Jean-Jacques Cornish

Morocco’s inability to face reality is its biggest obstacle to joining the African Union


Morocco is steaming ahead with its plan to join the African Union.

King Mohammed VI is bent on achieving this at the AU summit next month.

He’s not a man accustomed to being told: no.

His officials have told him that joining requires a majority of AU members, and they are confident of attracting this.

So, the King is visiting as many African capitals as possible to make the case for his country joining the family.

Sometimes he gets ahead of himself. He told the Zambians, for example, what date he was planning to arrive.

They responded that they would let him know when it would be convenient.

When AU Commission chair Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma told Rabat that joining the body entailed more than merely a question of securing a majority of members, the Moroccan authorities furiously denounced her for blocking their aspirations.

Understanding the AU reservations about taking on this issue, requires looking back at the last time the continental body was seized with the Western Sahara.

Back then it was called the Organization of African Unity and it was a  very different kettle of fish.

Not to put too fine a point to it, the OAU was a cozy coterie of what was fashionable called the Big Men of Africa.

Their word was law. They brooked no criticism.

When King Hassan II – Mohammed VI’s father – invaded and occupied the Western Sahara, he did not expect push back from his African peers.

But for them decolonization took precedence  over everything.

The argument by the Polisario Front – the ruling party in the occupied country – that their’s was a decolonization issue held sway.

The Western Sahara became a member of the OAU 21 years ago and Morocco left the organization in high dudgeon.

OAU members breathed a sigh of relief because the preoccupation with Western Sahara had almost paralyzed its operations for years.

African leaders had tired of Morocco’s broken promises to allow the Saharawi to determine their future by way of a referendum.

When the OAU became the AU in 2002, Western Sahara signed on as a foundation member.

Morocco elected to remain out.

The Kingdom has a lot going for is strategically. For example France and the United States buy the Moroccan argument that  losing Western Sahara will be the undoing of the kingdom that lies as a bastion against Islamist extremism at the very top of Africa.

Economically, Morocco is a chronic underperformer. Its chief exports are oranges and dagga. Legal trade in the former is largely used to cover the illegal transactions in the latter.

Morocco’s claims its proximity to the Gulf kingdom has given it a certain leverage  over investment funds.

It has used this to the full in persuading Africans to let them into the AU.

However that influence has not withstood the acid test.

Morocco told its friends in the Gulf that it would lead an African walk out from the Arab African summit because of the presence of a Western Sahara delegation.

In the event the Africans stayed put. The walk out involved Morocco and a half dozen Arab states.

The real problem when it comes to joining the African Union, is not Morocco’s lack of muscle but its apparent inability to face reality.

Rabat officials insist there will be no price.

Simply put, it means Morocco expects to walk into the AU without settling Africa’s last colonial issue.

Not only will they not deal with the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic, but they entertain the vain hope that  their AU friends will support  expulsion of SADR.

A number of AU members do not have diplomatic ties with the Western Sahara. But the body’s constitution make no provision for expelling a founder member

The AU has changed radically from the OAU. The country hoping to join the new body  has altered not one jot from the kingdom that stormed out of the old one.

“Letting in this unchanged Morocco would be opening the door to a time bomb”, says Western Sahara ambassador designate  Radhi Sehaiar Bachir.

AU leaders preparing for their next summit have a daunting list of difficulties: DRC, Burundi, South Sudan just for starters.

Are they ready to take on another?

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Jean-Jacques Cornish is a journalist and broadcaster who has been involved in the media all his adult life.

Starting as a reporter on his hometown newspaper, he moved briefly to then Rhodesia before returning to South Africa to become a parliamentary correspondent with the South African Press Association. He was sent to London as Sapa’s London editor and also served as special correspondent to the United Nations. He joined the then Argus group in London as political correspondent.

Returning to South Africa after 12 years abroad, he was assistant editor on the Pretoria News for a decade before becoming editor of the Star and SA Times for five years.

Since 1999 he’s been an independent journalist writing and broadcasting – mainly about Africa – for Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape
Talk, Radio France International, PressTV, Radio Live New Zealand, Business Day, Mail & Guardian, the BBC, Agence France Press,
Business in Africa, Leadership, India Today, the South African Institute for International Affairs and the Institute for Security Studies.

He has hosted current affairs talk shows on Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape Talk. He appears as an African affairs pundit on SABC Africa and CNBC Africa.
He lectured in contemporary studies to journalism students at the Tshwane University of Technology and the University of Pretoria.

He speaks on African affairs to corporate and other audiences.
He has been officially invited as a journalist to more than 30 countries. He was the winner of the 2007 SADC award for radio journalism.

He’s been a member of the EISA team observing elections in Somaliland, Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Egypt and Tunsiai.

In October 2009 he headed a group of 39 African journalists to the 60th anniversary celebrations of the Peoples’ Republic of China.

In January 2010 he joined a rescue and paramedical team to earthquake struck Haiti.

He is immediate past president of the Alliance Francaise of Pretoria.

Jean-Jacques is a director of Giant Media. The company was given access to Nelson Mandela in his retirement years until 2009.
He is co-producer of the hour-long documentary Mandela at 90 that was broadcast on BBC in January 2009.