What could be behind Morocco’s aspirations to reinstate the African Union?

What could be behind Morocco’s aspirations to reinstate the African Union?


LYON, FRANCE- Rumors of Morocco rejoining the African Union date back to as far as 2005. Back then Morocco wanted a gradual reintegration and the ousting of the Sahara Arab Democratic Republic pseudo state from the institution as condition for its return.

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King Mohammed VI with his bosom friend, Gabonese president Ali Bongo Ondimba. Since his ascent on the throne, King Mohammed VI decided to turn towards the African continent rather than Europe.

However, today, despite previous impediments preventing Morocco from being reinstated at the African Union, the kingdom, without preconditions will rejoin the African organism, after more than thirty years of separation. The reasons for which this piece of news is far esteemed (at least on the Moroccan side) are many. But before starting, let us proceed to a short recall of the facts that lead Morocco to withdraw from the African Union.

It all started in 1960. In the wake of the decolonization process of the African continent, various independent and sovereign African states decided to be united in writing together a new page of the continental history. The ambition which emerged then was that of a strong continental union, with the formation of the contemporary economic union in the likes of the European Economic Community. In the realization of this will, Hassan II of Morocco took part actively and with much engagement in the creation of the Organization of African Unity (which later became the African Union).

From the beginning, however, Morocco expressed its reservations with respect to the OAU. Indeed, the OAU ratified one of its first principles: the intangibility of postcolonial borders. Although largely disputed, this principle, with its peaceful aim, was justified by the multiple secessions conflicts which threatened to once burst off the former colonies once colonial forces left. Vis-a-vis these risks, the OAU decided to pose the intangibility of the borders as an overriding principle, ergo avoiding opening the Pandora’s Box.

However, Morocco (with other countries like Nigeria or Ethiopia), could not admit that the borders of the time, which allocated parts of their own territory to the Spaniards (Sebta, Melilia, or Ifni), were sealed indefinitely. Morocco later expressed its reservation on the subject while choosing to continue to work within the OAU, with the goal to lead the ideal of an African unity.

The paradox of this initial disagreement lies in the fact that, in 1984, more than twenty years after the start of the OAU, the principle of intangibility of borders that 26 of the 50 Member States had ratified, admitted the Democratic Arab Republic of Western Sahara (most known under its French acronym RASD), a secessionist group, as an official member, sovereign and independent. By accepting this new member, it called into question the Moroccan territorial integrity, the OAU transgressed the intangibility of borders and a Moroccan delegation led by Ahmed Guedira, representing King Hassan II informed the AU of its decision to bang the door of the African Union.

Since this separation in 1984, more than thirty countries in the world withdrew their recognition of the RASD, of which several in Africa (Benin, Malawi, Chad, etc), the latest to date being Zambia. For the moment, neither the official withdrawal of the recognition of the RASD by the AU, nor no other element besides, was given conditions for the return of Morocco in the AU. Though, the economic and diplomatic strategic positioning of Morocco with respect to other African countries, in particular those South of the Sahara lets me think that the Kingdom hopes well, to put aside local disagreements in a bet to continue regional, continental, even worldly geopolitical interest. Concretely, here are some of the reasons for which Morocco is returning as member of the AU and why it could be an excellent piece of news, let us take the three following points:

Firstly, Morocco at last has abandoned its futile EU adhesion dreams to accept its Africanistic position. However, in reality the feeling of “Africaness” of Moroccans is far from being anchored. If one pays attention to citizenship issues in the European Union, regular surveys of European citizens reveal that the European citizenship is gradually preferred in an increasing way and given priority over national identity. One is increasingly European, before being French, German or Spanish.

However similar soundings are not available to Morocco, but it is undoubtedly not likely to cultivate the same results, because of its multiple identities, the African affiliation is not, or in any case, not asserted yet enough. Moroccans primarily recognize themselves as Arab, Berber, Sahraouis, Muslims, Mediterraneans… But Africans, not entirely. I remember my first experience in Morocco and down at the parking spot of Casablanca airport, I could not hide my incomprehension when the driver that came to pick me up at the airport said I “came from Africa”.

Nevertheless, a real continental integration, be it economic, political or even monetary, can be completed only if it is supported by a solid popular connection. Morocco can completely carry out its continental integration only if its citizens align, and design the continent as a unit in which they are part of and can find a common membership and interests. If at the moment the majority of Moroccans are considered quite as close to a Senegalese, a Guinean, a Cameroonian, Ivorian or even to a citizen from the Republic of Comoros Islands, we should remember that one in two Africans today has less than twenty years and a whole generation can emerge with a new way of seeing things.

