Brenthurst Discussion Papers: News Release [131444]
Morocco and the African Union

Prospects for Re-engagement and Progress on the Western Sahara

Terence McNamee,
Greg Mills and
J Peter Pham

Executive Summary

On the 50th anniversary of the founding of the first pan- African organisation, this Paper examines Morocco’s relationship with the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and its successor, the African Union (AU), in the evolving context of one of the world’s most intractable feuds, the dispute over the Western Sahara. Morocco formally withdrew from the OAU in 1984 over the admission of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) as a full member of the organisation. SADR claims sovereignty over the whole Western Sahara territory, which Morocco claims as its own. In the nearly 30 years since, Morocco has refused to rejoin the OAU/AU – and remains the only African country that is not a member – unless the membership of SADR, which is only partially recognised internationally, is withdrawn or frozen. This dispute has impaired Morocco’s relations with, to varying extents, all African countries and creates serious divisions within the AU.

The spectre of transnational conflict in Africa’s Sahel region – punctuated by France’s intervention in Mali – has cast a fresh light on the stalemate over the Western Sahara, which has been a pawn in regional power plays for decades. Many analysts have warned that rising instability in the region is a threat to the uneasy peace that has prevailed since the UN-brokered ceasefire in 1991. Conversely, this Paper argues that for all the uncertainty and potential flashpoints the Arab Spring and the crisis in the Sahel have laid bare for the countries of the region, this period of transition – as with major political shifts elsewhere in recent history – may provide a window of opportunity to break the deadlock over the Western Sahara and thus smooth Morocco’s re-entry into the AU. In particular, the need for new forms of economic and security cooperation should fuel a new push for a diplomatic settlement, even if positions over the Western Sahara’s status appear as entrenched as ever.

Within Morocco, further internal reform would reinforce the seriousness of its 2007 autonomy proposal for the Western Sahara and help address a number of questions about its viability. For all Morocco’s investment in the territory and concerted efforts to bring a Sahrawi elite into the establishment, there is no avoiding the existence of strong nationalist sentiment or the continuing perception on the ground of an occupation. That does not make independence any more of a panacea for the myriad local and regional issues at stake – as AU statements routinely suggest – but it does illustrate that Morocco may need to rethink some of the core arrangements in the autonomy proposal to counter the powerful lure of self-determination.

For its part, the AU has buried its head in the Saharan sands for far too long. If it is to engage meaningfully on this issue, it must engage Morocco, SADR and, perhaps most consequentially, SADR’s main backer, Algeria, with new ideas and realistic avenues to break the impasse. Morocco’s continuing absence from the AU not only threatens to create a permanent rupture in the organisation but also limits the catalytic role in Africa’s economic growth that Morocco, given its relative sophistication and depth of integration with Europe and the Mediterranean and Atlantic basins, is especially well positioned to play.




Keep up to date with the latest Brenthurst Foundation news
by subscribing to our news update service.

© The Brenthurst Foundation | Privacy Policy | Sitemap

You can also follow us on your preferred social network:

?