18, July 2016
Morocco has officially announced plans to rejoin the African Union more than three decades after it left the bloc in protest at the independence of Western Sahara. King Mohammed VI sent a message to the leaders of the union as they began a two-day summit in the Rwandan capital Kigali on Sunday, saying it’s time for his country to retake its position in the organization.
“For a long time our friends have been asking us to return to them, so that Morocco can take up its natural place within its institutional family. The moment has now come,” said the monarch. He said although Morocco left the club, “it never quit Africa.” In 1984, King Mohammed’s father, King Hassan II, pulled the North African country out of the union over the decision to accept the independence of Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic as a formal member.
Morocco annexed Western Sahara in 1975 and considers it the kingdom’s “southern province.” For decades, the United Nations has been seeking to hold a referendum on independence for the territory. While the government in Morocco continues to carry out multi-million-dollar development projects in the territory, several African countries recognize the area as the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic.
Morocco has offered wide-ranging autonomy for the region, but the Polisario Front, the independence movement in the Western Sahara insists that a referendum be held so that the local population can decide their fate. Leaders of the movement warned in April that that if the UN Security Council fails to set a timetable for a vote on self-determination, war will be possible over the disputed territory.