Thus the decision of Morocco to return to the African Union can reinforce this new identity starting from the top, something that was already engaged when King Mohammed VI decided to turn towards the African continent rather than Europe. At this defining moment when the idea of national identities are reinforced, where the countries are walled on themselves and proclaim  others as synonym of menace, the opening of Morocco on its continent would be a strong, and encouraging sign, which would move Morocco away from ignorance and bridge the gap between the South and north of the Sahara.

Secondly, a growing continental common market is a good prospect. Shortly after the British BREXIT of the European Union, fears related to the signal Great Britain’s exit sent to various regional integrations in progress in other parts of the world, in particular in the countries in the process of development, was negative. Thus, the thought of the decision of the people of one of the countries founding members of the EU to withdraw itself has got other countries, in Africa in particular, to think about it twice before continuing the monetary or economic processes of unification (in zones like the CEMAC, CEDEAO).

Unlike the European Union, the African Union does not have a monetary union even though it dreams of making it a reality.

Hence, the idea of a return of Morocco could mean, symbolically, that the goals of the African Union are always pursued, and could give again a real breath to the AU. The realization of a functional African economic union could be again considered in a realistic way, like a vector of a new South-South economic cooperation whose economies of scale could make it possible for it to be positioned on activities with high added value. A consolidated African unit could reverse the terms of trade which have been described as unequal, so much so that they confined Africa on the row of low value exporters of products.

Let us remember that if the unit of a Common Market is attained, that would represent an economic block of a billion inhabitants, which is to say as many consumers, adding up a purchasing power of 11300 billion Euros. For Morocco more precisely, an open African market would make it possible to make profitable its competitive advantages, still under-exploited in Africa, in fields like agriculture, textile or chemicals (Morocco, for the moment, represents for these fields respectively 1,5%, 0.2% and 0.5% of the African market).

These advantages, Morocco already understands them. Actually, in the private sector, Morocco was classified in 2015, as the second African country investor, via multinationals like Saham in health, Maroc Telecom in telecommunications, Attjariwafa Bank and BMCE in the banking and financial sector or the Royal Air Maroc which essentially travels daily over 20 destinations and more across Africa.

Additionally, from a diplomatic, strategic and geopolitical point of view, the return of Morocco in the AU would mean the Moroccan voice will be in synergies to that of the AU and that of an entire continent – increasingly strong on the world scene. This is because the strategy of the empty chair has proven to be problematic for Morocco. One should not leave a vacant seat to the adversaries of Morocco. The visit of Rwandan president Paul Kagamé, whose country recognizes the SADR but supports the U.N. position for a payment right on the question of the Sahara, was also emblematic. This visit of Paul Kagame to Morocco means there is an opportunity of opening of Morocco towards countries of East Africa, traditionally less close to the kingdom, thus it predicts a new phase in the Moroccan diplomatic approach.

Lastly, Morocco’s contribution to the fight against terrorism could help her take a leading role in security, diplomatic and even political affairs on the continent which has been vacant ever since Muammar Kaddafi’s departure.  This is clearly seen with Moroccan engagement in the fight against terrorism in sub-Saharan Africa comprises, (in addition to the supply of the defence material and safety equipments) of the training of the Imams at the Mohammed VI Institute of African ulamas. Built for nearly 230 million dirhams, this establishment can accommodate up to about 1.000 students, with the sole objective to counter extremists’ inclinations and ideologies.

Several Imams from, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Guinea Bissau, Guinea, Mali, Senegal, Niger and Chad are trained there to the “true values of Islam ” thanks to grants entirely offered by Morocco. In addition, the values of Sufi and Tidjaniyya, Islam which Morocco shares with several countries of sub-Saharan Africa could help thwart the nascent vitriolic ideology of Islamic religious extremists in West Africa. Hence Morocco being involved in current military and security affairs could even further push Morocco to the spotlight for an increased leadership role.

In conclusion, to join the AU for Morocco would be a means of representing Morocco legitimately as an emergent country. The kingdom could take over the role left by Libya, which had made AU its great “hobby-horse” under Kadhafi, and compensate for the relative absence of Algeria and Egypt from the Panafrican institutions. That could also make it possible to accelerate the political process around the question of the Sahara.

As a result the official return of Morocco at the AU will be done in January 2017 in Addis-Abeba, in Ethiopia. It will also be a question for the AU of finding a successor to the current president of the African Union Commission, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.