CW 47/2020: In a dead end?
Press Review 14 November 2020 to 20 November 2020

Another war over Western Sahara?

After Morocco carried out a military operation last Friday in the south of Western Sahara near the Guerguerat border crossing, the independence movement Frente Polisario (Polisario Front) accused Morocco of breaking the 1991 cease-fire agreement and considers it to be null and void. The conflict between Morocco and the Polisario Front over the territory of Western Sahara goes back decades. While Morocco claims Western Sahara as part of its territory, the Polisario demands complete independence of the territory. The implementation of the operation, which according to the Moroccan authorities was aimed at unblocking the major thoroughfare to Mauritania, has reignited the conflict.  The Secretary General of Polisario, Mr Brahim Ghali, declared his intention to resume the armed struggle. UN spokespersons confirmed that there had been exchanges of fire at various locations along the approximately 2700 km long sand wall. Since the colonial power Spain had withdrawn from Western Sahara in 1975 and Morocco had invaded, the territory has been contested or disputed. Under UN mediation, a ceasefire was reached in 1991 between the Moroccan government and Polisario, to be followed by a referendum on the affiliation  of Western Sahara. However, Morocco and Polisario have not been able to agree on a common framework for the voting process until today.  While Morocco today declares the idea of a referendum obsolete and refers to its autonomy plan presented in 2007 as the best way forward, Polisario continues to call for the holding of a referendum to realise the right of self-determination of the Saharawi people. The last UN envoy to Western Sahara to date, former German President Horst Köhler, had resigned his mandate in May 2019 for health reasons without a successor having been appointed.  Josep Borell, EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, stressed the importance of the ceasefire agreement and, following his meeting with Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita last Sunday, called on the conflict parties to resume the peace process as soon as possible. The German Foreign Office also issued a press release calling for the revival of the peace process.


Zambia suspends debt repayments

Zambia can no longer pay part of its debts. This was confirmed by Zambian Finance Minister Bwalya Ng’andu last Saturday. Zambia is thus the first African country to be at least partially insolvent due to the Corona crisis. As early as mid-October, Zambia would have had to pay 42.5 million dollars (36.2 million euros) in annual interest payments, but was able to negotiate a delay of one month with its international creditors. Finally, last Friday, the Zambian Ministry of Finance announced that the creditors had rejected a new request to suspend interest payments for another six months until 14 April 2021. However, this only concerns Zambia’s debts to private creditors. In the context of the DSSI debt relief initiative, the members of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the G20 had already agreed on a six-month moratorium in spring 2020.  In October this was extended until April 2021. However, public debt with private creditors is not covered by the moratorium and it is precisely these Eurobonds held by private creditors that the government was now unable to service. Zambia had recently got into financial difficulties due to high expenditures to fight the Corona pandemic and the collapsed demand for raw materials on the world market – Zambia is one of the world’s largest copper producers. The World Bank expects Zambia’s economic output to decline by 4.5% this year. In addition, according to Standard & Poor’s, the Southeast African country is said to have borrowed more than three billion dollars from Chinese lenders such as the China ExIm Bank and the China Development Bank. The Financial Times and the South African newspaper Mail&Guardian, among others, fear that Zambia could now come under increasing competition between China and Western countries for spheres of influence on the African continent. In a press release on Thursday, the international NGO ActionAid Zambia called for further efforts bythe government to include private creditors in the six-month moratorium of the IMF, World Bank and the G20. At the same time, the government needed to be more responsive to creditors, openly present Chinese loans and present a clear strategy for debt management.


On another note

The Ethiopian-American writer Maaza Mengiste, author of “The Shadow King“, and the Zimbabwean Tsitsi Dangarembga, who wrote the novel “This Mournable Body“, made the shortlist for the Booker Prize 2020. The nomination of African writers is a historic premiere for the UK’s most prestigious literature prize and is therefore considered an important impulse for all writers on the African continent. The nomination of the two women was celebrated in the African literary scene. The Booker Prize 2020 for Fiction is open to writers of any nationality who write in English and have published their works in Great Britain or Ireland between 1 October 2019 and 30 September 2020.

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