Originally Published 2012-07-27 00:00:00 Published on Jul 27, 2012
The recent 19th AU Summit was dominated by the drama of the election for the post of the Chairman of the AU Commission. Many analysts feel that the fight for the post has divided the Continent and done a great deal of damage to African Unity.
A bitterly fought Election exposes the divisions within the Union
The recent !9th AU Summit was dominated by the drama of the election for the post of the Chairman of the AU Commission. Many analysts feel that the fight for the post has divided the Continent and done a great deal of damage to African Unity.

Earlier, during the build-up to the Summit, there was the controversy of the venue. Originally, it was decided to hold the Summit in Malawi. A few weeks before the event, Ms. Joyce Banda, President of Malawi announced that she would have President Omar al Bashir of Sudan arrested if he attended the Summit as per the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) orders. This created considerable debate among the African countries with arguments both for and against such a decision. President Banda argued that being a signatory to the Rome Convention, which created the ICC, Malawi was duty bound to act against al Bashir. But others argued that it was customary for the AU to invite all the African Heads of State and an AU Summit was not an appropriate occasion to implement the ICC rulings .It is also true that after a period of strained relations that Malawi had with the West during her predecessor’s time, Ms. Banda was trying hard to repair the relations with the objective of restoring their Assistance Programme which normally used to cover 60% of the county’s budget. It was obvious that a majority of African nations did not support Malawi’s stand and the venue had to be shifted, at short notice, to Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) which is the seat of AU.

The election for the post of the Chair-person of the AU Commission, which was an unfinished agenda item from the previous Summit in January this year became the most important issue. Neither of the two candidates-the incumbent Jean Ping of Gabon (seeking a perfectly legitimate second term) or the South African Minister of Home Affairs and President Jacob Zuma’s ex-wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma-managed to obtain the required two-thirds of the votes cast in the many rounds in January. However, in all the rounds Jean Ping stayed ahead with more support. In Addis Ababa, the fortunes seemed to change. In the first three rounds, Dlamini-Zuma stayed ahead and eventually got 37 votes in the fourth round, 3 more than the required number.

This election is, in many ways, a major game-changer and will have an impact on intra-African politics as well as the functioning of the AU. The following points are of special relevance:

  •  The unwritten convention that the post of AU Commission Chairman will not be held by candidates from the big five (Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt, Libya and Algeria who are the biggest contributors to AU) has been breached. Also, with the re-election of the incumbent from Kenya as the Deputy Chairman, the top two posts will be held by Anglophones, which is another departure from the norms.

  •  South Africa’s aggressive diplomacy was in full force. Many feel that the SADC countries were pressurised to present Dlamini-Zuma as the region’s candidate. President Jacob Zuma left no stone unturned in the campaign. Oil rich Angola is believed to have chipped in with US $ 176,000 for the expenses.

  •  South Africa brought in all arguments including the gender factor to promote its candidate. Their insistence on regional representation could introduce a new trend of rotational system for the high office.

  •  With this diplomatic victory, South Africa would try to be the leader of Africa so as to position itself as the front runner for a Permanent Seat in the UN Security Council as and when it is expanded.

  •  Nigeria, the natural competitor of South Africa for the leadership of the Continent seems to have been clearly out-manoeuvred. President Goodluck Jonathan’s absence in Addis Ababa because of domestic political issues did considerable damage to Jean Ping’s chances. In addition, the Ethiopian President, another heavy-weight who supported Ping was also absent due to health reasons. The temporary suspension of Guinea-Bissau and Mali on account of military coups helped Dlamini-Zuma in the overall numbers. Nigeria is both surprised and annoyed at the way some of the ECOWAS countries like Senegal broke ranks to vote for the South African candidate. Is this an indication of the declining influence of Nigeria in its own Sub-region?

Despite all the drama of the elections, the Summit with the theme "Boosting intra- Africa Trade" managed to transact some business on other important issues facing the Continent. The leaders agreed that the current situation in Mali, where the rebellious Tuaregs and Islamists have seized the northern region, is a threat to Africa’s peace and security. The outgoing Chairperson, Mr. Ping, stressed that the AU will continue to work with ECOWAS and the United Nations in order to restore peace in the region. Mr. Ping also emphasised the need to restore peace in the eastern region of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where rebel groups, M23 and the FDLR or Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, have become active in the recent months. DRC President Joseph Kabila and President Paul Kagame of Rwanda signed an agreement on July 15 to support, in principle, the formation of an international force to confront the armed rebellion. During the summit, the AU expressed its willingness to contribute to the regional force.

It will be interesting to note how the newly elected Commission’s Chairperson will handle the situation between the two Sudans. Under the leadership of Mr. Jean Ping, the African Union Peace and Security Council, during their ministerial meeting in April, had proposed a road map for resolving the conflict between the two Sudans. The roadmap was successful in bringing the two sides back on the table. Though President Omar al Bashir and President Salva Kiir met on the sidelines of the AU Summit, there has been little positive development.

Another important factor to look out for under Ms. Dlamini-Zuma’s leadership will be the relations with China. It is no secret that Chinese investments in Africa increased by great numbers during Mr. Jean Ping’s tenure. Even the highly impressive AU headquarters building in Ethiopia, worth $200 million, was fully funded by China and given as a gift to the AU. New policies adopted by Ms. Dlamini-Zuma in the coming years will be reflective of whether the level of Chinese investments and involvement in the economy will continue to grow or take a different turn.

The immediate task of the new Chair-person will be to repair the divisions created by the election. She will do well to reach out to all and build consensus. Already, some opposed to her feel that she will pursue a South African agenda in the AU. Such an impression, even if unfounded, should be corrected immediately. The Continent needs a leader with a pan- African vision and the ability to rally everyone to address its issues. Dlamini-Zuma’s professional credentials are well known. They will be put to test as she begins to tackle the complex political, social and economic problems of Africa.

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