Africa

Morocco seeks to rejoin African Union after Western Sahara row

Sahrawi refugee (file photo) Image copyright AFP
Image caption Thousands of Sahrawis have spent years in refugee camps

Morocco has sent a special envoy to lobby African leaders to rejoin the African Union 32 years after it left in a row over Western Sahara.

Taib Fassi Fihri met Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta in Nairobi and said Morocco wants to re-join the AU without any preconditions.

Morocco claims Western Sahara as part of its territory, much of which it has occupied since 1975.

But the AU recognises Western Sahara as an independent state.

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Morocco is the only African country not to be an AU member.

The AU, however, says it will continue pushing for the rights of Western Sahara to hold a referendum on its self-determination.

Brahim Ghali, the new leader of the North African territory is expected to attend the African Union summit in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, according to the AU's deputy chairperson Erastus Mwencha.

Mr Ghali was elected the Western Sahara president and secretary-general of the independence movement Polisario Front on 9 July.

He replaced long-time leader Mohamed Abdelaziz who died in May.


How did we get here?

  • 1975-76: Morocco annexes two-thirds of Western Sahara after colonial power Spain withdraws.
  • 1975-76: Polisario Front declares the Saharan Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), with a government-in-exile in Algeria. Thousands of Sahrawi refugees flee to western Algeria to set up camps.
  • 1984: Morocco leaves the Organisation of African Unity (which later became the African Union) in protest at the SADR's admission to the body.
  • 1991: UN-monitored ceasefire begins in Western Sahara, but the territory's status remains undecided and ceasefire violations are reported. The following decade sees much wrangling over a proposed referendum on the future of the territory but the deadlock is not broken.
  • March 2016: Morocco threatens to pull its soldiers out of UN global peacekeeping missions in Western Sahara, after UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon uses the term "occupation" when referring to the territory.
  • May 2016: Long-time Polisario Front leader Mohamed Abdelaziz dies aged 68

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