Thirty-three years after it broke ranks with the African Union (AU), then known as the OAU, Morocco was in 2017 readmitted amidst stiff resistance during an AU Summit held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Morocco left the OAU in 1984 in protest of the organization’s recognition of the legitimate struggle for independence of Western Sahara also known as the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) against Moroccan occupation. The organization admitted Western Sahara as its 51st Sovereign Member State led by the Polisario Front, prompting the angry reaction from Morocco.
Addis Ababa, January 2017: King of Morocco Mohammed VI (L) greets Rwanda's and then AU’s President Paul Kagame in the main plenary of the African Union. Photo ZACHARIAS ABUBEKER/AFP
For starters, Spain which had colonized Western Sahara for about a century, signed a secret colonial agreement with Morocco and Mauritania in 1975 to partition Western Sahara between the two countries without consulting the Saharawis. The Saharawi Polisario Front which had fought and exhausted the Spanish colonial army between 1973 and 1975, opposed the new colonial deal. This pitted the Moroccan and Mauritanian invading Forces against the Polisario freedom fighters.
Despite being overwhelmed by numbers, the Polisario Front defeated the Mauritanian army in 1978 forcing her to withdraw from the unjust war. The defeat resulted in an overthrow of the government back in Mauritania. Consequently, the new government recognized the sovereignty of Western Sahara.
Meanwhile, Morocco advanced with the assistance of mostly France. This resulted in the Polisario losing about 70% of its territory while many civilians were forced out of their country by deliberate devastating Moroccan plane bombings. They walked hundreds of kilometers into Western Algeria where they have lived as refugees for over four decades amidst deplorable living conditions.
The founding principles and values of the AU are premised on Africa’s liberation. In particular, objective number two of the AU states; “to defend the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of it’s member states”. The AU is supposed to espouse Pan-Africanism ideology under which we fought colonialism and apartheid in Africa. Indeed, the recognition and subsequent admission of Western Sahara as AU’s member state despite having its government seated in exile in Western Algeria, was in the spirit of solidarity against Moroccan imperialism.
Rather than take a hard stance to prevail over Morocco to respect territorial rights of a fellow African state, Morocco was received with pomp at an AU Summit in 2017 for readmission, posturing with a sense of entitlement and self-importance to no objection among some African leaders mostly those who had been enticed with Moroccan trade deals!
This prompted angry protest from the late President Robert Mugabe who chastised the AU for what he termed as lack of ideology. He cited that the organization had been easily influenced by financial incentives from Morocco. In interpretation, Mugabe was as if saying that the AU members who voted in favour of Morocco had been bribed with money! Being a member of the organization he was describing, it is very difficult to disagree with him from the outside.
Meanwhile, the Western Sahara’s inhabitants are suffering severe violations of their Human rights committed by Moroccan occupation authorities. Many of these violations have been considered as crimes against humanity by many credible well-known international organizations including Amnesty International, US State Department’s Bureau of Human Rights, the Front Line Defenders and Human Rights Watch.
As a Pan-Africanist who still has hope in the AU, I wish to see the organization become more proactive on the struggle to decolonize Africa’s last colony of Western Sahara in accordance with it’s founding principles and values. Slapping sanctions on Morocco as advised by a fact-finding mission of the Pan African Parliament issued in 2013 in Midrand, South Africa is long overdue.