Saturday, August 18, 2007
Interview with Malainin Lakhal
Was an honor to interview Malainin Lakhal, Secretary of the Saharawi Journalist and writers' Union
You’re the SG of the Saharawi Journalists’ and writers’ Union. How is like for you to be a Saharawi journalist when the Western Sahara issue is at a very crucial stage? -
It is my pleasure to appear here in your blog, which is a reflection of the Saharawi youth’s activism, creativity and determination to defend their people’s right. Concerning your question, I was elected Secretary General of the Saharawi Journalists’ and writers’ Union (UPES- in the Spanish abbreviation) in 2005, after I worked with some friends and colleagues to re-activate this union that was sort of dormant for more than 10 years. And to your information, I became a journalist only because I did not have a choice!! I am initially an activist, a poet and a “trouble-maker” to use the words of the Moroccan authorities when I was living in the occupied zone of Western Sahara. I was born and I lived in the occupied city of El Aaiun until 2000, when I was forced to flee the territory, crossing the Moroccan military berm in a three days and three nights dangerous journey through the desert and landmines. I used to be active in the Saharawi students’ movement, in Moroccan universities, and I was detained more than three times to experience the
Moroccan “traditional” torture methods. So, initially I was an activist and a dreamer (a poet), but because of the realities on the ground, and because of the oppression exercised by the Moroccan regime against my people, with many comrades, now known as the human rights activists, we started gathering information about the Moroccan flagrant human rights violations, and this work, which started since 1993/94 was very difficult and dangerous, but we did a lot and we succeeded to raise awareness of the people about their rights and to educate them on how to defend them. In 1999, we organised the biggest popular and peaceful uprising ever organised in Western Sahara. For more than 4 months, we succeeded almost to “liberate” El Aaiun from the Moroccan control since the Moroccan authorities lost control and paid huge efforts to recover it again. There were daily demonstrations, confrontations and struggle with the Moroccan military forces, police and secret services. But, to each choice, there is a price to pay. My choice of directly confronting the Moroccan occupation since 1993, made it difficult for me to continue living in the occupied zone. Starting from September 1999, the month when the uprising started, I was forced to work undercover until August 2000, when all the comrades and my family asked me to leave the country. And this is what I did. Once I reached the camps I started working as a teacher, then a translator, then I found an opportunity in 2003 to join the Saharawi Press Service to launch the English page of SPS, and from that date I definitely decided to focus on my work as a journalist/activist, to help the guys inside the territory get the story outside. My contacts in the occupied zones, and the fact that I know almost all the activists there helped me a lot progress in the work I am doing. So, this is why, I usually say that I am not a journalist; I am a “have to be Journalist”. Concerning the work of journalists in the camps I have to say that it is very difficult. We work in very dire conditions, we almost struggle to keep working, because we do not only struggle against the harshness of the weather conditions in the Saharawi refugee camps, where in the summer we have easily 50 degrees in the shadow, but also against the technical problems we always face with computers for example and other equipments because of the dust in the desert, and because of the heat. This is the main problems. Otherwise, we do have very good contacts and communication with the people inside the occupied zone, and this helps us get daily and urgent news and we usually succeed to cover them the best way we can. Most of the time we try to send them to international medias so as to make sure they are covered well. And we certainly succeeded to help a lot of international journalist get good contacts and information on the conflict and meet with the main activists and actors. The fact that our struggle is in a very crucial stage does not change anything, because we do have to struggle every day, every hour and whenever something happens. This is how I conceive it we have to fight for our people’s right all the time because we are not only journalists but also human rights activists and freedom fighters.
You seem to have travelled a lot over the last couple of years. Last year you went to South Africa and spoke to the youth there, can you tell us little bite about that and how did audience respond?
