After a 33-year absence over refusal to cede its claim to the occupied Western Sahara, Morocco has now been re-admitted into the African Union.
Following an emotional and tense debate, member states decided by consensus to leave the question of the disputed territory of Western Sahara for another day, and resolve it with Morocco “back in the family”.
“Morocco has been admitted to join the AU with a view that it will become the 55th member of the continental body. That’s made with the understanding that Western Sahara will remain a member of the AU,” said Lamine Baali, ambassador of Western Sahara to Ethiopia and the AU.
“All the debates were focused on [the issue] that Morocco should respect the internationally recognised border of Western Sahara.”
The only African country not to belong to the AU, Morocco left its predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity, in 1984 after the body recognised the independence of Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara.
Morocco submitted its bid to rejoin last year, reportedly in the hope that being inside the AU would bring it diplomatic gains against Western Sahara’s independence movement – the Polisario Front – and allow it to lobby against Western Sahara’s membership in the AU.
But Baali said Morocco had been re-admitted “with the understanding that Western Sahara will remain a member of the AU”.
The membership of relatively wealthy Morocco was welcomed by many members of the AU, which has been criticised for being overly dependent on non-African donor funding.
There was also some opposition from countries supporting the Polisario, observers said.
An African Union source, who followed the debate for Morocco to return to the continental body, said that 39 countries supported Morocco’s bid but nine voted against it.