Morocco yesterday (31 January) rejoined the African Union (AU) more than three decades after leaving this regional organization. The country withdrew from the bloc in 1984 in protest over the continental body’s recognition of the independence of the disputed territory of Western Sahara, regarded by Morocco as part of its historic territory. The international community hailed Morocco’s readmission into the regional organization, hoping that this step could pave the way for peace building. Responding to the African Union’s decision, the officials of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), an entity currently not recognized by the UN or any Western government, sought to cast it in a positive light, saying AU membership could ultimately speed up efforts to end a protracted conflict.
However, despite the idealistic view voiced after the vote by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia, that “Africa wants to speak in one voice. We need all African countries to be a part of that voice,” Morocco’s readmission was not a smooth-sailing process. As many as 15 of the AU’s 54 member nations were against readmitting Morocco, including continental powerhouses Algeria and South Africa, both of whom have been longtime supporters of SADR’s claim of independence. Most discussions concerned the actual border dispute as well as thousands of Sahrawi refugees living in camps in Algeria, some of whom have been there for around 40 years.
Both Morocco and the African Union are key partners for the European Union and European leadership commented that the EU was looking forward to working with both sides to consolidate the EU’s growing partnership with Africa. The Spanish government congratulated Morocco on its return to the African Union, saying that it expresses “its great satisfaction at this decision, given Spain’s excellent relations with Morocco, a neighboring country and strategic partner, as well as with the African Union, a vital interlocutor in the African continent.” Belgian government commended that “this decision will further strengthen the partnership of both sides of the Mediterranean.” France also hailed the “historic” return of Morocco to the African Union, viewing this as “a major step towards unity, stability and development of the African continent.”