Morocco’s “Return” to the African Union: Opportunity or Challenge?

The Kingdom of Morocco officially submitted a request to accede to the African Union Constitutive Act and become a Member of the Union. The letter was also handed over to the Chairperson of the AUC, Dr. Dlamini-Zuma through the adviser to the King Mohammed VI on Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Morocco, H.E. Taieb Fassi Fihri, on 22 September 2016, at a meeting held on the margins of the 71st Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).

If it is managed in good faith and the respect of African Union basic principles, Morocco’s return to the African Union could have numerous positive implications for the AU and potentially bring about the long awaited for “resolve” to Western Sahara conflict. If not, this development has every risk of dangerously dividing the Union.

Here are my personal views on some of the implications of this development:

See the French version of the article here:

In June and July 2016 Morocco undertook Pre-AU-Summit Campaign through Moroccan envoy Salaheddine Mezouar who visited Senegal, Ivory Coast, Zambia, Cameroon Ethiopia, Egypt, Sudan and Tunisia and from 15 July, Morocco sent Special Envoy Taieb Fassi Fihri to Kenya. Preceding the AU Summit, President Paul Kagame of the host nation Rwanda held a two-day visit to Morocco and was decorated Morocco’s highest national award of honour. Equally,  Zambia sent its Minister of Foreign Affairs to Casablanca where he announced the country’s decision to “de-recognise” Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR).

During the AU Summit in Kigali in July 2016 the King of Morocco sent an official letter to the Chairperson of the Assembly  the African Union indicating Morocco wishes to return to the AU. The Chadian Chairperson of the AU Idriss Deby reportedly refused to table the letter at the Summit. During the second day of the Summit, delegates saw a motion calling for the suspension of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic from the AU. The motion, allegedly endorsed by 28 states was catalyzed by the President of Gabon Ali Bongo alongside other strong allies such as President Macky Sall of Senegal. The motion however failed to be presented.

Morocco’s return for the African Union could be a positive development

Morocco, a founding member of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) left OAU 32 years ago over the admission of SADR and the subsequent refusal to expel  SADR from the Union.  In the year 2000, the OAU has been transformed to the African Union with a new Constitutive Act and enhanced objectives. So, legally talking, the AU is a new organization and all its current 54 members have subscribed to its visions and principles.

I have not seen the contents of Morocco’s application for membership to the AU but such a request to “return” to the AU should naturally entail an unconditional acceptance of the basic principles of the organization. Morocco will then have to cohabit with all members of the AU, including the SADR. This also brings the hope of a peaceful and acceptable resolution to the Western Sahara Conflict. The AU will then regain full leverage to facilitate the process.

Gains on Peace and Security:  African solution or approach to crisis in the Maghreb region would be greatly enhanced by cooperation with Morocco a major security actor  in North Africa and a lead in countering violent extremism and management of secularism. The Arab Maghreb Union (AMU) has been the least functional Regional Economic Community (REC) the strength, Military engagement of the AMU in Peace Support Operations and the African Standby Force could increase significantly. Countering Terrorism has been the most prominent challenge with which Morocco can also assist if it becomes a member of the Union.

Economic Gains: Morocco’s economic success would be a serious asset for the African Union’s economic integration agenda and specific programmes such as Agenda 2063.

Historical Win: The return of one of the leading Pan African States in the history of Africa and a founding member of OAU will project an excellent image of the continent.morroco-pic1

A “Forced” return of Morocco could dangerously split the African Union

In a recent interview, President Macky Sall of Senegal, in full support of Morocco’s move declared: “Morocco has decided to come back and has requested that international constitutional legality be respected in accordance with the UN where the Western Sahara is not represented as an independent state’’, referring to the recent failed attempt of 28 countries to kick the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic out of the AU by a motion. President Hery Rajaonarimampianina of Madagascar also ‘welcomed’ Morocco’s decision and promises that he will ‘work to ensure that this legitimate return be effective as soon as possible.’

Morocco is building relationships and depositing favors with member states through creating and strengthening diplomatic and economic ties. Morocco’s traditional stronghold in West Africa is expanding with recent allies in Rwanda, Uganda and Zambia. With this warm welcome and increased support, Morocco will be able to garner within the Union, so, the standing of Western Sahara could be increasingly threatened.

In any case, there is currently no mechanism within AU policies and regulations to expel a member state from the Union except the cases of suspension for non-payment of contributions or for unconstitutional change of government. The AU normally makes its decisions based on consensus which is unlikely to be the case for this particular question on whether SADR should be kept in the AU or not.  Even a majority vote would be difficult to attain on this. In this case, the political decision making process of the AU would be strained and split on the question of Western Sahara.

The “expulsion” or “suspension” of SADR is unlikely to succeed within the current geopolitical framework of the African Union. Powerful members such as South Africa, Nigeria,  Algeria, Ethiopia etc would surely stand against such a move. Any forced attempt to expel SADR by whatever mean legal or political could dangerously split the African Union.  If this were to happen, in the worst case scenario the AU, as an organization which inherited the decolonization agenda, would violate one of its sacred principles of the right of people for self-determination. This would terribly weaken the organization’s standing.

Morocco may also use a different strategy which is to softly land in the African Union by accepting its current stand and position on Western Sahara but then continue the battle against the SADR from within the Union with the support of allies. This seems to me as the most likely scenario that Morocco may use and the easiest to get accepted in the African Union… But would Morocco and its allies succeed to push SADR out? That is the question…

It is important to stress here that Africa will rather gain from a peaceful resolution of the Western Sahara conflict based on the founding principles of the African Union, fundamental Human Rights and the international law.

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