Explainer: What Kenya cutting diplomatic ties with Sahrawi Republic means

President of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) Brahim Ghali at Kasarani during President William Ruto's inauguration. [PSCU]

Kenya's diplomatic ties with the Sahrawi Democratic Republic (SADR), also known as Western Sahara, Wednesday, remain uncertain.

This is after President William Ruto, in a since-deleted tweet, said Kenya has rescinded its recognition of the SADR and initiated steps to wind down the entity’s presence in the country.

In a statement, the Kingdom of Morocco said the decision was reached after President Ruto met Nasser Bourita, the representative of King Mohammed VI, who is also the Moroccan Foreign Affairs Minister, at State House, Nairobi.

The cessation of normal diplomatic ties between Kenya and Western Sahara means that all accredited diplomats will be given notice to leave the country until further notice. The diplomatic mission will, essentially, be shut down.

In the world of diplomacy, the severance of diplomatic ties usually occurs as a result of the onset of war or during serious complications in relations between states.

In accordance with the 1961 Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations, when ties are cut- the host state must provide assistance for the rapid departure of the staff members of the diplomatic mission and their families.

Until the revocation, Kenya was among the 41 United Nations member states which recognized Sahrawi and has been at the forefront, championing the de-escalation of the conflict between Sahrawi and Morocco.

For close to 35 years, Nairobi has supported the Sahrawi Republic in its quest for self-determination and independence.

During Kenya’s presidency of the African Union Peace and Security Council in February this year, Kenya championed and prioritized engagements on the conflicted Western Sahara territory with former President Uhuru Kenyatta convening high-level discussions on February 16.

President William Ruto with Moroccan Minister of Foreign Affairs Nasser Bourita (left) at State House, Nairobi. [PSCU]

Sahrawi has been seeking to transition from a semi-autonomous region to self-rule, a push Morocco has vehemently objected to, dismissing proposals for Western Sahara to decide its future through a referendum.

Interestingly, the President of Western Sahara Brahim Ghali attended the inauguration of William Ruto as the fifth president on Tuesday at Kasarani stadium.

This was his second time in Nairobi. He came two years ago for the funeral service of the late former Kenyan president Daniel Moi.

President Ghali gave his tribute to Mzee Moi in Arabic with a translator in tow. He praised the late former president as a Pan Africanist who played an important role in the decolonization of the continent.

The attendance of the Sahrawi delegation was expected to likely push Morocco to cause another diplomatic row with Kenya but the issue of severing ties never came up.

However, Ruto’s decision hasn’t come as a surprise, last year the top leadership was divided over the Western Sahara independence question, with the Deputy President now Head of state holding contradicting positions with his former boss, Uhuru Kenyatta.

In March last year when meeting the former Moroccan ambassador to Kenya El Mokhtar Ghambou, then deputy President William Ruto appeared to hold a different position.

"The autonomy plan under Moroccan sovereignty is the best solution to the Sahara issue,’’ the embassy quoted Ruto as saying during the meeting at the envoy’s residence in Nairobi.

The then deputy president said Kenya’s diplomatic push lies in its neutral position regarding regional conflicts and the Sahara issue should be no exception to the rule.

Ruto further said that Kenya and Morocco are leading powers in their regions and noted their bilateral cooperation will benefit the whole continent.

The President of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic Brahim Ghali (centre) arrives in Kenya to attend William Ruto's inauguration. [Twitter, FA Ministry]]

This was the first red flag of revocation of Sahara recognition if the then-Deputy President would have ascended to the presidency. It was just a matter of time.

The first diplomatic divorce between Kenya and Sahrawi happened in 2005 when the former Kenyan President, the late Mwai Kibaki received credentials from its envoy but was frozen 7 months later.

In February 2014, Nairobi granted Sahrawi permission to establish a diplomatic mission signifying the start of diplomatic relations between the two countries. Kenya doesn’t have an embassy in Sahrawi.

A diplomatic war ensued over the matter and Nairobi had to deploy the then Senate Ekwe Ethuro to calm tensions. Kenya has diplomatic representation in Rabat through an honorary consul.

Sahrawi is a country in North Africa that controls parts of the Western Sahara region.

The Islamic country lies deep in the Sahara region and was colonized by the Spanish up to 1976.

Thereafter, a political outfit in the Western Sahara region known as Polisario Front (Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el -Hamra and Rio de Oro) has been in the forefront of liberation from the Moroccans.