Morocco could prove to be a Trojan horse within the belly of the AU, serving to undermine unity within the continental body, writes Shannon Ebrahim.
Most of the countries that opposed Morocco’s inclusion are led by former liberation movements who themselves relied on the solidarity of the OAU in their struggle for freedom.
Fully understanding the consequences of Morocco’s inclusion, the ANC, SACP and even the EFF firmly rejected the AU’s decision to re-admit Morocco, asking how Morocco could become a member when the people of Western Sahara continue to suffer under Morocco’s unjust occupation.
The consensus in Southern Africa was that the end of Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara should have been the precondition for admission to the AU.
A number of states in West Africa have never actively supported the Sahrawi struggle. Some regional analysts argue that this is due to the fact that their foreign policies have historically been more aligned with the former colonial power, France, which is an ally of Morocco.
For many other African states, the view may have been that having Morocco sign and ratify the AU Constitutive Act obligates it to respect the borders which existed at independence, to observe human rights and to respect the right of occupied people to self-determination.
Such optimism is probably misplaced, as Morocco has no intention of ending its neo-colonial occupation of Western Sahara. Just weeks ago it boycotted the Afro-Arab Summit in Malabo due to the presence of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.
Senior Moroccan officials openly stated prior to the AU Summit that they intended to work within the AU to expel Western Sahara from the body.
Morocco is likely to pursue its agenda by bribing African states with phosphates and natural resources in order to divide the continent in terms of its solidarity with the Sahrawi cause.
According to the December 2016 ruling of the EU Court of Justice, Morocco can no longer sell products or resources from occupied Western Sahara to Europe, so Morocco will now market these in Africa.
There is no doubt that Morocco had increasingly felt the effects of its diplomatic isolation as the only African country not within the AU, and its membership of the European Union having been rejected due to its lack of democracy and its human rights violations. The ruling of the EU Court of Justice was another diplomatic blow to the occupation Morocco has tried for years to legitimise.
But Morocco’s re-entry into the AU will not necessarily be an easy ride considering this week’s report of the AU Summit on Western Sahara.
The report highlighted the urgent need for renewed international efforts to resolve the Western Sahara issue, and the AU has reiterated its call on the UN General Assembly to determine a date for the long- delayed referendum on self-determination.
The AU committed itself to protect the integrity of Western Sahara from acts to undermine it and called for the full functionality of the UN mission for a referendum to be restored.
The best one can hope for is that Morocco’s inclusion in the AU will bring fresh emphasis on the struggle of the people of Western Sahara, and enable their cause to recapture the headlines in the international media.
But the less optimistic approach is that Morocco has entered the AU with sinister motives, with a view to destroying the revolutionary impulses left on the continent. Dividing AU member states on this issue could have the consequence of paralysing the AU, which may be part of a hidden agenda on the part of the former colonial powers and the US to weaken the AU.
The AU has become an increasingly important regional body, even without the ability to be self-financing.
It has taken strongly independent positions on African issues and has railed against interference from western powers. The question needs to be asked – whose interests will it serve if the AU ceases functioning as a powerful collective?
Given these deeper challenges, AU member states need to be more vigilant than ever before and to mobilise against the continued occupation of Western Sahara. They will need to insist that Morocco puts its cards on the table and clarifies its position on self-determination.
* Ebrahim is Group Foreign Editor.
The Sunday Independent