams. These projects cover the health, transport and logistics, industry and commerce, housing, sustainable development and basic infrastructure sectors. Other fields also include schooling, health, vocational training and support for the region’s communes. M’hamed Abba also said that the impact of the projects on the living conditions of the local population is very encouraging and promising, recalling that in 1975, the Human development indicators in the Moroccan Sahara region were 6% lower than in the northern regions of Morocco.  Today, the indicators far exceed the average in the other regions of the Kingdom. In 2021, the annual growth rate in Laâyoune Sakia El Hamra was at 10.9%, much higher than the national average. In addition, GDP per capita in the Moroccan Sahara is 1.6 times greater than the national average, and household consumption is at least 8% above the average level across Morocco. It totalizes 52,301 MAD per capita in the city of Dakhla and 27,442 in the city of Laâyoune, he explained. The speaker further noted that the implementation of these comprehensive structuring projects in the Moroccan Sahara allowed for a more balanced development, strengthening the socio-economic attractiveness of the region and consolidating its strategic positioning as a bridge between Northern and sub-Saharan Africa. He recalled the Royal Address commemorating the 48th anniversary of the Green March, in which His Majesty King Mohammed VI emphasized the need to strengthen the Atlantic façade as a space of human communion and a pole of economic integration and trade, in the interest of all States of the region and beyond, through a win-win approach. This objective is pursued through the three Royal Initiatives spearheaded by the Kingdom of Morocco, namely the Morocco-Nigeria Gas Pipeline, the African Atlantic Initiative and the Initiative to promote access to the Atlantic for Sahel countries, he specified, adding that thanks to its dynamism and booming development, the Moroccan Sahara will play a key role in this regard, as a platform for security, stability and co-development in Africa, the Atlantic and beyond, as well as a hub and gateway to Africa for Europe and the Americas. Furthermore, Abba pointed out that the New Dakhla Atlantic Port (NDAP) on which construction began on October 2021 and will be achieved in 2028, will support regional economic, social and industrial development in all productive sectors and also provide the Kingdom’s southern provinces with modern, scalable logistics tool to match their development ambitions, in addition to enhancing the value of maritime  fishing products. With a total investment of 10 billion DH (around 1 billion USD), the New Dakhla Atlantic Port, located on the N’tireft site, 40 km north of Dakhla, will include a 270-hectare industrial zone, including around 60 hectares dedicated to various industrial, administrative and storage activities, as well as a 13-hectare free zone. With the establishment of an industrial-logistics zone, an area dedicated to trade and a section devoted to the development of the sea-fishing industry, Dakhla Port will place southern provinces in the network of international shipping lanes and will allow the southern provinces to be a regional hub for investment, logistics and international trade, particularly with the African continent, he said. For him, the infrastructure of the ports of Laâyoune (town of El Marsa), Tarfaya and Boujdour has been reinforced to give a strong boost to economic activities in the region, in addition to the creation of a new port in Tarfaya. This integrated project, for which a budget of almost 379 million DH has been earmarked, is part of the Halieutis Plan and the National Plan for the Development of Coastal Fishing Activities, he recalled. The elected member of the Moroccan Sahara indicated that by the end of October 2023, the Tiznit-Dakhla expressway had progressed by over 90%. This road project, an integral part of the development program for the southern provinces initiated in November 2015, required an investment of 10 billion dirhams. It covers 1,055 kilometers and is divided into two sections: The first segment, linking Tiznit to Laâyoune, has been converted into an expressway, while the Laâyoune-Dakhla section has been widened and strengthened, he noted, pointing out that these infrastructures will be made accessible to African nations to support their development, reflecting Morocco’s commitment to mutually beneficial cooperation aimed at shared prosperity. He also underlined that the population of the Moroccan Sahara region enjoy the same rights and exercise the same freedoms as any other Moroccan citizen, adding that the civil society exercises its activities in various areas of economic and socio-cultural development with complete freedom and without any restrictions. The number of associations operating in the southern provinces has increased to more than 7997 associations. Furthermore, the population of the Moroccan Sahara region actively participates in the establishment of national policies dealing with the management and exploitation of national resources, through our representatives in Parliament and the elected authorities at local and regional level, he pursued before the members of the C24. The speaker further underlined that the Moroccan Sahara has been able to produce political elites at the level of national