After 33 years Morocco rejoins the African Union

One of the biggest outcomes of the recently concluded 28th African Union (AU) Summit held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia was the readmission of Morocco as a member after 33 years away from the AU. Morocco was the only African country that was not a member of the Organisation of African Unity, as the AU was then known, but is now set to become its 55th member.

Morocco first submitted its bid to re-join the AU in 2016. In order to gain readmission, Morocco gained the support of 39 African countries who voted in favour of welcoming Morocco back while 9 voted against Morocco. The nine who voted against Morocco were southern African countries apart from Swaziland.

The major issue surrounding Morocco’s readmission was the disputed status over the Western Sahara region. This same dispute was what initially led to Morocco’s departure from the AU in 1984. A former Spanish colony, Western Sahara – officially known as the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic – was annexed by Morocco in 1975.

One of the countries that voted against Morocco’s return was South Africa. Speaking of the decision, South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) party, is quoted on the Daily Maverick website as having said “This decision represents a significant setback to the cause of the Sahrawi people and their quest for self-determination in the Western Sahara. The Western Sahara is one of Africa’s last remaining colonial outposts … By readmitting Morocco, the AU is tacitly endorsing the long-standing occupation of the Western Sahara. Morocco has to date failed to comply with successive UN resolutions on the issue of the Western Sahara, most importantly the holding of a referendum on self-determination.”

Since announcing its intention to be readmitted into the AU, Morocco’s King Mohamed VI, has embarked on multiple tours to different African countries signing multiple bilateral agreements and pledging to support other development and trade initiatives. The Daily Maverick article says the “Most notable are the $3.5 billion agreement to build a fertilizer plant in Ethiopia, and the announcement of a new gas pipeline linking Nigeria to Europe.”

There is a concern that Africa nations have been prioritised financial agreements over respect for human rights and self-determination. Presently, the AU obtains 72% of its funding from foreign donors and Morocco’s readmission, combined with its deep pockets, comes with an expectation that it will contribute more than its fair share to support the AU’s operational activities.

It remains how unclear whether Morocco’s readmission will lead to any changes on the country’s stance towards Western Sahara. However, as part of its re-entry bid Morocco did not actively push for the expulsion of Western Sahara from the AU, knowing from an early stage it would not have been successful with this plan. Some African leaders might believe that Morocco’s readmission will provide them with new leverage and opportunities to place pressure on Morocco to hold the self-determination referendum.

Another major outcome of the AU Summit, was the election of Chad’s Foreign Ministe, Moussa Faki Mahamat, as the new Chairman of the AU Commission. He succeeds South Africa’s Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who had earlier decided not to stand for a second term, and has pledged to prioritise development, security and the streamlining of the AU’s bureaucracy. His closest rival for the post was Kenya’s Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed.