The fragile agreement reached this week in Nairobi over the Western Sahara could prove to be a breakthrough for the much-maligned Organization of African Inity.
It is certainly a success for Kenya President Daniel Arap Moi, the OAU chairman, who has been almost fanatically determined to improve the credibility of the organization and to restore its influence for mediation in the disturbed African continent.
President Moi and an OAU "committee of wise men" hammered out an agreement between Morocco and the Polisario Liberation Front to hold a referendum allowing Saharans to choose between independence and continued Moroccan control. The warring forces have agreed to move back to their barracks. The OAU recommended that the cease-fire and the vote be policed by a peacekeeping force, pssibly involving the United Nations. An interim civil administration will work out referendum details with Moroccan authorities.
The Polisario Front, led by Muhammad Abdul Aziz, was at first adamant that it would not cooperate in negotiations unless King Hassan of Morroco withdrew his troops from the territory. A breakthrough came in June when King Hassan flew in to an OAU meeting to announce his government would hold a Saharan vote. A committee of "wise men" -- Mr. Moi, the presidents of Sudan, Tanzania, Nigeria, and Guinea and the foreign ministers of Mali and Sierra Leone -- then was appointed to steer the parties toward agreement.
The dispute between Morocco and the Polisario Front began five years ago when Morocco annexed the phosphate-and mineral-rich Western Sahara. Polisario guerillas have fought for an independent Saharawi state since.
One major problem that remains is Morocco's assertion that the West Saharan population is 74,000 -- a figure listed in an old Spanish census. The Polisario say the population is about 730,000.
Both Morocco and the Polisario Front have given guarded approval to the referendum plan, although the Polisario still assert the region's "right to self-determination and independence."