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Habibulah Mohamed Lamin

Hashish sparks Algeria-Morocco war of words

Cannabis cultivation provides an income for 90,000 households in northern Morocco [AFP]

Date of publication: 29 January, 2018

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Chances of a swift resolution go up in smoke as Algeria's accusations against Morocco threaten to deepen the rift between the two countries.
Morocco is "trying to drown Algerian youth in a sea of drugs", Algeria's prime minister has claimed. The hashish allegations are the latest statements to have deepened the decades-old Algeria-Morocco standoff.

While Morocco accuses Algeria of supporting the Polisario Front, Algeria says its main problem with its western neighbour is centred on fighting drug trafficking.

Morocco is the world's largest producer of cannabis, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) in March last year. Algeria's 6,700km of porous desert borders are vulnerable to smugglers invested in the international illicit trade between Morocco, Libya, Tunisia, Western Sahara, Mauritania and Mali.

Algeria's state TV broadcasts the capture of drug traffickers on an almost daily basis, but the arrests have not been enough to eliminate the threat that such groups pose to the Algerian people.
It all takes place despite the drug laws enforced by the Algerian government, with penalties ranging from six months in jail for possession to two years imprisonment for distribution.
Algeria-Morocco race for North Africa's superpower
This arms race has been of greater benefit to the two countries' allies than it has to their own people
 
After the death of Gaddafi and the unrest that swept most of their neighbouring countries. Algeria and Morocco took their race to become North Africa's superpower to the next level.

While Algeria increased military imports, Morocco unleashed a new spy satellite. Algeria has already established three satellites under Russian supervision between 2005 and 2012.

This arms race has been of greater benefit to the two countries' allies than it has to their own people. While the Rif unrest revealed Morocco's vulnerability to popular anger, Algeria has been going through a financial crisis since oil prices began to decrease in recent years.
 
Hashish vs Western Sahara
 
Cannabis cultivation has been an important factor in Morocco's economy for years, making it relatively easy for Algeria to blame Rabat for the organised crime networks that operate across north Africa's borders. Morocco has not yet managed to find a way out of this trap - cracking down on cannabis farming would have a devastating economic impact on tens of thousands of young people in impoverished northern villages.
The EU is hesitant to put the blame solely on the Moroccan government, which is a key player in Europe's battle to deter migration from northern Africa


The EU is hesitant to put the blame solely on the Moroccan government, which is a key player in Europe's battle to deter migration from northern Africa.
 
But paramount to Algerian-Moroccan hostilities is the Western Sahara question. Since the mid-1970s, Algeria has supported the Polisario Front - the Western Sahara independence movement - to establish a state in the former Spanish colony.

After 40 years, the plight of the Sahrawis is still unresolved, and the continuing crisis has deepened the rift between Morocco and Algeria - even to the brink of war. The Polisario, meanwhile, has shown its distate for the status quo by establising a base in the buffer zone at Guergarat crossing.

Morocco withdrew from the area to encourage the Polisario to also withdraw, allowing the world-famous Dakar Rally to pass through the area.
 
The Morocco-Algeria row over hashish and Western Sahara will remain major obstacles to a regional reconciliation, which is necessary for the regeneration of economic interests, not just between the feuding nations, but for the whole region.

Habibulah Mohamed Lamin is a journalist formerly based in the Western Sahara refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria. He has worked as a translator and is director of Equipe Media Branch, a group of media activists covering Western Sahara. His work focuses on the politics and culture of the Maghreb.

Follow him on Twitter: @
habibullahWS

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