Morocco rejoined the club of African states on January 31, 33 years after quitting over the recognition of Western Sahara. The move brings one of Africa’s largest economies into the fold and raises hopes of a softening of one of its thorniest territorial disputes – Morocco considered Western Sahara as part of its territories.

Capping a year-long charm offensive that mirrored a broader investment push into Africa, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI was cheered as he took his seat for the first time in the Addis Ababa headquarters of the 55-nation African Union (AU). Rabat left the AU’s predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity, in 1984 in anger at its acceptance of the phosphate-rich Western Sahara as a full-blown member.

“We have never broken up the ties or severed the ties, the ties have always been there and you could rely on us. The strong bilateral relations have been developed in a significant manner,” King Mohammed VI said.

African support for Western Sahara has ebbed as the importance of Morocco’s $110 billion economy, Africa’s fifth largest, as a trade and investment partner has grown.

At an AU summit this week, Morocco was re-admitted to the fold, with 39 countries expressing support and only 10, believed to be led by Algeria and South Africa, expressing reservations.

For Morocco, a relatively liberalised economy and firm Western ally, readmission to the AU should smooth its entry into fast-growing African economies to the south and help reduce its reliance on stagnant European markets to the north.

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