Morocco’s bid to rejoin the African Union presents leaders with a dilemma
Addis Ababa — African Union leaders grappled with Morocco’s divisive bid to rejoin the bloc at a summit on Monday and sounded an alarm for the continent over US President Donald Trump’s immigration ban.
"The very country (where) our people were taken as slaves ... has now decided to ban refugees from some of our countries," outgoing AU commission chair Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma told 37 African heads of state and government leaders. "It is clear that globally we are entering very turbulent times," she said.
The leaders have a packed agenda for the two-day meeting in the Ethiopian capital where they will also have to bridge divisions to elect a new chairman.
The 54-nation bloc often struggles with competing regional interests. Issues such as Morocco’s bid to rejoin the bloc and differences on International Criminal Court membership are expected to shape the election of the AU’s top executive.
The meeting is the first since Trump’s election. Anger over a ban on citizens from three African nations marked the summit opening.
"What do we do about this? Indeed this is one of the greatest challenges and tests to our unity and solidarity," Dlamini-Zuma said.
Outrage and widespread protests have been directed at Trump’s administration move to ban citizens from seven countries including Libya, Somalia and Sudan in Africa.
In his opening address at the summit, new UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres did not mention Trump’s refugee and travel ban directly, but criticised border closures "even in the most developed countries in the world."
At the start of the summit, leaders heaped praise on west African grouping Ecowas for its role in dealing with the Gambian crisis, and welcomed new President Adama Barrow, who could not attend the meeting.
They then retreated behind closed doors to weigh Morocco’s bid to return to the fold 33 years after it quit in protest against the AU decision to accept Western Sahara as a member.
The membership of affluent Morocco could be a boon for the AU, which lost a key financier in late Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi and is working on ways to become financially independent.
Foreign donors now account for 70% of its budget, according to the Institute for Security Studies.
A Moroccan diplomat said on Sunday his country had the "unconditional support" of 42 members of the bloc.
However in a sign of the resistance, Morocco is facing, 12 countries — including heavyweights Nigeria, SA, Algeria, Kenya and Angola — requested a legal opinion from the AU on whether the bloc could accept a member "occupying parts of the territory" of another member.
These nations have long supported Western Sahara’s Polisario movement’s campaign for self-determination.
Morocco insists the former Spanish colony under its control is an integral part of the kingdom. The Polisario Front, which campaigns for the territory’s independence, demands a self-determination referendum.
The AU’s legal counsel, in a document seen by AFP, said the nations raised "fundamental concerns that have to be taken into account". The decision on Morocco’s request rests with heads of state.
Also on Monday, leaders will vote for a new chairman six months after failing to decide on a replacement for SA’s Dlamini-Zuma.
One of five candidates from Kenya, Senegal, Chad, Botswana and Equatorial Guinea will have to unite regions to win a two-thirds majority. Kenyan Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed, Former Chad prime minister Moussa Faki Mahamat and veteran Senegalese diplomat Abdoulaye Bathily are frontrunners.
The choice of a new leader is crucial for the future of a bloc which is weighing how to reform to become more relevant and respond better to crises in Africa.
Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, who is leading reforms, delivered a "biting" report to heads of state on Sunday, according to Kenyan sources.
He criticised "chronic failure to see through African Union decisions, (which) had resulted in a crisis of implementation and a perception that the AU was not relevant to Africans".