Reasons behind Morocco’s decision to join the African Union (AU)
The on-going territorial dispute between the Sahrawi people of the Western Sahara and the Kingdom of Morocco is one of the manifestations of the unfortunate tragedies of the Western colonisation of Africa. The less known and indeed less understood struggle of the people of the Western Sahara led by the Polisario Front has been a divisive factor and one of the origins of scepticism between the North and Sub Saharan Africa. Except for few countries in Sub Saharan Africa, there is a large support of the Polisario in the region. The Sub Saharan Africa’s support of the Polisario is not a surprise, most countries in the region have been victims of colonisation. The Polisario is still fighting remnants of colonisation and for self-determination. It is demanding that the Sahrawi people should decide in a referendum whether they want to be part of Morocco.
Western Sahara borders Morocco, Algeria and Mauritania and has maintained a distinct socio-political tradition in Northwest Africa. Each of these three countries have claimed part of the Western Sahara as their territory, Morocco’s claims have been more amplified that the rest. The domination of France in the regional politics of Northwest Africa (Magreb) contributed to the exclusiveness and isolation of Western Sahara in the region. Western Sahara was the only territory in the Northwest Africa which was under the protectorate of Spain. Morocco gained independence from France in 1958. Spain on the other hand continued its mantle in the Western Sahara until it abruptly abandoned its mandate to Morocco in 1976. It was after this period that the aspirations of independence of the Western Sahara intensified. After lobbying the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), Western Sahara, Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic was accepted as the member of the OAU in 1982. Two years later in 1984 during the 20th Summit of the OAU, Morocco suspended its membership. As of 2016, 38 out of 54 members of AU recognised the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. The AOU became AU on 26 May 2001, it was launched in South Africa and changed its name during the same ceremony in July 2002. According to the statement issued by the AU, The Moroccan foreign affairs adviser submitted a request to the current chair of the African Union Commission Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma to join the AU
What has led to Morocco’s about turn on the AU? The argument that the officials in Morocco present is that it will be easier to deal with the Western Sahara’s issue inside the AU. Morocco intends using its membership inside the AU to promote its political agenda, mainly to lobby more members to renounce their recognition of the Western Sahara according to some senior officials. First of all, Morocco lacks political incentives to influence those members of the AU who support and recognise the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. It is also difficult to believe that Morocco will be allowed to pursue its open secret political agenda of “discord” in the AU. What is rather likely to happen is that Polisario and Morocco might be encouraged to resume talks that may culminate into an amicable political agreement. The truth is, Morocco remains isolated and is beginning to feel the strain of the isolation. Like many North African countries Morocco has been circumspect and often opportunistic in its dealings with Sub Saharan Africa. Morocco preferred the Arab League over the AU. However the importance and influence of the Arab League has dwindled especially after the coup in Egypt. The block does not hold the same amount of influence as it did before. Furthermore the lack of enthusiasm by the United States (US) under the Obama administration towards the Palestine/Israel conflict has rendered the Arab League further away from the international stage. In fact the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has gain momentum and visibility in the international political arena than the Arab League. Finally there are many economic benefits that continue to flow to Africa through various conduits provided by the AU. Morocco has been missing out on these benefits including the important photo opportunities in a number of summits that Africa has had with several developed nations. It has also increased the bargaining power of Africa both politically and economically. The AU has emasculated those African countries that are too weak and poor to negotiate alone. Consequently the AU has been facilitating the economic coordination between the developed world and Africa. The economic opportunities channelled through and by the members of the AU and the lobbying muscles the bloc have at different global platforms have forced Morocco to reconsider its membership in the AU.