As of last week, Morocco was the only African country that was not a member of the African Union, or AU.
That situation has changed.
On Monday, African leaders decided to admit Morocco to the union. The decision came as part of the leaders' meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Thirty-nine of 54 AU countries voted to support Moroccan membership with the group.
The King of Morocco, Mohammad VI, praised the decision. "It is a beautiful day when one returns home after too long of an absence,” he said. “Africa is my continent and my home."
Why was Morocco not a member of the AU?
In July, Morocco announced its desire to rejoin the AU.
The country formerly belonged to the organization's predecessor, the Organization for African Unity, or OAU.
But Morocco left the organization in 1984 because of its move to recognize the disputed territory of Western Sahara as independent. It also was protesting the OAU’s decision to admit the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic as a member.
The Sahrawi Republic is a government in exile. It wants the Western Sahara to be independent. The United States does not recognize the Sahrawi Republic. It is considered the government arm of the group known as the Polisario Front.
Morocco claims the Western Sahara and considers it an important part of its territory.
The dispute over the area has lasted over 30 years. It has created tense relationships, notably between Morocco and Algeria, according to a 2014 report from Congressional Research Services. The service investigates legal and policy issues for the U.S. Congress.
Some people living in the Western Sahara -- and supporters of the Polisario Front -- dispute Morocco's claim to the territory.
The Western Sahara's delegation accuses Morocco of "colonizing" the large seaside territory.
Sidi Omar is the delegation’s ambassador-at-large. He says the leaders’ decision to admit Morocco without settling the Western Sahara question violates the AU's position against colonialism.
He told VOA the Saharan Republic will not leave the AU. The delegation wants Morocco to stop claiming the territory.
Omar thinks the AU decision has wider consequences.
"It does not only concern Western Sahara or the Sahara Republic,” he said. “It does concern Africa as a whole. … If this principle of borders is not respected, Africa will be doomed to chaos."
Common interests, common spirit
Delegates and diplomats told reporters in Addis Ababa that the idea of Africa "sticking together" is important.
Egypt's Assistant Foreign Minister for African Affairs, Mohammed Edrees, said that the general belief among AU leaders was that "at the end, we have to have the African house together."
He explained that it was important "to find a way forward, not a divisive way forward, but to move toward our common African interest, common African spirit."
Concerns about possible changes to U.S. Policy
A number of delegates at the conference publicly and privately shared concerns about recent, sudden changes in U.S. policies. These include changes – or possible changes - to immigration, dealings with other countries and environmental policies.
Judi Wakhungu is Kenya's Cabinet Secretary for the Environment. She told VOA that talks about the Paris Agreement on climate change were overshadowed by the arrival of the new U.S. administration.
She said China is prepared to reduce its pollution by showing leadership in solar energy. In her view, the U.S. position is not as clear:
"We are then seeing pronunciations that the new U.S. administration is going to actually roll back on the commitments that have been made. As I said, it's only January, and we hope that reason will prevail. Because we're all in the same boat."
African unity was the goal of the African Union’s predecessor, the Organization for African Unity. It seems today’s AU is getting closer to it, but in a more complex world.
I’m John Russell.
John Russell wrote this story for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
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Words in This Story
predecessor – n. something that comes before something else
ambassador-at-large – n. an ambassador with special duties, not appointed to one country
doom – v. to make (someone or something) sure to fail, suffer or die
sticking together – phrasal verb to continue to support each other
overshadow – v. to be more important that something else.
absence – n. a period of time when someone is not present at a place, job, etc.
according to – prepositional phrase as stated, reported, or recorded by (someone or something)