institutions, regional councils and provincial councils, as well as through the participation of the elites in the activities of political parties. It should be noted that all the elected presidents and members of the regional and local councils in the Moroccan Sahara are native to the region, reinforcing the management by the population of the Moroccan Sahara of their local affairs, he pointed out. “We are the only representatives of the Moroccan Sahara population who enjoy democratic legitimacy, unlike a minority who illusorily and without the slightest legal basis attempt to proclaim themselves representative of these populations”, he explained. In this respect, he recalled that during the last general elections held on 8 September 2021, the voter’s turnout in the Sahara region reached 66.94% for Laâyoune Sakia El Hamra and 58.30% for Dakhla Oued Eddahab, the highest at the national level, adding that these elections took place under democratic conditions and were monitored and observed, in complete independence and neutrality by 5020 national and international observers. “The turnout figures in the Southern provinces are an explicit plebiscite of the local population of their Moroccan identity and their commitment to the democratic process. It is also the most obvious disavowal of +polisario’s+ chimeras concerning its representativeness”, he underlined, noting that the armed separatist movement “polisario” enjoys no legal, popular or democratic legitimacy to claim to represent the population of the Moroccan Sahara. Speaking of the “catastrophic” situation prevailing in the Tindouf camps, he said that “our brothers and sisters are deprived of their basic rights and are considered as a commercial fund used by the armed group of +polisario+ and the host country for the purposes of enrichment, via the diversion of humanitarian aid”. “The humanitarian situation in the Tindouf camps, is a one of despair and inaction which lasted for nearly 50 years and is a threat to the stability of the whole region”, he deplored, noting that the systematic diversion of humanitarian aid intended for the population of the Tindouf camps was once again confirmed by the report of the World Food Programme (WFP). M’hamed Abba further recalled that all Security Council resolutions, since 2011, have called on the host country of Tindouf camps to authorize the census of the populations of these camps, in accordance with international humanitarian law. “+Polisario+ and the host country of Tindouf camps have a moral and legal responsibility to stop exploiting the misery of our brothers and sisters sequestered in these camps, using them as a lucrative business, even though it is spending colossal sums to maintain the lifestyle luxury of a handful of +polisario+ leaders and providing them with the latest generation of military equipment”, he denounced. The speaker appealed to the international community to demand that the host country Algeria and “polisario” respect their obligations under international humanitarian law to put an end to the situation of lawlessness that exist in Tindouf camps, allowing a dignified return of our brothers and sisters sequestrated in these camps to their homeland Morocco. The elected member of the Moroccan Sahara also recalled that the Kingdom presented to the UN Secretary-General in 2007, the Moroccan autonomy plan, noting that through this initiative, Morocco guarantees to the population of the region the possibility of democratically running their affairs through legislative, executive and legal bodies. “Morocco’s Autonomy Plan for Moroccan Sahara is defined by respect for modern democratic society, the rule of law, cultural and social identities, individual and collective liberties, and socioeconomic development”, he explained, specifying that this initiative, based on compromise and qualified by the UN Security Council as “serious and credible”, is in full conformity with international law, the UN charter and the resolutions of both the General Assembly and the Security Council. This plan was developed in a participatory process through a large national consultation involving the local population of the Sahara region and political parties, as well as consultations at regional and international levels, he pointed out, adding that Morocco’s credible and serious plan for autonomy has received heavyweight support from more than 107 countries. Furthermore, around 30 countries and regional organizations opened general consulates in the cities of Laâyoune and Dakhla, marking the irreversible dynamic of the moroccanness of the Sahara, he added. “This is a major and foreground development illustrating the absence of any other solution to the question of the Moroccan Sahara than within the framework of the Moroccan Sovereignty and territorial integrity”, he stressed, warning that the status quo “leaves the door open to security risks including violence, extremism, human trafficking and economic exploitation”. He concluded by saying that the international community must call the other parties to engage in the UN political process held under the auspices of the Secretary-General without preconditions and in good faith, with a view to achieving a realistic, practicable, enduring and compromise political solution to this regional dispute, put an end to the suffering of the populations in Tindouf camps and stop hindering the progress of the whole region.