[OPINION] The state of the African Union

Less united it may be with its new member Morocco, but the African Union (AU) emerges from its summit in Addis Ababa this week with a more muscular profile.

Outgoing AU Commission head Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma was criticised for not getting to grips with the military conflicts on the continent.

Her successor Moussa Faki Mahamat is more likely to tackle military challenges head on. As Chad’s foreign minister, Mahamat is accustomed to representing a country that sees itself as one of Africa’s military powers.

Recently Chad has been involved in peacekeeping operations in Mali and the Central African Republic and has helped fight Boko Haram in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

These operations moved President Idriss Deby well into the light. However, he has been somewhat shaded by dubious presidential elections last year.

As the rotating president of the AU, Guinea’s President Alpha Conde has played a conciliatory role in tough situations.

He is criticised, perhaps unfairly, for being too close to beaten Gambian President Yayha Jammeh. When Jammeh tried to cling to power it was Conde who negotiated the final exit and accompanied Jammeh into exile. His mediation skills could be put to good use in future conflicts.

Eight of the ten AU Commission posts were filled at the summit, leaving two for later.

Mahamat has spoken of making the continental body more efficient.

Interestingly, only 15% of the more than 18,000 resolutions passed by the AU since its inception in 2002 have been implemented.

There is bags of room for improvement.

The organisation has changed beyond recognition by the arrival of Morocco that turned its back on Africa 32 years ago when the Organisation of African Unity made Western Sahara a member.

Morocco has illegally occupied Western Sahara since 1975.

Joining the AU has proved easier than many thought for Morocco - certainly easier than South Africa and Algeria, who are the staunchest supporters of the Saharawi.

They believed Morocco could be forced to end its occupation as a condition of becoming a member.

In the event there was no vote. 39 members gave written assent to Morocco’s application and that was enough for the commission.

South Africa and Algeria’s reservations went largely unheard.

King Mohammed VI made an impassioned speech, telling African leaders he was back in the family and he had missed them.

The Saharawi representatives put a brave face on it, saying they now have Morocco inside the tent where they can apply greater pressure on it to keep its promise to allow an independence referendum in the occupied territory.

Interestingly, the king made no mention of Western Sahara in his speech.

There are fears he will use his friends in the AU to have Western Sahara suspended and ultimately expelled.

The AU constitution makes no provision for ejecting a founder member such as Western Sahara.

Morocco’s membership application was accompanied by promises of picking up a lion’s share of the tab for running the AU.

The pressure will be on the kingdom to replace Libya as one of the chief AU funders along with Algeria, South Africa, Nigeria and Egypt.

Jean-Jacques Cornish is an Africa correspondent at Eyewitness News. Follow him on Twitter: @jjcornish