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?