Kenya revokes its support for Western Sahara independence, pleases Morocco

Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita (L) and Kenya's President William Ruto. Photo: Twitter/@WilliamsRuto

Hours after his swear-in ceremony, William Ruto, Kenya’s new president, upended the country’s decades-long policy of siding with the African Union on Western Sahara’s independence by revoking Nairobi’s support on Wednesday.

With a new man in Kenya’s presidential chair, things are moving up for Morocco and its ultimate goal, namely, garnering support for its claims to Western Sahara while simultaneously disenfranchising its enemy, the Polisario Front. Rabat has gained a major foothold in one of the largest economies in the East African Community, extricating a statement from its State House that revoked the republic’s support for the Polisario-run Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) that has been partially recognised in the international arena by 41 UN countries.

Now with Kenya withdrawing its support, the number dropped to 40. The major paradigm shift took place in the wake of Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita delivering a congratulatory message from King Mohammed VI to Mr Ruto. In a somewhat brazen way, the announcement was made a day after the leader of Polisario and SADR Brahim Ghali attended Mr Ruto’s inauguration at Kasarani and whose presence, not the Moroccan Foreign Minister’s, was recognised by the new president before he gave his speech to a gathering.

“Out of respect for the principle of territorial integrity and non-interference, Kenya gives its full support to the serious and credible autonomy plan proposed by the Kingdom of Morocco, as a unique solution based on the territorial integrity of Morocco” aimed at resolving this dispute, read the statement.

This is a telling move by William Ruto, Kenya’s latest President who was sworn in just over 48 hours ago. Nairobi has decided to pick its ally in a drawn-out international quarrel that has seen European actors such as Germany, the Netherlands, France and Spain switching their support for the cause. In the case of Spain, which initially sided with Polisario and its leader Brahim Ghali, it made an abrupt U-turn in its take on the matter in early 2022, backing Morocco’s plan to grant Western Sahara autonomy within the Kingdom’s territory – a scenario for which Rabat has been drumming up support. Kenya supports the United Nations framework as the exclusive mechanism to achieve a lasting and permanent political solution to the dispute over the Sahara issue,” adds the same source.

What could rationalise President Ruto’s decision is Morocco’s key position as a provider of much-needed fertilisers in a time of global disruptions to food supply chains brought about by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The President had earlier announced that cheaper fertiliser would be arriving on the shores before the end of September.