15, July 2016
Morocco is reportedly set to rejoin the African Union (AU) after leaving the pan-African organization more than three decades ago. An anonymous diplomatic source told Moroccan newspaper Akhbar al-Youm that the historic move is anticipated to be announced during the 27th AU Summit scheduled to take place in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, on July 17-18.
The source refused to confirm whether King Mohammed VI would attend the upcoming AU summit starting this Sunday. However, it said Moroccan Foreign Minister Salaheddine Mezouar has recently been on a diplomatic trip to several African capitals, including Egypt, Libya, Sudan, Senegal, Tunisia Cameroon, Cote D’ivoire and Ethiopia, to inform them all of Morocco’s decision.
Morocco has access to services available to all AU states, but remains the only African UN member not to be a member of the AU. In recent years, several African officials have urged Rabat to return to its seat at the AU. “Morocco is a fully-fledged member of the African family, and no-one has the right to exclude the Kingdom from the AU,” Senegalese Foreign Minister Mankeur Ndiaye said during King Mohammed’s visit to Senegal in May 2015, adding, “We think that now is the time for Morocco to return to the African Union.”
The AU, which replaced the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 2001, includes all 54 African states besides Morocco that are members of the United Nations. The country decided to withdraw from the continental organization in 1984 over the union’s decision to accept the self-proclaimed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) as a formal member. Morocco considers the territory as part of the kingdom and insists its sovereignty cannot be challenged. Morocco annexed the vast, mineral-rich territory of the Western Sahara after Spain withdrew in 1975. It is currently viewed as Morocco’s “southern provinces” and the government continues to carry out multi-million-dollar development projects in the area.
However, neighboring Algeria, like numerous other African countries, recognizes the territory as the SADR, and hosts the headquarters of the Sahrawi liberation movement, the Polisario Front. Morocco has offered wide-ranging autonomy for the region; but the Polisario Front movement, which claims the disputed territory belongs to the ethnic Sahrawis, insists that a referendum be held so that the local population can decide their fate. For decades, the UN has been seeking to hold a referendum on independence for the territory.