More than three decades after leaving the African Union in protest, Morocco has submitted a membership request.
For the past three decades, Morocco has been the only African country that is not a member of the continent’s political and economic body. In 1984, Morocco quit the African Union (AU) in protest over the AU’s decision to include the disputed territory of Western Sahara. In mid-July of this year, King Mohammed VI sent the AU summit a message saying that it was time for Morocco to retake its place in the union.
A Dramatic Exit
Western Sahara is a disputed territory in the Maghreb region of North Africa, bordered to the North by Morocco. One of the most sparsely populated places on the planet, Western Sahara has been a pawn in international power games since the 1960s. Originally colonized by the Spanish, Western Sahara was relinquished to a joint government with Morocco (which had claimed the territory since 1957) and Mauritania in the mid-1970s, and war erupted. Morocco secured control of the majority of the territory after nearly a decade, and in 1991 the United Nations issued a ceasefire. The admittance of Western Sahara to the AU as an entity separate from Morocco drove Morocco to leave the union in protest. Morocco has not been recognized as the legitimate ruler by an UN member since 2006, and it is this long-standing rejection of its claims to sovereignty that no doubt played a role in its decision to bow its head and ask to rejoin the AU.
Slip of the Tongue
For the past 25 years, a UN peacekeeping mission known as MINURSO (The United Nations Mission for Referendum in Western Sahara), has attempted to keep the peace in the territory. Earlier this year, Morocco threatened to remove all 83 of its international peacekeepers from UN missions after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said publicly used the word “occupying” to describe Morocco’s involvement in the region. The majority of the world would agree with the Secretary General (only 34 countries do not recognize Western Sahara as a sovereign nation), but Morocco continues to believe itself the rightful ruler.
Some claim that the monarchy’s claims to Western Sahara show an unacceptable amount of arrogance that must be tempered in order to participate in the international AU. Unlike many other North African states, Morocco avoided making substantive changes during the Arab Spring of 2011. The country remains a monarchy with under King Mohammed VI, who claimed that, while Morocco may have quit the AU, “it never quit Africa.” His appeal to the AU for Morocco’s readmission brought the country to a fever pitch: Moroccans regard Western Sahara as its southernmost provinces, and by requesting to rejoin the AU, some Moroccans believe their country is acquiescing to international pressures. It is more likely that, after 32 years, the Moroccan government has realized its departure from the AU has not at all helped its diplomatic position in Western Sahara, or anywhere else.
Who’s Who in the AU
The AU was created out of the Organization of African Unity in 2001 and is a union dedicated to keeping peace throughout the continent, including supporting democracy, encouraging economic growth and integration, and promote and protect human rights in accordance with the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, a document created by the union that draws upon the internationally recognized UN Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The AU deployed its first peacekeeping mission to Burundi, and has also set troops to the Darfur region of Sudan.
The AU is also the platform from which Africa shows its opinions on global matters, such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Initiatives are discussed and bodies formed out of member states, such as the recent gathering of First Ladies to discuss the importance of ending preventable cervical, prostate and breast cancer deaths across the continent.
Rejoining the Club
Morocco’s plea must be decided upon by a vote. If it is re-admitted, it will enjoy the same benefits as other members. It does not seem, however, that Morocco has at all suffered (besides in reputation) from its outside status: it has enjoyed special status with the AU and with the African Development Bank ever since it left the AU. While Morocco may not have economically or politically suffered from its exit, it has long been regarded as childish and arrogant by international spectators. Hopefully, this humbling appeal will bring Morocco back into the embrace of the AU, and the African continent can be united at least in name.