Internet link proposed for Morocco, Mauritania and Western Sahara

Citing sources with knowledge of the matter, a number of news outlets have been reporting that a cable project may soon be formally announced that will connect Morocco with Mauritania through Western Sahara.

Such an initiative could also reinforce the African Coast to Europe (ACE) cable to which Mauritania was connected in 2011 and on which it mainly relies for high-speed internet services.

The Africa Coast to Europe (ACE) submarine cable spans 17,000 kilometres along the west coast of Africa, connecting three European countries – France, Portugal and the Spanish-owned Canary Islands – and 16 African countries including Mauritania.

According to the Ecsaharaui website, Moov Mauritel, Mauritania’s leading operator, is especially interested in the, as yet unnamed, cable project.

If it goes ahead the cable would be over 1,000 kilometres long, stretching from Morocco’s southern Saharan regions to Mauritania while crossing the Guerguarat border post and boosting internet speeds significantly.

But will the project go ahead? A rather tricky issue is the argument that such a cable would imply recognition by Mauritania of Moroccan sovereignty in Western Sahara, one reason that the project has been rejected by previous Mauritanian presidents. If it is officially affirmed, however, it seems that current president, Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, would be changing that position.

Another issue is Algeria, which may be unhappy with a project that undermines its own position. It supports the Polisario Front, the group that claims independence in the southern Moroccan provinces.

Algeria made clear its dissatisfaction when the Spanish government officially endorsed Morocco’s Autonomy Plan – a proposal to resolve the Sahara conflict between Morocco and the Polisario Front – as the most serious and credible basis to end the dispute over Western Sahara.

In the event, we still seem to be awaiting a formal acknowledgment of the scheme, though there will then  presumably be the practical issues of funding and project tendering to deal with.