Interference in the Sahel: Unlikely Legacy of a Kennedy

Kerry Kennedy carries a torch for her father, Robert F. Kennedy’s, legacy across the globe as the President of his namesake human rights organization, the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights. The organization, like many civil society and non-governmental organizations, has laudable goals and issues reports on the situation in countries with less than optimal status for its citizens.

Kennedy’s most forceful advocacy is reserved for those with whom she shares the closest friendship, kinship even. In August, she reinforced her ties to Aminatou Haidar with a controversial trip to Morocco, the Western Sahara, and Algeria’s “refugee camps” in Tindouf. After taking meetings with Moroccan officials and being granted permission to travel the country and the Western Sahara (a disputed territory) freely, Kennedy began a campaign touting separatists with affiliations to Al Qaeda in the Maghreb, AQIM, the Polisario Front.

It defies logic that a human rights advocate would see people imprisoned on Algerian soil, trapped in the refugee camps in Tindouf, as victims of a nation that wishes to grant them autonomy. Across the Sahel region, the documentation of the Polisario Front’s growing closeness with AQIM is documented. Agence France Press has noted the influx of fighters from the Polisario and Algeria’s camps in Tindouf. Kennedy refuses to acknowledge this, and has found a partner in the US Congress, Virginia’s Frank Wolf (R) who recently submitted her findings into the Official Record. The position of the United States Government, under Republican and Democratic administrations, has been to support the autonomy proposal offered by the Kingdom of Morocco. Freedom must include freedom of movement. Morocco wishes to grant it. Algeria and the Polisario Front deny it, affiliate themselves with celebrities like Javier Bardem and Aminatou Haidar, hoping to earn empathy and sympathy via documentary movies shown at film festivals.

If celebrity is the vehicle for awareness rather than policy, diplomatic work, and inter-governmental cooperation, there can be no peace. No credibility.

With the recent murder of the US Ambassador to Libya in Benghazi, Libya, AQIM’s agenda and reach is clear across the Sahel and the Sahara. Kennedy’s defense of an AQIM ally, the Polisario Front, is an affront and disappointment.