king-mohammed-viKing of Morocco Mohammed VI (L) greets Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame in the main plenary of the African Union in Addis Ababa on Jan 31, 2017. Morocco’s King Mohammed VI took a seat at the African Union headquarters Tuesday for the first time in 33 years after being re-admitted by the bloc. Morocco’s return to the fold comes a day after 39 of the AU’s 54 member states agreed to allow Morocco back in the fold, despite stiff resistance from countries such as South Africa and Algeria over the status of Western Sahara.

“I am finally home”, King Mohammed VI said Tuesday as the African Union readmitted Morocco after a 33-year absence, deferring the issue of Western Sahara for another day.

Morocco’s return came a day after 39 of the AU’s 54 member states agreed to allow it back in the fold, despite stiff resistance from countries such as South Africa and Algeria over the status of the disputed former Spanish colony.

Faced with the AU’s decision, Western Sahara officials appeared to accept the new reality and cast it in a positive light, saying AU membership might help speed up efforts to end a protracted conflict.

“It is a beautiful day when one returns home after too long an absence,” Mohammed VI told the closing ceremony of the AU summit in Ethiopia.

“Africa is my continent and my home. I am finally home and I am happy to see you. I missed you all.”

Morocco quit the then Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in 1984 after the bloc admitted the former Western Sahara as a separate member.

Morocco maintains that the territory under its control is an integral part of the kingdom, while the Polisario Front, which campaigns for independence, demands a referendum on self-determination.

Some had feared Morocco would seek the expulsion of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) as a precondition for its own return to the AU, however the country agreed to return without conditions.

“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 Mohamed Salem Ould Salek, foreign minister of the SADR, which claims sovereignty over the entire territory of Western Sahara.

Salek said Monday that having Morocco in the same room would allow the SADR to pressure them into fulfilling their obligations and hold a long sought referendum.

Mohammed did not raise the issue of Western Sahara in his speech, choosing instead to highlight how Morocco as “one of the most developed African nations”, could be a boon to the continent.

– ‘Common economic growth’ –
He noted that in the past 17 years, Morocco had sealed nearly 1,000 agreements with African nations, and put in place projects such as a gas pipeline deal linking Nigeria to Europe and others to improve agricultural productivity.

He recalled that Morocco had taken part in six peacekeeping operations on the continent.

“We do not ignore the fact that we do not have unanimity in this noble assembly. We do not want to create divisions as some have insinuated,” he said.

“My vision of South-South cooperation is clear and constant. Morocco … will be a motor for common economic growth.

“It is time that Africa’s riches benefit Africa. For too long we have looked elsewhere to make decisions, commitments. Is it not time to turn towards our own continent?”

Despite reservations by some members, outgoing chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zama said the return of Morocco would “provide a platform to strengthen African solutions to African problems.”

The busy AU summit also saw Chadian foreign minister Moussa Faki Mahamat take over from Dlamini-Zuma after a fierce election battle that eliminated four other candidates.

Guinea’s Alpha Conde took over the rotating presidency of the bloc, and called for the continent to express solidarity with Somalia, Libya and Sudan, which have been targeted by a United States travel ban.