This common element in the discourse of all involved oil companies hinges on a misinterpretation of international law, and of the Makhzen control over economical activities in Morocco.
The claim rests on the false premise that if oil exploration or exploitation will be undertaken to the benefit of the people, or even population, it would be acceptable under international law. That is factually incorrect. The 2002 UN Legal Opinion on the legality of reconnaissance work in Western Sahara, is clear that any such activity needs to be undertaken in accordance with the wishes and the interests of the people of the territory. This is a natural corrolary from the cornerstone legal principle applicable in the case of Western Sahara; that of self-determination - whether the people of the territory, the Saharawis, want the work to be carried out or not. This crucial element is never mentioned by oil companies.“The Joint Declaration of Principles, signed between Kosmos and ONHYM, states that local populations will benefit efficiently, effectively and transparently from production of hydrocarbons, if commercially viable reserves were to be discovered.” Kosmos Energy - Position Statement on Western Sahara, February 2014.
The second error is the obfuscating use of the term "local population(s)". Today’s local population of Western Sahara consists largely of Moroccan settlers, drawn into the territory by the tax and economic incentives offered by the Moroccan government. Moroccans today outnumber the Saharawi people in their homeland. But the sovereign rights to the territory and its resources lie with the people of Western Sahara; the Saharawis, as the sole inhabitants prior to Morocco’s invasion in 1975. It’s the people who have the legitimate ownership of the land and its possessions, not the local populations.
The overall suggestion that the oil operations will be to anyone’s benefit, other than a small Moroccan elite and perhaps a handful of people in the territory with a proven track-record of loyalty to the regime, is either a lie or a grotesque misunderstanding of how the Moroccan economy is run. The Moroccan economy is in the hands of the power circles close to the monarchy. It would be nothing short of exceptional if the oil development in Western Sahara would benefit any other group than the relatively small elite formed by the Moroccan monarchy and its close allies, also known as the Makhzen
. For insight, we'd recommend the book "Le Roi Prédateur
" by investigative journalists Catherine Graciet and Eric Laurent.
The Saharawi people do not benefit from any resource exploration or exploitation in their land. The Saharawi refugees living in Algerian refugee camps, or those who have sought refuge or asylum elsewhere, do not benefit at all from any resource activity in Western Sahara. The Saharawis who live under Moroccan occupation, are increasingly relegated to the fringes of society due to Morocco’s policy of social and economic exclusion of anyone who does not support their colonial project in Western Sahara. Saharawis who find employment, or who have managed to set up some kind of business, have had to pledge their allegiance to the Moroccan king. Those who advocate their right to self-determination will not get the same opportunities.
One thing is certain, if oil is ever commercially exploited in Western Sahara while under Moroccan occupation, it will certainly not benefit the sovereign people of Western Sahara, the Saharawis, nor will it be to the benefit of the local population, consisting largely of Moroccan settlers. If anything, it will provide revenues for the Moroccan treasury, and tighten Morocco’s grip over the territory - making the odds of a peacefully negotiated solution under UN auspices even more slim.