African Union Readmits Morocco, Elects New Chairperson

Newly elected chairman of the African Union, Moussa Faki, will preside over a recently enlarged 55-member organization (Control Arms, Flickr)

Newly elected chairman of the African Union, Moussa Faki, will preside over a recently enlarged 55-member organization (Control Arms, Flickr)

The African Union readmitted Morocco following a vote at the Union’s Assembly meeting at its headquarters in Addis Ababa. Morocco previously left the organization in 1984 when the international body recognized the independence of Western Sahara. Thirty-nine of the 54 member states voted for Morocco’s readmission. Senegalese President Macky Sall led the effort to reinstate the former member. He said after the vote, “Even if the question of Western Sahara remains… one can continue to find solutions as a family.”

The territory of Western Sahara has long been contentious, with a UN plan for a referendum on self-determination scheduled for 1991 repeatedly postponed and finally cancelled. To this day, the territory remains the last African case on the United Nations decolonization committee.

President Sall and other African leaders supported Morocco’s candidacy after the country lobbied for readmission for six months, with its King, Mohamed VI, touring the continent to gain support for the endeavor. Morocco accused outgoing AU chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma of South Africa of undermining its efforts to rejoin the union. South Africa is a firm supporter of the Polisario Front, Western Sahara’s government as recognized by the AU, and opposes Moroccan involvement in the area.

At the same meeting, Dlamini-Zuma, who did not seek a second term as chairwoman, was replaced after months of pre-election wrangling by Chadian diplomat Moussa Faki. Faki, a longtime AU officeholder, beat out favorites Amina Mohamed of Kenya and Abdoulaye Bathily of Senegal.

Faki’s role at the forefront of his region’s fight against terror group Boko Haram resonated with voting representatives, and he finally garnered 39 votes. A candidate requires 36 votes to clinch the election over four other candidates in the seventh round. The vote, initially scheduled for July, was delayed six months after nearly half of the member states abstained from voting in the second round.

Both of the organization’s decisions were generally well-received by its member countries, with a Kenyan spokesperson quickly pledging “to work with [Faki] to defend…democracy, sovereignty, and prosperity for all.” Western Sahara’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mohamed Salem Ould Salek, was optimistic about Morocco’s membership, saying, “From the moment Morocco did not set conditions on its return, we take their word and we accept that Morocco is admitted to the African Union.”

The AU now comprises all 55 states of the African continent and is led by a Chadian for the first time.