Moroccans welcomed their country’s “victorious return” to the African Union as their king on Tuesday took a seat at the bloc’s Ethiopian headquarters for the first time in decades.
“Morocco should have rejoined the African Union a long time ago,” pensioner Mohamed Alaoui told AFP in the capital Rabat late on Monday.
“The country will now revert to its role as a political and economic leader and correct its previous errors.”
Morocco quit the then Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in 1984 after the bloc admitted the former Western Sahara as a separate member.
Morocco says the former Spanish colony under its control is an integral part of the kingdom, while the Polisario Front, which campaigns for the territory’s independence, demands a referendum on self-determination.
“Morocco never renounced its African origins. It always called for the union of African and Arab countries,” said Abdellatif Tighazouane, 25.
“Today we were able to realise this spirit of unity,” the student said.
Mustapha Akhaziz, a language professor, said it would be an opportunity for Morocco to “defend its interests on the issue of the Western Sahara”.
Morocco’s press on Tuesday hailed the kingdom rejoining the 54-member bloc after 33 years of absence.
“Historic decision”, “Victorious return”, “Thank you your Majesty…” read several headlines.
The official news agency MAP published a string of interviews with African ministers welcoming Morocco back into its “African family”.
On Monday, 39 countries voted to allow Morocco back into the fold despite resistance from countries such as Algeria and South Africa, which have traditionally backed the Polisario Front.
Mohamed Salem Ould Salek, foreign minister of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, which claims sovereignty over the entire territory of Western Sahara, said the SADR accepted the decision.
He said on Monday that having Morocco in the same room would allow the SADR to pressure them into allowing a referendum on self-determination in accordance with a 1975 decision by the International Court of Justice.
Morocco has been angling to return to the African Union for several years, and King Mohammed VI formally announced his intention to do so in July last year.
Morocco is increasingly looking southwards to expand its economy, and has realised it cannot drive an agenda on the continent without being a member of the union, observers say.