Morocco's return to African Union

Africa Diary, By M Khalid Aftab

Morocco's return to African Union opens up new Opportunities for Trade and Investments
Morocco’s return to the AU is a diplomatic victory and gives Indian Government a strong ally in Africa – especially in Francophone Africa

African Union (AU) last month re-admitted Morocco into its fold. It will be recalled that Morocco was the only African country that was not part of AU. It had chosen to withdraw from the pan-African body in 1984 after the latter had recognised the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) as a full member.

The SADR is the product of a long-running separatist movement regarding the territory of the Moroccan Sahara — over which Morocco exercises full sovereign authority today. The Moroccan Sahara was earlier a Spanish colonial exclave— the rest of Morocco itself was under the French till 1956.

However, in 1975 the Moroccan Sahara was divided between Morocco and Mauritania under the Madrid Accords. Mauritania latter relinquished its claims to the territory in 1979. But since 1975, a separatist group called the Polisario Front – backed primarily by Algeria – has carried out an armed struggle for independence of the Moroccan Sahara. In 1991, a ceasefire was brokered between Morocco and Polisario allowing for the establishment of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara.

But the terms of the referendum were never fulfilled. In fact, the Polisario Sahrawi camps in Tindouf in western Algeria never permitted a proper census of refugees. As things stand today, Morocco has offered a high degree of autonomy to its Sahara provinces as a solution to this long festering issue. And to bolster its proposal, it has undertaken a slew of development projects in the Sahara.

Despite all this, the Moroccan Sahara-SADR issue has continued to weigh down AU as a colonial baggage, preventing African unity. It’s in this context that Morocco’s return to AU needs to be seen. That 39 African nations voted in support of Morocco’s return to the pan-African body shows the direction in which a majority of AU’s members want the organisation to proceed. But interestingly this process had actually received a big push in India in 2015. The Third India-Africa Forum Summit held in New Delhi in October of that year saw the Indian government invite all African nations, including Morocco – SADR wasn’t invited as India has suspended diplomatic recognition of this entity.

In fact, that Summit saw an intense debate about the inclusion of the term ‘colonialism’ in the final draft of the Delhi Declaration in view of the Moroccan Sahara-SADR issue. But thanks to the intervention of Indian interlocutors, consensual language was found to Morocco’s satisfaction. The Summit and Morocco’s participation in it set the ball rolling for Morocco’s eventual return to the AU.

This is welcome on several fronts. First, Africa today has all that is needed to emerge as the next global growth hub – abundant natural resources, a growing middle class, and improving governance structures. However, it continues to be plagued by intra-continental politics and legacy issues. These need to be set aside in favour of greater continental unity to pool resources and boost intra-regional trade. In that sense, Morocco’s return to the AU once again makes the African institutional family whole and pushes the case for greater continental cooperation.

Second, Morocco’s return to the AU will only be an asset to the pan-African body. Not only is Morocco a top African economy, it’s also at the forefront of championing South-South cooperation in areas such as agriculture, education, healthcare, environment protection, etc. Plus, Morocco has been fighting the scourge of Islamist extremism through intelligence and security cooperation with sister African nations and European partners. It even has an ideological dimension to its counter-terror efforts in the form of a programme that trains foreign imams in moderate Islamic tenets.

Lastly, Africa needs to go beyond its colonial hangover and learn to stand on its own feet. Hitherto Africa was only united on paper. Hopefully, Morocco’s return to the AU will see Africa united in purpose and practice. As far as India is concerned, Morocco’s return to AU gives New Delhi a strong ally in Africa – especially in Francophone Africa – that is willing to open up new opportunities for trade and investment. That’s certainly a big win for the Narendra Modi government.

India welcomes Morocco's return to AU

India welcomed Morocco's return to the African Union and in what can be described as a diplomatic victory that Indian Ministries can quietly take some credit for. “India and Africa have a historic relationship and this has grown into a sustainable partnership. India wholeheartedly welcomes Morocco’s return to the AU, which has strengthened Africa’s Unity,” a statement from the Indian Ministry of External Affairs said.

India’s message follows Morocco’s re-admission into the African Union in January more than three decades after it left the body over the latter’s recognition of the independence of the disputed territory of Western Sahara.

Thirty-nine countries supported Morocco’s bid for re-admission into the AU but nine voted against it, news reports said.

India has been following an aggressive woo Africa strategy with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, President Pranab Mukherjee and Vice President Hamid Ansari visiting about a dozen African countries among them last year.

Notably, India had invited Morocco for India-Africa Summit in 2015 even though it was not amember of the AU.

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Diplomatist Magazine was launched in October of 1996 as the signature magazine of L.B. Associates (Pvt) Ltd, a contract publishing house based in Noida, a satellite town of New Delhi, India, the National Capital.