The stakes of Morocco’s diplomatic offensive

Sunday 29/01/2017
Moroccan King Mohammed VI, who toured several African countries last year, is pursuing a bold diplomatic offensive to reintegrate the North African kingdom in the African Union (AU).

The king is to travel to Addis Ababa to further press for Morocco’s return to the African Union. Morocco, which was a founding member of the Organi­sation of African Unity (OAU) — which morphed into the African Union — quit the pan- African bloc after it recognised the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (RASD) in Western Sahara and Algeria backed it for a seat in the African Union.
Morocco annexed Western Sahara in 1975 and maintains it is an integral part of the kingdom. The Algerian-backed Polisario Front separatists fought Morocco for an independent state until the United Nations brokered a ceasefire in 1991.
Rabat has proposed a form of autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty for the vast territory, which has fewer than 1 million inhabitants. The proposal was rejected by the Polisario Front, which insists on the right of the Sahrawi people to self-determi­nation in a UN-monitored vote.
Since officially requesting to rejoin the African Union last September, Morocco has set out on a diplomatic offensive backed with a raft of trade agreements, investments and memoranda, even with countries that back RASD, such as Nigeria, Rwanda and Ethiopia.
Unlike his late father, King Hassan II, whose diplomacy targeted mainly Europe, King Mohammed VI is eyeing Africa as part of Morocco’s south-south cooperation strategy aimed at both the medium and long terms.
He appointed new ambassadors to 19 African countries, reflecting Morocco’s determination to take its ties with them to further levels that will be beneficial for all.
This diplomacy should con­tinue if Morocco wants to win hearts and minds of African leaders to support its return to the African Union. which requires the support of at least 36 of the bloc’s members.
King Mohammed VI recently led a ministerial council in Marrakech during which the Constitutive Act of the African Union and its additional protocol were adopted.
The Moroccan parliament elected a new speaker three months after legislative elections that had left the country without a government. The Moroccan monarch has called on parlia­ment to ratify laws quickly to clear the way for Morocco’s return to the African Union.
However, Morocco’s bid to return to the African Union faces obstacles from Algeria and South Africa.
Algeria, which claims neutral­ity in the Western Sahara conflict, has been engaged in a frenzied diplomatic counteroffensive against Morocco since Rabat’s announcement of its desire to rejoin the African Union.
The Algerian government is trying to save RASD’s place in the African Union for fears of seeing it ejected from the bloc once Morocco’s accession is formalised after many African countries expressed support for Rabat.
South Africa’s Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, chairwoman of the AU Commission, sought to delay the sending of Morocco’s request for AU membership to the members. Rabat denounced Zuma’s manoeuvre on December 30th for “unjustifiably delaying” the dissemination of its request.
Algerian media said Dlamini- Zuma demanded a written commitment by which Morocco explicitly accepts AU values and principles, including respect of the borders inherited from colonialism and the ratification of the Constitutive Act.
Dlamini-Zuma, the ex-wife of South African President Jacob Zuma, is aware that she will not get a reply from Morocco, as such a message would amount to acknowledging that Western Sahara is not an integral part of the North African kingdom.
Pretoria officially recognised RASD in 2003 when Dlamini- Zuma was South African Foreign minister. However, Dlamini- Zuma seems to have forgotten that Morocco was among South Africa’s supporters — both financially and militarily — in its struggle against apartheid. South African leader Nelson Mandela travelled to Morocco in March 1962 and met Abdelkrim al- Khatib, Moroccan minister of State for African Affairs and a former guerrilla leader, to seek help from Rabat.
In April 1995, Mandela thanked King Hassan II and Khatib for supporting his battle both financially and militarily in a speech celebrating the anniver­sary of South Africa’s first non-racial democratic elections.
Whatever the aims of the Algerian and South African governments are, Morocco is more determined than ever to defend its territorial integrity by all political and diplomatic means.
With Morocco pouring money into Africa, the stakes to rejoin the African Union are high. Rabat is seeking to be a major player in the African continent through investments in various sectors, its expertise in renewable energies and fighting terror along with its military presence among UN peacekeepers in the conti­nent.
A return to the African Union would give Morocco momentum to expand its south-south cooperation strategy, which would boost its economy through new trade agreements and would help it gain support for its autonomy plan for Western Sahara.
It would be a major setback for Morocco if it fails to gather enough support to win a return to the African Union in Addis Ababa. Rabat, however, would still continue its fight to rejoin the pan-African bloc because Moroc­co’s interests are mainly in Africa and it aspires to become the largest investor in the continent.