Monday, February 06, 2017

Morocco Rejoins African Union Without Conditions
Moroccan king warns Arab Maghreb Union will crumble if its incapacity to live up to ambitions of 1989 agreement continued.

Middle East Online
By Saad Guerraoui - CASABLANCA

“I am finally home”

Moroccan king Mohammed VI made Tuesday a historic speech at Addis Ababa summit a day after most of the African Union's member states agreed to allow Morocco back in the fold despite strong resistance from Algeria and South Africa.

“I am finally home,” King Mohammed VI told the closing ceremony of the AU summit. “It is a beautiful day when one returns home after too long an absence.”

The North African kingdom quit the Organisation of African Unity, the AU's predecessor in 1984, after the pan-African body recognised the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), which claims sovereignty over Western Sahara.

Morocco annexed Western Sahara in 1975 and maintains that it is an integral part of the kingdom. The Algerian-backed Polisario Front separatists began an armed conflict with Morocco for an independent state that lasted 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 one 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.

King Mohammed VI highlighted how Morocco could benefit Africa thanks to its economic development, steering away from raising the Western Sahara issue against all the expectations at the summit.

“My vision of South-South cooperation is clear and constant. Morocco will be a motor for common economic growth,” he said.

Since officially requesting to rejoin the AU last September, the Moroccan monarch has led a diplomatic offensive that was backed by a raft of trade agreements, investments and memoranda even with countries that back SADR such as Nigeria, Rwanda and Ethiopia.

He stressed that in the past 17 years, Morocco had signed nearly 1,000 agreements with African nations, such as a gas pipeline deal linking Nigeria to Europe and a fertiliser plant in Ethiopia to improve agricultural productivity.

“It is time that Africa’s riches benefit Africa. For too long we have looked elsewhere to make decisions, commitments. Is it not time to turn towards our own continent?” he asked.

Nabil Adel, director of the Research Institute of Geopolitics and Geo-economics at ESCA School of Management in Casablanca, said that the Moroccan king’s speech focused on what the North African country’s economic and military contribution to Africa.

London-based business analyst who spoke to the Arab Weekly on condition of anonymity said Morocco has understood that the economic game is in both the south and the east.

“Two royal visits to Ethiopia in less than two months is unprecedented both politically and economically,” he said.

“Some African countries have a better economic growth than European countries. The future is Africa, which has untapped economic potential,” he said, adding that there is a new generation of African leaders, including the Moroccan monarch, who have visions for their countries’ prosperity.

“Morocco has been well aware that it has to board the African train if it wants to benefit from its ride,” he noted.

The beginning of the end of the Arab Maghreb Union?

The Moroccan monarch also warned that the Arab Maghreb Union (UMA) — Morocco, Mauritania, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya — would crumble if its incapacity to live up to the ambitions of the 1989 agreement continued.

Political disagreements between Morocco and Algeria regarding Western Sahara have often hampered the union’s economic progress.

“Today, we regret to see that the Maghreb Union is the least integrated region in the African continent, if not in the whole world. Intra-regional trade has reached 10% between ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States] countries and 19% between SADC [Southern African Development Community] countries, while it is still stagnating at less than 3% between Maghreb countries,” King Mohammed VI said.

The UMA is certainly the least active Union in Africa …The king made an interesting point by highlighting the UMA is not functioning,” said Adel.

“Let’s hope that the UMA will be active again with the changing geopolitical climate in the region,” he added.

Morocco rejoined the AU after agreeing to return without conditions despite the fact that the SADR holds a seat in the pan-African block.

“Having the Polisario Front hold the same seat like a state with centuries-old history and which could bring a lot to Africa can be shocking. However, we can’t let our personal feelings overtake a pragmatic attitude of international relations,” said Adel.

“Morocco should in the long term convince AU member states that the SADR harms the Africans’ cohesion and call for its expulsion from the AU,” he added.

Morocco has 2,300-strong blue helmet contingent in Ivory Coast, Congo and Central African Republic and has taken part in six peacekeeping operations on the African continent.

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