The African Union and the Sahara Conflict

Ever since its independence, Morocco has played a fundamental role in setting up the foundations of the African solidarity thanks to its effective contribution in giving birth to the Organization of African Union (OAU). However, the works of the organization have been affected by the issue of the Sahara and the territorial integrity of the Kingdom, mainly since the aggravation of the conflict between Morocco and Algeria around the 70s.

As a retaliatory measure against the adoption of the Algerian position towards the so-called "Sahrawi Republic," which recognizes the latter as a State member, Morocco withdrew from its membership in November 1984 by way of protestation against the admittance of an entity that fulfills none of the basic constitutive requirements of a State as defined by international law. Morocco maintained its position despite the change of the organization's statute upon which the organization was renamed the African Union (AU) in the Summit of Durban in 2002; to be recalled that the restoration of Morocco's membership depended upon the freezing or the dismissal of the 'alleged State'. This request was always bluntly rebuffed by Algeria which backs the above-mentioned 'State'.

Undoubtedly, the upholding of this position by the African Union undermines the organization's neutrality while the disputing parties are engaged in a steady search for a compromise. As a matter of fact, the maintenance of the quality of member of the 'Sahrawi entity' by the Union in this critical and tension-ridden context encourages more separatist movements to beseech adherence to the Union and, hence, legitimize their existence.

On the basis of this reasoning, to what extent can the position of the African Union towards the conflict of Sahara influence the African cooperation and solidarity, and threaten the stability and peace in the African continent?

Ever since the 1970s, the relationship between Morocco and the Organization of African Unity has been affected by the emergence of the Polisario as a party in conflict, and by Algerian military support. This situation triggered so many tensions in the neighborhood of Morocco and Algeria. With the acceptance of the 'Sahrawi Republic' as a member of the organization, Morocco withdrew in a formal and solemn declaration of objection against this decision going perversely to the regulations of the Addis Abebi charter instituting the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1963. The charter stipulates that the territoriality of states is a sine qua non condition for their membership; all the more as the Polisario never filed among recognized African liberation movements.

Soon after the independence of the African countries, resistance to the Balkanization of the continent came into existence with the advent of a framework promoting the consolidation of African countries. Early in 1961, Presidents of Ghana, Guinea and Mali responded favorably to the initiative that Mohammed V made to meet at Casablanca. This summit, well-known under the appellation 'The Casablanca Group' gave birth to a Council that was ordained to resolve common problems. In 1963, the Casablanca Group merged with the Monrovia Group, its competitor, with Nigeria as a leader leading to the creation of the OAU, Morocco being one of its founders.

Despite the prevalence of the issue of the territorial integrity in the works of the organization, Morocco heavily supported the liberation movements. Within this line of thought, the late King Hassan II raised a sum of one million dollars to increase the budget of the Commission devoted to liberation movements in such places as Mozambique, Angola, Guinea Bissau, Zimbabwe, etc. Among the decisions made in this summit, there was the condemnation of the colonial forces and of those backing the Apartheid system in South Africa. Nevertheless, the Moroccan efforts to establish the Union were soon affected by the evolution of the issue of the Sahara, which later led to the withdrawal of Morocco from the organization upon the admittance of the alleged 'Sahrawi Republic' during the 20th session which took place in Addis Abebi in November 1984. After this recession, Morocco went out of the African scene. As a matter of fact, it resorted to other alternatives to tie up again with the African continent.

As to bilateral relations, Morocco reinforced its cooperation with the sub-Saharan countries by setting up the Moroccan Agency for International Cooperation in 1986. This institution would reinforce cultural and technical cooperation as well as tripartite cooperation (Morocco, African countries, supplying countries). As far as multilateral cooperation is concerned, Morocco joined many international and regional organizations such as the Franco-African summit in 1985.

Morocco also took part in so many other diplomatic summits. Its efforts focused on the sub-regional regroupings. Thus, Libya created the community of the Sahel and Sahara States in February 1998 after having abandoned its project of Arab Nationalism because of the Lockerby crisis. February 12th, 2001, Morocco joined this community.

