DIPLOMACY

Ruto dismisses Morocco envoy's claims he backs autonomy plan

The Western Sahara matter has been a contentious diplomatic issue between Kenya, Morocco

In Summary
  • In a letter seen by the Star to Foreign Affairs CS, Ruto says the claims are false, and urges the ministry to deal with the matter in accordance with government protocol.
  •  In an article by Map News, Ruto is quoted as saying “the autonomy plan under Moroccan sovereignty in the southern provinces ‘is the best solution to the Sahara issue’”.
Morocco Ambassador to Kenya EL Mokhtar Ghambou and Deputy President William Ruto at a past meeting at the envoy's residence in Nairobi
Morocco Ambassador to Kenya EL Mokhtar Ghambou and Deputy President William Ruto at a past meeting at the envoy's residence in Nairobi
Image: HANDOUT / MAP NEWS

Deputy President William Ruto has dismissed claims made by Morocco Ambassador to Kenya that he supports the autonomy plan as the best solution to the Moroccan-Sahara issue.

In a letter seen by the Star to Foreign Affairs CS Raychelle Omamo, Ruto, through Chief of Staff Ambassador Ken Osinde, says the claims are false, and urges the ministry to deal with the matter in accordance with government protocol.

“It has come to my attention that on  March 24, 2021 through an article published in a Moroccan news agency MAP, that certain claims were attributed to H.E the Deputy President. These claims were again repeated during a TV interview on  March 26, 2021 between MEDI Channel 1 TV and Ambassador of the Kingdom of Morocco to Kenya, EL Mokhtar Ghambou.”

“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 writes in the letter dated April 12.

The DP said Kenya will continue backing the independence of the Sahrawi republic, clarifying that there were no divisions in the country’s top leadership on the contentious issue.

In the article by Map News, Ruto is quoted as saying “the autonomy plan under Moroccan sovereignty in the southern provinces is the best solution to the Sahara issue”.

"I declare as Vice-President of Kenya that the Autonomy Plan under Moroccan sovereignty is the best solution to the Sahara issue," the agency reported, saying Ruto made the remarks when he visited Ambassador Ghambou at his residence in Nairobi.

The news agency also reported that the DP said "the representation of the Polisario (a rebel national liberation movement by the Sahrawi—people of the Sahara—aiming to take control of the Western Sahara) in Nairobi makes no sense".

“According to Ruto, ‘the conflict over the Sahara is only an excuse to allow Algeria to continue squandering the wealth of its people on lost causes," adding that "the creation of a separatist state in South of Morocco is only a fantasy nourished by those who do not like peace, unity and prosperity for African countries,” MAP News said.

In the virtual interview with Medi1 News, the envoy repeats the same remarks, saying the statements from “the most prominent candidate in the presidential elections in Kenya scheduled for next year falls within the context of renewed African and international support for the kingdom's full sovereignty over the Sahara”.

Moroccan embassy said on Tuesday it is yet to receive any communication from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“The embassy will be glad to respond if the Ministry of Foreign Affairs can furnish us with further details. Meanwhile we will allow protocol to take its course,” the embassy said.

It, however, confirmed that Ruto made a courtesy visit to the ambassador’s residence where they spoke about various issues of mutual benefit to the two countries.

“As part of his diplomatic duty, his excellency the ambassador also extended an invitation to the Deputy President of the Republic of Kenya to visit Morocco as part of efforts to strengthening the ties between the two countries,” the embassy said.

The Star on Friday also published a story headlined “Uhuru, Ruto divided on Western Sahara question” based on the said meeting between Ruto and the Moroccan envoy.

While President Uhuru Kenyatta—as AU Peace and Security Council chair in March —stood with the continental body’s recognition of Western Sahara, comments allegedly made by Ruto departed from the position.

Regarding the AUPSC, MAP News quoted Ruto as saying, "Instead of causing unnecessary conflicts and divisions within the African Union, this pan-African body must ensure that the territorial integrity of the 54 members is respected according to the AU charter which prohibits interference in the internal affairs of sovereign countries".

Ambassador Ghambou has said Morocco was disappointed by the position taken by Kenya at the last PSC of the AU, saying it "goes against that expressed by several governors of counties and some senior officials of Kenya” instead calling on the government “to support the peace process led under the aegis of the United Nations to achieve a solution to the Sahara issue".

Among the senior officials Ambassador Ghambou has met include National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi, Devolution CS Eugene Wamalwa and his Tourism counterpart Najib Balala. He also paid a courtesy call on the Defence and Foreign Relations committee at Parliament Buildings on February 9.

Mandera North MP Bashir Abdullahi said they discussed bilateral and economic relations and strengthening parliamentary diplomacy.

In January this year, Ghambou urged Kenya to support the Moroccan Autonomy Plan in Western Sahara — which suggests making the territory a semi-autonomous region.

He also met ODM leader Raila Odinga in February.

Raila, who is also the AU Special Infrastructure envoy, said Morocco is an important country that can be a development reference for Kenya and for all of Africa, and that it has all the means to help Nairobi achieve its national development agenda.

But the Western Sahara issue has been a contentious diplomatic issue between Kenya and Morocco.

Rabat recalled its ambassador to Kenya for consultations over the matter in June 2005, saying “strongly deplores the unjustified and unjustifiable decision announced by Kenya to recognise the pseudo RASD (Saharwi Arab Democratic Republic) and to establish with it so-called diplomatic relations".

In February 2014, there was another diplomatic tiff after Western Sahara opened a mission in Nairobi. Then Senate Speaker Ekwe Ethuro had to visit Morocco to calm the tensions. 

-Edited by SKanyara