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Problem was CS Mohamed's packaging as EAC candidate

Saturday February 4 2017

Leaders welcome Amina Mohamed (with flower), the Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs and International Trade, to her luncheon at InterContinental Nairobi Hotel on February 1, 2017. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Leaders welcome Amina Mohamed (left), the Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs and International Trade, to her luncheon at InterContinental Nairobi Hotel on February 1, 2017. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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The question why Foreign Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed lost the vote for the chairmanship of the African Union Commission to Chadian counterpart Moussa Mahamat has led to fishing expeditions in waters rich in rumour, speculation and propaganda.

In my view, the question should be why Nairobi was over-confident in its belief that Amina was a shoo-in for election. The outcome of this poll only becomes clear at the penultimate stage when presidents and premiers, sitting as the policy-making AU Assembly, decide which way to vote in the last round.

In other words, how did Nairobi’s political and diplomatic strategy unravel as presidents and premiers voted, and characteristically, driven by individual state and or regional interests? Put another way, in view of the geopolitics, if Amina won, to which countries had she assigned the three positions of deputy chairmen and eight commissioners?

And how did this compare to what her rivals put on the table? It is why I cautiously argued here two Sundays ago that Amina had a fighting chance of getting the job, but punned that it would depend on the size of the fight in her. I then pointed out what Nairobi needed to do, with only a week to go, in campaigning for East Africa’s turn.

Yes, East Africa’s turn and not Kenya’s. And, yes, a turn for East Africa and not for the East African Community (EAC). There is a difference. There are five AU regions, namely East, West, North, Central and South. The five EAC countries of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and South Sudan belong to the East region while Burundi belongs to Central.



The East region stretches from the Horn, with its other members being the Comoros, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Madagascar, Mauritius, Somalia and the Seychelles to make for a total of 14. But only after serious canvassing, from the Red Sea to the islands, would it have made sense to unveil Amina’s candidature and packaging as representing the East.

Still the bloc’s 14 votes are not enough because a candidate needs 35 in order to be appointed chairman of the Commission. It is why the East then needed to canvass support from the West, which has 15 votes, South (10), North (7), and Central (9). This is where painstaking balancing of delicate diplomacy and calculated political manoeuvring comes in, because only the North did not run a candidate for Commission chairman.

Now this should have served as a guide: the West, which is also grouped as the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), canvasses and votes as a solid bloc. Second, the region also identifies itself closely with the Central region.

Indeed it was Ecowas that torpedoed Southern Africa’s quest for the chairmanship of the Commission in July in Kigali and forced last week’s re-run in Addis Ababa. And why? Because it did not at the time have a candidate in the race. When Senegal’s Prof Abdoulaye Bathily lost out in round three of balloting, Ecowas threw its weight behind Central’s Mahamat.


But still in round four Amina polled 26 votes to Mr Mahamat’s 25, but three countries abstained. She polled 27 in the next round to Mr Mahamat’s 26, with one country abstaining. And, then, came the crucial and penultimate sixth round. Mr Mahamat now polled 28 votes, increasing his tally by two, while Amina’s count dropped from 27 to 25. Abstention remained at one.

In the last round, 16 countries abstained. Mr Mahamat, now alone, got 38 votes, three more than he needed to be appointed. Frustrated Nairobi read betrayal in the results of the sixth round and pointed an accusing finger at Dar-es-Salaam and Kampala.

It is up to Nairobi to provide proof of this betrayal because correspondence shows that an EAC heads of state summit scheduled last September for last month in Dar-es-Salaam was postponed to this month to enable the leaders to travel to Addis Ababa to vote for Amina.

However, Nairobi’s discomfiture with Dar and Kampala delighted its enemies at home and beyond. It lit up the social media. Indeed, NTV’s AM Live analyst, Prof Herman Manyora, opined that only the worst of Africa voted for Kenya.

My take is that Amina fought a good fight, but was handicapped from the moment she was packaged as an EAC candidate and saddled with Kenya’s inexperience on the chessboard of AU vote-seeking. And, yes, Nairobi needs to know why two friends took flight at that critical hour.