After a 33 year absence, Morocco rejoins the African Union
Moroccan King Mohammed VI, pictured in February 2016. (AFP/File)
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Morocco was Monday re-admitted into the African Union after a 33-year absence, AU and Western Saharan officials said during an AU summit in the Ethiopian capital.
"Morocco has been admitted to join the AU with a view that it will become the 55th member of the continental body," said Lamine Baali, ambassador of Western Sahara to Ethiopia and the AU.
The only African country not to belong to the AU, Morocco left its predecessor, the Organization of African Unity, in 1984 after the body recognized the independence of Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara.
Morocco submitted its bid to rejoin last year, reportedly in the hope that being inside the AU would bring it diplomatic gains against Western Sahara's independence movement Polisario Front and allow it to lobby against Western Sahara's membership in the AU.
But Baali said Morocco had been readmitted "with the understanding that Western Sahara will remain a member of the AU."
The membership of relatively wealthy Morocco was welcomed by many members of the AU, which has been criticized for being overly dependent on donor funding.
There was some opposition from countries supporting Polisario, observers said.
The summit elected Chadian Foreign Minister Moussa Faki Mahamat as chairman of the African Union Commission, Ethiopian and Kenyan government sources said.
The former Chadian prime minister will succeed South Africa's Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who headed the union's executive and administrative arm since 2012.
Faki took a surprise victory over Kenyan Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed, whom many had regarded as a favourite for the post.
Some analysts attributed Faki's election to the influence of Chadian President Idriss Deby, the outgoing chairman of the African Union. Deby will be succeeded by Guinean President Alpha Conde, whom the summit elected as his successor for the largely ceremonial post.
Dlamini-Zuma is seen as leaving a mixed legacy as the AU struggles with issues including a military conflict in South Sudan, the campaign by al-Shabaab in Somalia and political crises in Burundi and Congo.
The AU was vocal in pressuring Gambia's former president Yahya Jammeh to relinquish power after losing the December 1 election, and criticized Burundi's Pierre Nkurunziza for seeking a third term despite the constitutional two-term limit. But it has nevertheless been accused of not prioritizing rights issues.
Summit guests included United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who criticized the United States over travel bans imposed on citizens of several countries, saying he hoped President Donald Trump's order to that effect will only be temporary.
"It is clear for me that refugee protection is something that is absolutely essential, especially when they can't find adequate protection," Guterres told journalists.
"The US has a large tradition of refugee protection. I strongly hope that the measures that were taken will be only temporary and I also strongly hope that refugee protection will be once again high on the agenda of the US," he said.
In his opening address at the summit, Guterres had described African countries as being among the world's largest and most generous hosts of refugees, while the West and other countries closed boundaries and built walls.
"African borders remain open for those in need of protection, when so many borders are being closed even in the most developed countries in the world," the UN chief said.
By Elias Meseret and Sinikka Tarvainen
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