With the tangible and positive evolution of Moroccan multilateral diplomacy, Morocco took share in the first Euro-African Summit that took place in Cairo on the 3rd and the 4th of April, 2000. This meeting marked the defeat of Algerian diplomacy chairing at that time the OAU and trying hard to let the Polisario creep into this international encounter. During this summit, the Moroccan King announced the squashing of all the assets weighing heavily on the less developed African countries, and the eradication of the custom duties to be levied on the products imported from these countries.

In conformity with this new orientation, Morocco tries, through so many initiatives, to establish new foundations for the installation of an effective cooperation with some sub-regional organizations such as the West-African Economic and Monetary Union. Meanwhile, Morocco tended to reinforce the axis of Rabat-Nouakchott-Dakar with a view to putting in place a South-South regionalization.

At the end of the 90s, Morocco voiced its readiness to rejoin the OAU provided the freezing of the membership of the 'Sahrawi Republic'. This position coincided with the efforts made by Burkina Faso towards persuading Morocco to participate in the works of the Organization of African Unity at Ouagadougou in June 1998.

If Morocco puts as a prerequisite to its reintegration the dismissal of the alleged state, the organization's statute will not bring anything new either to its position towards the Sahara conflict or to the position of Morocco towards the organization itself. The idea of the amendments of the Organization of African Unity's charter emerged since the summit of 1979. Nevertheless, the charter had never been amended only when the Presidents of the governments accepted Muammar Kaddafi's suggestion to set up an extraordinary summit at Syrte in 1999 with an eye to reviving the Organization of African Unity. The participants came up with the 'Syrte Declaration' stipulating the creation of the African Union as an alternative to the Organization of African Unity. The birth of the African Union was officially announced in Durban in July 2002.

In response to the hostile position of the African Union, the Moroccan Foreign Affairs Secretary declared that: "we are neither against the organization of the African Unity, of which Morocco is one of the founders, nor against the Organization of African Union. We are for all those who work for the unity of the African continent. We only cannot affiliate to an organization that counts among its members an entity that stands bear of any kind of legitimacy and sovereignty as well as from any of the constitutive elements of a State". The President of Senegal supported Morocco by stating that: "Senegal cannot assimilate an African union without the partnership of Morocco".

The Moroccan-Algerian conflict on the Sahara mobilizes the Algerian diplomacy which, by an escapist mannerism and tricky shifts, tries to prevent Morocco from rejoining the African Union. This situation relative to the position of the African Union towards the Sahara conflict justifies an analysis of the perceptions and the approaches of the Moroccan diplomacy dealing with this issue along with the available alternatives that can help overcome this factual reality.

Although Morocco had not been a member of the regional organizations, it did not fail, however, to author other alternatives. Morocco benefited, thus, from some forums and African sub-regional groupings to voice solidarity and African affiliation.

Up to now, Morocco has resisted so many Algerian tactics; we precisely mention, for instance, the first Franco-African Summit in Cairo, 2000, which witnessed the first participation of the King Mohamed VI in an international summit, and during which Algeria tried to contest the participation of Morocco under the grounds that Morocco was not a member of the African Union. Yet, the Moroccan participation was forced under the pressure of European countries to the prejudice of the Algerian appendage, the Polisario. Morocco was equally successful in turning Algerian tactics null and void in the Summit of Abuja in November 2006, in which it participated not as a member of the African Union, but as an African country. This decision was made on the basis of the criteria specified in the Euro-African Summit mentioned earlier. This reactivation of Moroccan diplomacy; namely, through the setting up of political alliances against the triangular axis hostile to Morocco represented by Nigeria, South Africa and Algeria, and through its involvement in the resolution of some regional conflicts, triggered a strategic deficit of the Polisario. Hence, for instance, Kenya has recently withdrawn its recognition of the alleged Saharan republic.

Morocco does not really rely on the African Union given the structural problems from which this latter suffers due to the shortage in financial resources. Moreover, this organization is unable to deal with some regional conflicts such as the Somalia and Darfur conflicts.

The credibility of the African Union as a regional organization whose primary function is to resolve African conflicts and to ensure the collective security of the continent, runs the dangers of being void because of the acute structural crisis affecting it, and of its partial position towards the Sahara conflict as the acceptance of the 'separatist entity' threatens the security of a big African country. It also contradicts with the fundamental principles and objectives of the Union; namely, the upholding of African unity and the consecration of regional integration - a sine qua non condition of economic globalization and the new world order.

Dr Adil Moussaoui
Université Mohamed V -Souissi