Addis Ababa: Morocco rejoined the club of African states on Tuesday, 33 years after quitting, bringing one of Africa's largest economies into the fold and raising hopes of a softening of one of its thorniest territorial disputes.
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 territory on Africa's north Atlantic coast as a full-blown member.
However, African support for Western Sahara - which the United Nations does recognise as a country - has ebbed as the importance of Morocco's $250 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.
"Africa is my home and I am coming back home," King Mohammed said, to applause from other heads of state.
"I have missed you all." 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.
In the last few years, Moroccan firms have made significant investments across Africa in everything from financial services to housing projects to fertilizer plants.
King Mohammed made clear this was just the beginning.
"Africa is indispensable to Morocco and Morocco is indispensable to Africa," he said.
During his 20-minute speech, King Mohammed gave a nod to the tensions over Western Sahara, which has been contested since Spanish colonial powers left in 1975, but made clear he was not interested in making them worse. "We don't want to divide the continent," he said.