Morocco and The African Union - Prospects for Re-engagement and Progress on the Western Sahara

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.  In the nearly thirty years since Morocco withdrew from the OAU, this dispute has impaired Morocco’s bilateral and regional relations in Africa and created 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.

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© The Brenthurst Foundation 2017.