Morocco Readmission To African Union Shines Spotlight On Western Sahara

Despite lingering questions over the status of the Western Sahara, Morocco was today readmitted as a member of the African Union, becoming the last African country to do so.

Morocco quit the organization in 1984, after the A.U. recognized the independence of Western Sahara, regarded by Morocco as part of its territory.

Western Sahara is the last African case on the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization, BBC reported. A referendum was promised in 1991 but never held because of disagreements over voter eligibility.

Morocco says the former Spanish colony is an integral part of its kingdom. The Polisario Front, which works for the territory’s independence, wants a referendum on self-determination.

Morocco’s A.U. readmission follows months of intense lobbying and emotional debate.

“Morocco is now a full member of the African Union. There was a very long debate but 39 of our 54 states approved the return of Morocco, even if the Western Sahara question remains,” Senegalese President Macky Sall told journalists, according to an AFP report in France 24.

Algeria and South Africa were against Morocco being readmitted. Both have been long-time supporters of self-determination for Western Sahara’s Polisario movement.

The debate has been “an emotional call for the fight against colonization,” according to Liesl Louw-Vaudran, an analyst for the Institute for Security Studies. Some countries find it unthinkable that Morocco would sit in the same room as Western Sahara, AFP reported.

This is a timeline on Morocco and Western Sahara, provided by BBC:

1975-1976: Morocco seizes two thirds of Western Sahara after colonial power Spain withdraws.
1975-1976: Polisario Front declares the Saharan Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), with a government in exile in Algeria. Thousands of Sahrawi refugees flee to western Algeria to set up camps.
1984: Morocco leaves the Organisation of African Unity (which later becomes the African Union) in protest at the SADR’s admission to the body.
1991: U.N.-monitored ceasefire begins in Western Sahara, but the territory’s status remains undecided and ceasefire violations are reported. The following decade sees much wrangling over a proposed referendum on the future of the territory but the deadlock is not broken.
March 2016: Morocco threatens to pull its soldiers out of U.N. global peacekeeping missions in Western Sahara, after U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon uses the term “occupation” when referring to the territory.
May 2016: Longtime Polisario Front leader Mohamed Abdelaziz dies at age 68.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf said Morocco’s acceptance to rejoin the African Union was the will of the majority of members. Resolving the Western Sahara question will have to be for another day. Click here to read more.