The African Union has readmitted Morocco into the bloc 33 years after its withdrawal over the still existing Western Sahara dispute.
The majority of the AU member states voted for the re-admission of during the 28th summit in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on Monday, leaving the issue of the disputed territory of Western Sahara for another day.
“Morocco is now a full member of the African Union. There was a very long debate but 39 of our 54 states approved the return of Morocco, even if the Western Sahara question remains,” Senegalese President Macky Sall told reporters.
“As we have said, if the family grows bigger, we can find solutions as a family,” Macky Sall added.
Algeria and South Africa were among the heavyweights that opposed the re-admission of Morocco.
The country withdrew from the AU in 1984, when the mineral-rich and sparsely populated Saharan Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), commonly known as Western Sahara, was accepted as a member.
Morocco annexed Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, in 1975. It maintains that Western Sahara is an integral part of the kingdom, but the international community has not recognized the annexation.
Western Sahara is home to the Algerian-backed Polisario Front, a Sahrawi rebel national liberation movement aiming to end Moroccan presence in the territory.
In 1991, Moroccan forces and Sahrawi rebels agreed on a UN-brokered truce and a referendum to settle the status of Western Sahara. However, the vote has never taken place.
Some had feared Morocco would set the expulsion of the SADR as a precondition for its own return to the AU.
“From the moment that Morocco did not impose conditions … we take their word for it and accept that Morocco be admitted to the African Union,” said SADR Foreign Minister Mohamed Salem Ould Salek.
Salek said the re-admission of Morocco will help pressure the authorities into holding a referendum to “allow the Sahrawi to choose their future”.
“Now (if) Morocco is blocking (it) will be questioned by the head of states: why are you afraid of a referendum? Why don’t you allow the Sahrawi to choose their future freely?” he said.
Morocco has for several years been trying to return to the body as it reportedly seeks to expand its economy. In July 2016, Moroccan King Mohammed VI officially announced plans to rejoin the African Union.