Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed is pledging sustained gender equality campaigns, a peaceful Africa and more trade as her main priorities, should she get elected as the next African Union Commission chairperson.
Since last week, Ms Mohamed has been meeting African leaders to lobby for their endorsement.
“Not least of all, through the AU Commission chairperson position, we will make Africa the destination of choice for foreign direct investment (FDI), innovation, trade, industry and tourism,” she told participants at a recent summit of Comesa member states in Madagascar.
“We will prioritise addressing gender inequalities and lowering barriers to women participation in productive activities for transformation and socio-economic processes."
And it appears she is seeking to extend the legacy of the current office holder, South Africa’s Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who has opted not to contest for a new term.
Dr Dlamini-Zuma’s legacy since 2012 has been mainly punctuated by criticism of perceived failures to make the commission self-reliant and champion good negotiation with international bodies like the UN.
DONOR-DEPENDENT AFRICAN UNION
But the South African diplomat has been strong on gender equality. For example, in 2013, the AU passed Agenda 2063, an ambitious document that described how Africa would be self-reliant, developed, educated, politically stable and with equal opportunities for men and women.
The document specifically commits to eliminate oppression and discrimination based on gender in the next five years and cut out practices like child marriages, wife inheritance and female genital mutilation.
The parliaments of at least 20 countries in Africa have a third or more members who are women, while others like Kenya have 30 per cent of positions in the Cabinet filled by women.
But the African Union has been a donor-funded organisation with 9 of every ten shillings it spends coming from the European Union, the US or China.
This has made it difficult for the organisation to respond to crises such as the threat of Al-Shabaab in Somalia, extremist groups in Mali and political instability in South Sudan, Central Africa Republic and Burundi.
Ms Mohamed hopes to improve this record. An AU chairman is the chief executive of the continental bloc and shapes its agenda in areas of politics and security. The AU head is essentially supposed to whip member countries to a common position as well as speak for Africa.
In Madagascar, where the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) endorsed her bid, she told an audience she will support free flow of information between regions and work with the African diaspora.
“We will explore sustainable ways of financing Agenda 2063 through concrete mechanisms that ensure optimum use of mobilised resources,” she said without elaborating.
For her, the AU will have a role in addressing poverty in rural areas in what she called turning them “into vibrant hubs of agro-business and industrial activity and urban areas into liveable, greener, resilient spaces.”
Foreign policy observers say she could win the seat if the countries she has lobbied so far agree to support her.
“I think the nomination is a show of confidence on the part of Kenya that its continental and global standing continues to be on the rise,” argued Prof Macharia Munene, who teaches history and international relations at USIU-Africa.
But her candidature is yet to be steady. Within East Africa, Uganda and Rwanda have showed they could support her. Uganda, for instance, withdrew its candidate, Specioza Wandira, while Rwandan Trade Minister Robert Kanimba publicly endorsed her during the Comesa summit.
PITFALLS OF COMPETITION
Elkanah Odembo, a former Kenyan ambassador to the US, argues that Kenya should learn from its past mistakes and agree to a give-and-take in order to get the sufficient numbers.
“Kenya has been known to go against consensus when it comes to matters of candidates for international positions. A case in point is the very CS Amina Mohamed was presented by Kenya to head the WTO (World Trade Organisation) a few years ago.
“Contrary to what the rest of the African countries had agreed to. As a result, Africa presented two candidates and lost out,” Mr Odembo told the Nation, referring to the 2013 elections for the WTO director-general’s post.
On that occasion, Ms Mohamed and Ghana’s trade minister Alan John Kwadwo Kyerematen were the only candidates from Africa hoping to succeed Pascal Lamy as director-general of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
In the end, they both lost to Brazil’s Roberto Azevêdo. Could this recur? The AU has not published the official list of candidates but it is rumoured Somalia’s former foreign minister Fowsiyo Yusuf Haji Adan could be on the list.
If Ms Haji is a candidate, this could divide the vote of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad), in which both countries are members.
However, Kenya has been lobbying for the election of Ethiopian foreign minister Tedros Adhanom to be the next director-general of the World Health Organisation (WHO) when elections come up next May.
The unwritten deal between Kenya and Ethiopia is to support each other’s candidature without competing. At the Comesa meeting, Ethiopian finance minister Ahmed Shide backed Ms Mohamed.
Comesa is a 19-country free-trade bloc, but its members also belong to other regional communities. Though Ms Mohamed met with Tanzanian foreign minister Augustine Mahiga, Dar es Salaam has not said a thing about her candidature.
In fact Tanzania, a member of the East African Community, also belongs to the Southern African Development Community (Sadc), which passed a resolution in August to continue supporting Botswana candidate Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, because the bloc believes it should get a second term.
Other candidates include Equatorial Guinea’s foreign minister Agapito Mba Mokuy and Senegal’s Abdoulaye Bathily. Malawi and Madagascar, which belong to Sadc, have pledged to support Ms Mohamed.