It’s D-Day for new AU chair after prolonged war of nerves
Posted Saturday, July 14 2012 at 18:38
Leaders to vote today in Addis Ababa with the results expected tomorrow
Since African leaders in January failed to choose between Gabon’s Jean Ping and challenger Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma in the election of the next chairman of the African Union Commission, the campaigns of the two candidates have been blistering.
Since January, intensive diplomatic manoeuvres have been taking place across the continent in dogged bids to influence who takes the position of chairman.
Mr Ping, who has occupied the post since 2008, is expected to have a tough battle on his hands as he faces a determined onslaught from South Africa’s Dlamini-Zuma. A former Foreign minister and current Home Affairs minister, she is also an ex-wife of the president, and is regarded as one of the top female politicians in South Africa.
A meeting in Gabon to break the deadlock between the two candidates failed to produce consensus as did another in May in Cotonou, Benin.
The result was that the matter was left to be thrashed out at a summit planned for Malawi, but which has since been relocated to the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa. Results are expected on Monday.
The campaign has also involved much gusto from the two prospective candidates and has been described as a looming battle between the Anglophone and Francophone zones on the African continent. It has also been described as a showdown between regional blocs, and has seen all stops pulled out in preparation.
In an interview last week, however, Ms Dlamini-Zuma played down the language divide argument, while also calling for a shake-up of AU leadership.
Arguing that the change could create an opportunity to make the organisation more efficient, Ms Dlamini-Zuma said that as chair of the AU, it would not be difficult for her to unite members despite differences between Anglophone and Francophone countries.
“I also think it is something we should eventually walk away from. I am not Anglophone, I’m Zulu.” she said, adding that to unite the countries of Africa it would be important to figure out what drove them at a continental level as there were many differences between them.
Over the past few months, Ms Dlamini-Zuma’s bid for the AU job has been depicted as enjoying the backing of the predominantly English-speaking southern African region, while Mr Ping is said to be assured of support by Francophone countries and their supporters in other parts of the continent.
Much of the support for the South African candidate is grounded on the fact that the southern African region has not held the position since the AU was created a decade ago, replacing its predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity.
In the meantime, South African president Jacob Zuma has said the push for the chair of the AU Commission is “driven by the principle of strengthening the AU and improving its functioning and operations.” He added that “South Africa believes in the principle of giving all regions of the AU the opportunity to serve the organisation.”
In many quarters that pledge was taken with a pinch of salt. For instance, just a week after South Africa hosted high-level African leaders, including Mr Ping, for the Global African Diaspora Summit in Pretoria, some delegates expressed reservations about what they viewed as South Africa’s use of the meeting to overtly lobby for Ms Dlamini-Zuma.
Particularly considered suspect was the host country’s decision to give Malawi $23 million of $35 million it has pledged earlier, allegedly to mitigate the smaller country’s fuel crisis, and reportedly requested by Malawi’s new president when she visited South Africa in April.
“Why now?” asked a miffed Gabonese official who read impropriety in the action. “Why not during the Mutharika era?”
The Gabonese source was further quoted as claiming that South Africa had given South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir a jet, a claim allegedly confirmed by the South Sudanese government.