African heads of state gather in the Ethiopian capital on Monday for a two-day African Union summit in which Morocco’s bid for readmission to the continental bloc will shape the election of a new chairperson.
Morocco formally submitted its bid to rejoin the body last year, when King Mohammed VI set out his government’s objectives of placing the country “at the center” of Africa’s development. The North African nation withdrew from the African Union’s predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity, three decades ago in protest at recognition of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic as a member state.
The status of the SADR has split the African Union, with 28 of its 54 members voting in July to expel the state — a move that Morocco would welcome because it claims the portion of Western Sahara ruled by the SADR as its own territory. However, the continental body has no procedures for expelling member states, and so once Morocco regains membership, it’s likely to lobby for the SADR to be removed from the bloc, NKC African Economics said in an e-mailed research note.
“To advance its interests in this complicated debate, Rabat will want a friend as chair,” NKC analyst Francois Conradie said in the note, referring to the Moroccan capital. “Morocco will seek to have a friendly figure chairing the AU Commission which is in charge of the day-to-day management of the union and so has substantial influence on what the body does.”
Moroccan Foreign Minister Salaheddine Mezouar said earlier this month his country has the backing of 40 African nations in its bid to rejoin the bloc.
Five candidates are vying to replace Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as head of the commission, including Kenyan Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed, her Chadian counterpart Moussa Faki Mahamat, and Senegalese diplomat Abdoulaye Bathily.
Senegal is one of the strongest advocates for Morocco’s readmission and the expulsion of the SADR, which makes Bathily one of the front-runners, according to the Institute for Security Studies, a Pretoria-based research group. Mohamed, who’s also seen as a proponent of Morocco rejoining while calling for a referendum on the Western Sahara question, is a leading candidate too, ISS said.
The applicants require a two-thirds majority to win, and should there be a deadlock between supporters of the two front-runners, Chad’s foreign minister may end up carrying the vote as a compromise candidate, Conradie said.
Whoever takes over the organization will inherit several issues that the African Union has failed to resolve, including conflict in South Sudan and Somalia, political crises in nations such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi, and the growing number of refugees on the continent.
“A leader that’s going to be appointed inherits problems that Zuma was not able to address,” Ahmed Salim, Dubai-based vice president of research group Teneo Strategy, said by e-mail. “The AU was always a little too late when they responded to crisis, there was no voice on any of the crisis issues.”