“Morocco is returning to resume its natural place in the African Union, after 32 years of separation.” With these words, spoken on 6 November in Dakar, the capital of Senegal, during a speech to commemorate the forty-first anniversary of the Green March, King Mohamed VI of Morocco reiterated its request for reinstatement into the African Union (AU).
It is the first time that the Moroccan monarch addresses the nation outside of its borders and he did so in one of the journeys he has undertaken in the last two months in several African countries. With the aim of consolidating a political-diplomatic front, in order to support the return of Morocco to the pan-African body.
The African tour of the King of Morocco began two months ago with visits to several countries in East Africa, and it will continue until the middle of December in other countries of the continent, before the vote for the accession of Morocco to the AU, expected at the beginning of the new year.
Rabat abandoned its seat in the then Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1984, following the admission of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), the state self-proclaimed in 1976 by the POLISARIO Front (Popular Front for the Liberation of Sanguía el- Hamra and Río de Oro), an armed movement backed by Algeria.
The SADR’s admission to the AU de facto established recognition of the independence of Western Sahara, a former Iberian colony that Madrid ceded to Morocco and Mauritania in 1975 with a secret agreement contrary to the right to self-determination.
In the subsequent division of the region between Mauritania and Morocco, the latter tookcontrol of the entire Sanguía el-Hamra and the northern part of the Río de Oro, while the rest of the territory came under the jurisdiction of Nouakchott.
With the Moroccan military occupation, the war started, Mauritania, however, withdrew from the contest in 1979 and the area that had been assigned with the Madrid agreements was largely occupied by Morocco.
The fight for the Saharawi’s right to self-determination, was led from the beginning by the POLISARIO, which maintained a fierce resistance until 1991, when, with the mediation of the UN, there was a ceasefire and a promise of self-determination with a referendum to settle the question, even though there is no common ground on this between Morocco and the SADR.
Until now, no consultation has ever been held and the southern desert territory, rich in phosphates and potential oil and gas deposits, is still under Moroccan occupation.
Many Sahrawi are still living as they have done for over forty years as refugees in six camps located in Tindouf, a harsh desert region of Algeria, forced into encampments of tents and sand-brick houses. In all this, thousands of young people, born in the refugee camps, live with fatigue, isolation and lack of prospects.
Now the African Union continues to recognize Western Sahara as a de facto state. The organization has repeatedly asked for a referendum to ascertain the true will of the Saharawi people to pursue self-determination and independence from Morocco.
Over three decades, this guideline has moved Morocco from its leading position in Africa’s intergovernmental institution. Rabat’s position has changed in recent years with the adoption of a long-term strategy, which provides a multidimensional policy approach focused on consolidating and diversifying its relations with African partners. A path towards enabling Morocco to exercise a leading role in the African continent, both in the near term and long term.
The new foreign policy dimension of the Moroccan kingdom surfaced last July, when at the 27th meeting of African Union Heads of State and Government, King Mohammed VI sent a statement in which he expressed the intention to return Morocco to the organization .
There are two fundamental conditions set by Morocco to the AU Assembly for it to go back into the Organization: to correct an “emblematic mistake” and adopt a “constructive neutrality” on the Western Sahara question, which for more than four decades is a thorn in the side of Rabat’s diplomatic relations.
“Constructive neutrality” does not mean a clear change in the Moroccan position on the Sahrawi issue, but is rather an attempt to promote a line of mediation, based on the balance between self-determination and territorial integrity, which would result in possibly obtaining the status of autonomous region for Western Sahara.
For its part, the SADR. that within the AU can count on the support of Nigeria and South Africa, says that Morocco should not be allowed to rejoin to the Addis Ababa organization, unless it withdraws from the disputed territory.
Rabat’s change of tack on the Saharawi question, however, can be also read in terms of pragmatism: by which Mohammed VI realized that his country had been on the edge of an intergovernmental organization of considerable importance and diplomatic strength at regional and international levels, resulting in a significant loss of bargaining power for his country.
In the same vein, it is possible that if Mohammed VI managed to bring Morocco into the AU, this could exert considerable pressure on the POLISARIO to accept the autonomy proposal from Morocco or even induce the Pan-African Organization to withdraw the membership of Western Sahara.