I did not travel a lot. I travelled only to South Africa, to Kenya, to Mauritania, to Algeria and lately to Australia and New Zealand. I had never thought of doing so before, but you know when you work on the ground for a long time, you make contacts and you find possibilities to defend your cause overseas, and most of the time you have to do it. In South Africa, I was invited by the ANC Youth League who was commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Soweto uprising. The program was for a week. I met with the ANC Youth League leadership, and militants. After that, I had to wait for Mrs. Aminatou Haidar, the eminent Saharawi human rights activist, who is also a very close and dear friend for we used to work together in the occupied zone before I joined the camps. I had to accompany her in her 20 day speaking tour as her personal translator and I really enjoyed her company. She is a wonderful lady, a wonderful militant, a wonderful human being and a real legendary heroine and example of the Saharawi women’s resistance and strength of character but also beauty and intellect. In Kenya, I was a member of a Saharawi delegation participating in the World Social Forum. The Saharawi civil society had a very successful participation then. In Australia I was lately invited by AWSA (Australian Western Sahara Association) and by the Saharawi Representative their, Mr. Kamal Fadel, a very active young Saharawi diplomat, to undertake a very interesting speaking tour, so I said yes immediately.
Your most recent tour was that to Australia and New Zealand as you said, you gave many lectures and held many meetings. Were the people in that part of the world informed about our cause? Do you think your presence there made a difference as a first hand informer?
Concerning the response of the audience, I have to tell you that the visit was very successful, because our cause is just and only need from us to be able to expose it to the audiences. In Australia I was interviewed by the two main Australian National radios, and four or five communities’ radio, in sum more than 20 interviews, and a story was made for the main TV news program in Australia, in addition to couple interviews and articles in newspapers. I was able to speak to students, professors, but also to the officials, parliamentarians, and political parties, representatives of the civil society, artists, and normal people. All of my interlocutors were surprised to know that Morocco is committing all these violations in total impunity, and they were especially shocked to know about the berm. They simply have never heard about it. Our cause is certainly just, but we have to work harder to raise awareness about it around the world. And this is not only the duty of the Saharawi government. All the Saharawi people, each from his or her position, must let his environment know about his peoples’ plight. For example, I would be happy if you are doing this in your university or school in the USA, because believe me this is the best help you can provide your people with. Let the world know that there is still a colonised territory that have a right to self-determination and whose people are deprived of this right because a dictatorship, the Moroccan kingdom, is refusing to respect the international legality, and is unfortunately backed by France and the USA. In Australia and New Zealand I made it clear to everybody that they should not think that the Saharawi struggle is only a Saharawi matter, it is an should be the struggle of all free minds and lover of freedom, because I said “We are struggling for a basic human right, the right to self-determination, to democracy, to freedom of expression, to the right to a safe life, and to independence and these are rights that all human beings must have and defend. And you have to know that if we loose them today because we are weak and because you did not care, you will loose them tomorrow because our case will be a precedent”. So I must say that people do care, and do respond positively to the facts and information I presented to them, they only needed to be informed. We succeeded to get open support from Trade Unions, from the main political parties, and you will hear in the near future a lot of other fruits of this visit that can not be revealed now, because the Moroccans as you may have heard have sent a delegation composed of 10 parliamentarians, chaired by the president of their parliament, Abd Alouahed Radhi, to Australia just after I finished my visit, and we must keep all information about ongoing projects secret for a while.
How can the people of our generation who are journalist and writers use their skills to help our people and impact our nation and others?
Youth is creativity, new blood, optimism and imagination. The youth can do everything, and should never submit to obstacles, this is my opinion. Obstacles are there to be challenged and overcome. I think that young journalists and intellectuals must give proof of their commitment to their people, help spread the word, study and accumulate knowledge and get new experiences and expertise, write and search, this is what we need most now information. Many voices within the Saharawi youth start to call for war and resuming war and this is a pity, because to me we had never stopped fighting. We have always been in war against the Moroccan colonialism, the only difference is that we are now using new weapons, the demonstration, the sit-in, the word, Saharawi political prisoners and activists in the occupied zones are giving their blood and bodies as weapons and sacrifice for the sake of freedom. And they need help; they need from us to watch their backs, to support them and to make the world hear their stories. The youth needs also to learn more about our history, our tradition, our values and our culture, because this is another weapon in the ongoing war. The Moroccan regime worked hard and invested millions to destroy the Saharawi culture, and destroy the Saharawi values, and guess who the main target to such colonial policies was: The youth. The Moroccan generals introduced drugs, alcohol and all kind of destructive and bad things to the occupied zones to destroy our society and values. We had to struggle on all levels. To educate our people, but also to educate ourselves and to keep in mind that the main weapon we have to make use of and to protect is our national union, which is the essence of our strength and which is now targeted by the Moroccans, the Spanish, the French but also by many Saharawis because of their ignorance or imprudence. The youth can give the example, and never forget that your fathers who are now the leaders of the Saharawi national project started this magnificent experience while still young men and women. They believed in their strength and they had sufficient power and imagination to start a real nation-building, and the result is you and me. Here you’re young and well educated young ladies and young men, the leaders of the next stage of our struggle. We only need to work harder to make the difference.
