Jan. 30, 2017 (GIN) – Despite a possible floor fight over the return of Morocco to the African Union, the North African nation this week boasted it had the “unconditional support” of 42 members of the bloc in favor of readmission.
The North African country was readmitted Monday, Jan. 30, after a 33 year absence. Opposition to its readmission was overcome among key AU players including Nigeria, South Africa, Algeria, Kenya and Angola, even as a last minute request for a legal opinion was submitted as to whether the AU could accept a member that is “occupying parts of the territory” of another member, namely the Western Sahara.
Morocco refuses to cede its claim to occupied Western Sahara, maintaining that the former Spanish colony is an integral part of the kingdom, while the Polisario Front, which campaigns for the territory’s independence, demands a referendum on self-determination.
Algeria and South Africa are the major allies of the Polisario Front. After talks with Polisario leader Brahim Ghali last month, South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma said: “It is unfathomable that Western Sahara… still remains colonized.
“We remain committed to continue to walk with the people of Western Sahara until you are free to live in your own land and able to determine your own future.”
Intense lobbying had preceded the decision to readmit Morocco as fears grew among Western Saharans that they might be kicked out of the AU. Last year, 28 AU members signed a petition to expel it, even though the bloc’s treaty doesn’t chart a clear path for removing a member against its will.
Nevertheless, despite “fundamental concerns that have to be taken into account”, the AU’s legal counsel gave the green light to readmission.
Morocco left the AU’s predecessor (the Organization for African Unity) in 1984 protesting the body’s recognition of Western Sahara’s independence.
Working in Morocco’s favor was its affluence – much needed since the death of Moammar Gaddafi, a key financier of the AU.
Now, with Morocco, the AU gains a well-connected member as it seeks to move away from international funding and become more self-reliant in the face of isolationist tendencies in the U.S. and Europe. A close ally of the U.S., Morocco collaborates on the “war on terror” and has supported European Union efforts to stop African migrants from reaching its shores.