After 33 years of self-imposed diplomatic exile, Morocco has been readmitted into the African Union (AU). Previously, the country had left the organisation after the AU made a series of statements in support of the Polisario Front. The Polisario Front- who have been seeking the right to an independent nation-state in Western Sahara- have been engaged in verbal and military combat with the Moroccan government since the start of the Western Sahara War in 1975. I have mixed emotions towards this decision, and this is what I want to outline in this piece.
At first I was hesitant toward the readmission of Morocco into the AU for a couple of reasons. The first was in relation to democracy. The African Union prides itself of promoting democratic values across the continent, particularly in the pan-African context of self-rule. It was therefore only logical that the AU sided with the Polisario Front, who were literally seeking democratic self-determination in the face of Moroccan oppression. If the Polisario Front are to be successful in establishing the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) as an officially recognised nation-state, Morocco should be isolated and forced to negotiate rather than welcomed into an international forum.
Secondly, a key part of AU membership is the ability of countries across the continent to share resources, often in terms of development aid. Given that Morocco is currently depriving people of their right to self-determination, I find it somewhat distasteful that the country may soon be able to access financial aid, as many Sahrawis live in refugee camps and in conditions that could accurately described as inhumane. Any developmental aid to Morocco would be used to bolster the economic might of the country, which will enable it to further oppress the Sahrawi people.
However there are counter-points that should be considered. The first is that the AU’s response to Morocco’s actions has been largely toothless. The AU has recognised the SADR as a legitimate nation-state for a number of years, and so it wouldn’t be inconceivable if the AU put together a peacekeeping operation to assist them against Moroccan aggression. The fact that they have not done this would seem to suggest that the AU has ruled out military measures. It could therefore be argued that having Morocco in a forum to negotiate and discuss the situation in Western Sahara is better than nothing happening.
On the subject of developmental aid, the African Union could always work to make sure that Morocco isn’t provided with aid as long as the SADR is unrecognised and Sahrawi people are oppressed.This, coupled with trade sanctions, would stop any economic benefits from AU membership and thus push the Moroccan government towards the negotiating table. The other aspect of this is that Morocco is, comparatively speaking, a somewhat affluent country. As such, it would be likely that aid would be coming from Morocco rather than going to the country. Once these funds have gone to the AU, Addis Ababa could easily send this aid to Western Sahara.
To conclude, I do not know where I stand on this issue. I remain committed to democracy and the right of people to be self-governing, and as such continue to support the Sahrawi people. However, in this specific case I don’t know if it would be better for the SADR’s cause if Morocco was in the African Union. Time will tell if the AU will get tough on Morocco, or at the very least facilitate negotiations. If anyone feels very strongly one way or another about this issue, feel free to try and convince me in the comments section below, because at this point I could be persuaded either way.