Monday 30 January was a big day for Morocco.
It will go down in history as the day Morocco made its comeback to the African Union, 33 years after its withdrawal from the Organization of African Unity, the predecessor to the AU.
Morocco's diplomatic breakthrough
Morocco has achieved a significant diplomatic success, despite the attempts made by Algeria, South Africa and Zimbabwe to delay its return.
In the months leading up to the 28th Summit of the African Union held in Addis Ababa on January 30-31, Algeria and South Africa failed in their attempts to block Morocco's re-entry. The two countries have attempted to set various conditions for Morocco's return, to force Morocco to recognise the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) and to create an ad-hoc committee to examine Morocco's application.
Prior to the summit, speculation was rampant. Some expressed reservations about the success of Morocco's strategy, saying it would face an uphill battle. Many feared Morocco would be forced to recognise the SADR prior to rejoining the pan-African body, or to accept the use of a map where Morocco would appear cut off from its Sahara.
For support, Algeria and South Africa were relying on the former chairperson of the African Commission, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who departed from the neutrality required by her position and flagrantly espoused the positions of the Algerian government and of her former husband, South African President Jacob Zuma.
While admitting a new member requires the support of a simple majority, Morocco received the support of more than two-thirds
But their efforts proved unsuccessful. The fact that 39 countries displayed their unconditional support for Morocco's return to the organisation demonstrates that the continent is about to bid farewell to an African Union hijacked by Algeria and South Africa.
The overwhelming support that Morocco has received is a harbinger of a new era, one in which Algeria and South Africa will find themselves weakened, and in the minority. While admitting a new member requires the support of a simple majority, Morocco received the support of more than two-thirds.
Gone are the times when the two countries used the African Union as a tool to weaken Morocco's position on the Western Sahara, and abort its attempts to resolve the dispute with a political solution in line with the United Nations Security Council resolutions adopted in April 2007.
The heated debate that took place during the three-hour meeting confirming Morocco's return, and the aggressive language adopted by South Africa and Algeria, show that with Morocco's presence they have much to lose, hence their plots and fierce attempts to put obstacles in Morocco's way.
That the former President of the African Union, Chadian President Idriss Deby, blamed Zuma for not circulating Morocco's application to member states in a timely manner, speaks of the failure of her strategy, and the determination of African leaders not to allow South Africa and Algeria to continue hijacking the AU in pursuit of their divisive strategies.
Morocco's leadership role in South-South cooperation
Morocco's return is not just about the Sahara but also the development of the entire continent. Africa needs leaders who can speak on its behalf in international forums and put projects on the table that will improve the living conditions of African people.
African countries also need reliable partners who can share their expertise in different fields. Morocco has a lot to offer in this regard. Since 2000, King Mohammed VI has paid 46 visits to 25 African countries and presided over the signature of 947 economic and diplomatic agreements.
This willingness to establish win-win partnerships with African countries was made clear in King Mohammed VI's speech on the 41st anniversary of the Green March, delivered in Senegal's capital, Dakar.
Morocco has emerged a champion of South-South cooperation
The King stated that the decision to return to the African Union "is the culmination of our African policy and the outcome of Morocco's solidarity-based field action in a number of African countries, in terms of economic and human development aimed at serving African citizens."
Over the past five years, observers have often been surprised by the assertive tone adopted by King Mohammed VI in speeches delivered before international organisations such as the United Nations and during national holidays such as Throne Day.
The Moroccan monarch has been consistent in speaking on behalf of Africa, calling on world leaders to deal with African countries as their equals and on African leaders to join forces and work together towards building a brighter future for African peoples.
The political support Morocco has received from countries that were until recently among the vocal supporters of the Polisario Front, such as Nigeria, Botswana, Tanzania, Rwanda and Ethiopia, is evidence that King Mohammed VI's tours to strengthen economic ties with Morocco's African partners are already paying dividends.
In recent years, Morocco has emerged as an economic hub in the continent and a champion of South-South cooperation between African countries as way to establish win-win partnerships, boost economic development, create job opportunities and improve the living conditions of African peoples.
Morocco also plays a leading role in fighting extremist violence through information sharing with its African counterparts, as well as the promotion of the genuine tolerant values of Islam, which preach respect, tolerance and peaceful coexistence between peoples, regardless of their ethnicities and religious beliefs.
Morocco has also become a destination for migrants from Saharan Africa, despite its limited economic resources in comparison with Europe. In recent weeks, the Moroccan government launched its second initiative to regularise the situation of undocumented sub-Saharan immigrants.
In the meantime, Algeria is forcibly expelling Sub-Saharan immigrants living in dire conditions on its soil and an Algerian official recently stated that migrants are causing the spread of HIV in Algeria.
Morocco has played an important role in helping Libyans put an end to their infighting by hosting talks in Skhirat, near Rabat. The participation of Moroccan peacekeepers in two UN peacekeeping missions - in the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo - is further evidence of the country's commitment to its African neighbours.
Morocco's return to the African Union rectifies a miscalculated step made in 1984, and will put an end to an aberration that saw one of the founding members of the AU's predecessor, absent from its proceedings.
This return will also push African leaders to prioritise sustainable development and economic prosperity and, most importantly, to liberate the pan-African body from the self-serving agendas of individual countries, focusing instead on the well-being of the whole continent.
By Samir Bennis
Samir Bennis is a political analyst. He received a PhD in international relations from the University of Provence in France and his research areas include relations between Morocco and Spain and between the Muslim world and the West, as well as the global politics of oil.
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