Rabat – King Mohammed VI formally stated Morocco’s intention to return to the African Union (AU) in a message to the AU summit in Rwanda on Sunday. Noting Morocco’s historical connections and increasingly strong economic ties to the rest of Africa, the monarch asserted that the “time has come” for Morocco to reclaim its seat in the organization and promote African unity.
Morocco is the only African state recognized by the United Nations that is not a member of the AU. The kingdom left the organization, then called the Organization of African Unity, in 1984 to protest its decision to admit the Polisario’s self-declared Arab Sahrawi Republic (SADR) as a member state.
Morocco considers the Western Sahara region, which the Polisario seeks to control, as its southern provinces. However, the African Union officially recognizes SADR as a member state, and multiple members have independently recognized this entity. 32 years later, the status of the Western Sahara remains the crux of the tensions between Morocco and the AU.
There are two requirements for AU membership: that the state be located in Africa, and that the state sign and ratify the AU Constitutive Act. Once a state fulfills these requirements, the assembly must vote to approve the new member by a simple majority. Morocco hopes to formally begin this process during this summit.
However, the contents of the Constitutive Act will pose difficulties as the AU determines whether to admit the kingdom. The Act includes among its objectives to “defend the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of its Member States” and pledges to function in accordance with the principle of “non-interference by any Member State in the internal affairs of another.”
If the AU accepts Morocco as a member state while continuing to recognize SADR, it will face a precarious political dilemma. Since Morocco and SADR claim the same territory, it would be impossible for the AU to uphold its principles of non-interference and sovereignty for both members.
Therefore, King Mohamed urged the bloc to reconsider the membership status of the Self-proclaimed SADR. Calling SADR a “pseudo-state,” he noted that this entity is not recognized by powers across the globe, nor is it a member of the UN or the Arab League. “Institutional Africa can no longer bear the burden of the historical error [of recognizing SADR] and its cumbersome legacy,” the monarch claimed.
Brahim Ghali, the newly-appointed head of SADR following the death of longtime Polisario leader Mohamed Abdelaziz, is attending the summit. Ghali, backed by economic power South Africa and other supporters of the SADR regime, will undoubtedly clash with the Moroccan delegation and its allies as the organization debates Morocco’s reentry.
As the AU considers Moroccan membership, the kingdom’s recent efforts to deepen economic and diplomatic relationships with other member states will play an important role. Under King Mohammed VI, Morocco has worked to become a continental power by expanding its influence in sub-Saharan Africa.
The kingdom has signed dozens of deals in the past two years alone promoting economic cooperation with Gabon, Mali, Senegal, the Cote d’Ivoire, and other African countries. As of 2014, the kingdom is the second-largest foreign investor in African nations. This economic diplomacy has helped Morocco increase its political capital, even in nations that hold opposing political views with regard to the status of the Western Sahara.
King Mohammed VI has also relied on traditional diplomacy to gain allies. When Rwandan President Paul Kagame, the host of this summer’s AU summit, visited Morocco last month, the King awarded him the Order of Muhammad, the highest level of recognition in the Kingdom.
The King’s economic and diplomatic efforts have elevated Morocco’s political power across the continent. The investment already appear to be paying out: recently, Zambia decided to cut diplomatic ties with SADR. These deepened relationships will help Morocco when the assembly votes on their membership application.
In Morocco, however, support for the pan-African unity espoused by the AU is not uniform. Many citizens do not identify Morocco as a part of Africa, preferring to associate the kingdom as a part of the Arab world and rejecting the racialized categorization of “African.”
However, King Mohammed VI is attempting to shift this attitude. Although Morocco’s population is not predominately black, the King noted in his message, the kingdom is as much a part of the continent as any other nation. Emphasizing the importance of brotherhood and pan-African consciousness, he stated that Morocco “has always been and always will be animated by an unshakable faith in Africa.”
“Morocco, although it left the African Union, never left Africa,” the king asserted.
Morocco’s reentry to the union could enhance economic and diplomatic prospects for the Kingdom and fellow member states. As nations around the globe question the power of liberal institutions in the wake of the Brexit, Morocco’s request to join the African Union is a nod to the enduring power of the African Union and the benefits such institutions can bring.