Two rounds of negotiations between the Polisario and Morocco have ended and no significant progress was made. How hopeful do you see the third round and whether you think talks between the two parties will be the ultimate solution to over three decades dispute? Are you overall optimistic on the situation and when do you think will Africa’s last colony be freed?
As far as I am concerned I do not think that the Moroccans are serious in these negotiations. And I think that the negotiations are only an additional proof that the UN is trying to evade its responsibilities in the decolonisation of Western Sahara. They hope that the Saharawis give up their resistance and reach what they call “a political solution” to the conflict. Morocco accepted to negotiate only to:
- Try to impose their autonomy project especially that they succeeded to get the support of the USA, and of course of France and Spain.
- Gain some time with the negotiations, because the Moroccans are not staying still, they are working hard to dissolve the POLISARIO Front, and to try to make use of this so called “war against terrorism”, which became a weapon used by all dictatorships to oppress their people, but also used by some powers to destroy the resistance of oppressed peoples and freedom-fighters.
- Try to calm the Saharawi uprising down, by giving them a new hope in a possible outcome of the talks.
But, on the other hand, I am optimistic, I am even very optimistic, and I think that the Moroccans are now stuck more than ever and more than they can afford supporting in the future.
These negotiations are a new opportunity for the Saharawi negotiators to set things right, to make it clear that it is not possible for Morocco, the USA, France or the UN to avoid the international law. And to make it clear for all these actors that the only way they can violate our right is through abolishing the UN Charter and starting a new international order based on the law of the jungle, because we will never give up resisting. It is also an opportunity for the Saharawi to put the UN to the final test. The UN have got to make up its mind, because any possible new agreement have got to be accompanied with guarantees to be implemented and in the quickest delays, otherwise the Saharawi people will make their choice, and we do have all the cards between our hands. We can start a general war from the Moroccan universities, passing by the south of morocco to reach the occupied zones and the camps, not to talk about the Diaspora. The Moroccan are aware of that now and all the big powers are aware that even in terms of Real Politic, Morocco is not comfortable in Western Sahara and will never be. Even for the natural resources, they will never be comfortable in the exploitation of our resources because we are working everywhere and making it difficult for them day after day. We only need to stop getting scared and believe in the strength of the people, and believe in our strength because we are strong; we are even stronger than in the 70ies and 80ies, while Morocco is certainly not. In the occupied zones, my dear sisters, our kids, 8 years old and 9 years old are organising their own demonstrations, constituting their own organisations and leading their own struggle inside and outside the school against the colonial power! So how can I ever be pessimistic when I am sure that the young generation is aware enough to lead the struggle for decades to come if need be? The Moroccan are aware of that, and so are the Spanish and other big powers this is why they are trying to put and end to the conflict, but their approach is still not mature and wrong, because they opted for the immediate interest they have with Morocco and they forgot that the real interest is and should be strategic, in a stable and safe Maghreb region, where six countries live together in harmony and where economical prosperity is possible because we are rich,we have rich territories in Western Sahara, Algeria, Libya and Mauritania in minerals, oil and gas, while Morocco and Tunisia are very successful countries in terms of tourism and all these countries share the same cultural, religious and historical roots. Finally, to answer the last part of your question, and because I am a poet and an optimist,” I would say that I do believe that we will get our independence in 2010/11, and do not ask me why! We only need to double our work to make it happen smoothly and peacefully.”