In massive implications for Africa, the African Union (AU) summit in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa – which will culminate in the 28th Ordinary Assembly of AU Heads of State and Government at the end of this month – can truly galvanise the pan-African body. The two main items on the agenda are the election of a new AU commission chair and Morocco’s re-entry into the pan-African body. It will be recalled that Morocco had declared its intention to re-join AU at the Kigali summit last year. Subsequently, it submitted official requests to consider its AU reintegration and put the matter on the Addis Ababa summit agenda.
Recall also that Morocco was actually a founding member of AU – then known as the Organisation of African Unity. However, it left the pan-African body in 1984 after AU recognised the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) as a full member. The SADR is a product of an armed separatist group called the Polisario Front – which is principally backed by Algeria – that has been carrying out an illegal movement for an independent ‘Sahrawi’ state in the Moroccan Sahara since 1975.
But the SADR today is neither recognised by the UN nor the Arab League. Its continued relevance within AU is due to the desire of certain members to politically constrain Morocco. For, there’s no denying the fact that Morocco given its ideal geographical location – proximity to Europe and Atlantic coastline – rich Arab-African traditions, and ability to develop without traditionally sought after natural resources – Morocco is only rich in phosphates – can emerge as a veritable leader of the African continent. This isn’t palatable for certain African countries that want to reserve the leadership mantle for themselves. And they have been using SADR and the Polisario as tools to keep Morocco at bay.
But this strategy only deprives AU of inputs from a dynamic African nation. The reason why Morocco has decided to re-join AU is because it feels that it has allowed its critics within the body to hijack the narrative on the Moroccan Sahara for far too long. They have deliberately chosen to ignore the fact that Morocco is making massive economic and infrastructure investments in the Sahara and has already offered meaningful autonomy to its Sahara provinces. Contrast this with the deplorable situation in Polisario’s Tindouf camps and the fact that the separatist group was found diverting humanitarian aid by European agencies.
Recall also how Polisario’s leader Brahim Ghali is facing charges of genocide and crimes against humanity in a Spanish court. However, this isn’t just about Morocco and the Sahara issue – which is essentially a baggage of the past. In considering Morocco’s re-admission into AU one must also take cognisance of the constructive role that the country has been playing in Africa. It has been championing South-South cooperation between sister African nations to boost economic development through indigenous resources. It has been facilitating security cooperation through active intelligence sharing to counter the scourge of terrorism. And it has been pushing for the promotion of moderate Islam to ideologically counter the rise of Islamist extremism in Africa.
Apart from this, Morocco has also facilitated peace talks between Libya’s rival governments that resulted in the declaration to form a government of national unity in that country. More recently, Morocco took the decision to establish a multi-specialty field hospital in Juba, South Sudan, in line with its long-established pan-African humanitarian tradition. Morocco also successfully held the UN climate summit COP-22 in Marrakech in November last year. Taken together, all of these measures and policy initiatives show that Morocco is a responsible, conscientious and progressive member of the international community that can do much to address African concerns. Thus, AU should welcome Morocco back into its fold with open arms.
By Rudroneel Ghosh