Morocco’s re-admission, despite warning and advisory from African Union (AU) Commission Legal Counsel was granted by the 54 member states of the African Union. Morocco becomes the 55th member state. And it comes with its own issues mainly its present influence (read colonial rule) over not-so-famous Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) in North East Africa.
This notion ‘shakes’ the African Union mandate of protecting the independence of African states. Being a ‘colonial power’ over another African state may undermine the newest member’s influence over the whole continent.
Morocco and SADR were Spanish territories/colonies until 1975.
Morocco’s departure in 1984 touched on the then Organisation of African Unity (OAU)’s admission of SADR into the league. Years later, Morocco has not resolved the territorial control issue with SADR but sees importance in returning to the AU.
One may allege that SADR‘s unfettered membership in the AU until now was a tactic to seek full recognition of her independence and also seduce Morocco to recognise SADR’s position. Perhaps this would eventually pressure Morocco to negotiate with SADR in favour of the latter’s full independence. So, what’s her next move? Will SADR cease to be a member of the AU?
The ‘Independence ticket’
A state that claims independence is often given widespread recognition. It may assume diplomatic relations with other independent states.
SADR has clearly demarcated borderlines.
Although alleged to have limited control over the claimed territory, she is recognised by about 40 member states of the United Nations. This is key to her position as a ‘full’ member in the African Union as well.
SADR region under dispute is what Morocco calls its Southern Province. But the contentious part is: how an independent state on the African continent can maintain control over another independent state on the same continent! Foreign occupation of another state means colonial ties therefore altering the ‘independent nature’ of a member state of the AU.
In the event Morocco allows SADR to hold a referendum on self-determination (refer to Sudan and South Sudan), one of two results may happen.
- A majority vote for self-determination means Morocco will cease its control over the disputed SADR region. Morocco’s position in the AU will be firm and most importantly so will both countries’ recognition among member states.
- A majority vote against self-determination means Morocco will have a legal and rightful grip over the disputed territory in question. This position will also ensure Morocco’s good reputation among AU members since it will have given the citizens of the disputed region a right to decide their affairs.
The Constitutive Act of the AU, 2000
Among the many articles governing AU member states, the issues of sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of its members take precedence. Articles 3 (a) and (b) expound on these principles.
Under Article 4 on principles, the Act provides for ‘respect of borders existing on achievement of independence’.
Generally, the Constitutive Act determines how member states handle their issues of independence, admission, territorial supremacy, conflict resolution and democratic policies.
Morocco versus SADR
According to the Constitutive Act, both countries’ contentions have to take priority on AU’s most urgent matters to resolve. In an hour-glass, an internal problem solved by members will prove Africa’s independent views and strengthen her efforts at unifying.
If the AU fails to resolve the matter, it will not only prove its defeat but also usher in a new era of exit of some members, especially those that did not support Morocco’s re-admission.
NB: The vote was a whooping 39/54.
However, pride aside, reaching an amicable decision, now that both states are part of the AU in today’s era of diplomacy, will make the AU (Morocco and SADR inclusive) formidable.
BY ATUHAIRWE AGRACE
This article appears in our weekly digital law magazine, The Deuteronomy Vol 2, Issue 1 of January 27th 2017
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