Race for AU chief hots up

2011-11-19 14:41

The campaign for Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to become chairperson of the African Union commission received a boost this week when Senegal pledged its support.

Dlamini-Zuma was up against incumbent Jean Ping who was expected to receive support from West African countries because he hailed from Gabon.

President Jacob Zuma decided to nominate Dlamini-Zuma in a bid to bolster the AU, which has come under attack lately for its tardiness in responding to African crises.

In the latest example, the AU was accused by Western countries of taking too long to respond substantively to the Libyan crisis, prompting the United Nations and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) to take military action in Libya.

This caused a massive rift between the AU, specifically South Africa, and countries such as Britain, France and the United States.

There was some discomfort about her nomination in the ANC, with some fearing she would pursue the agenda of former president Thabo Mbeki, under whom she served as foreign affairs minister.

But her supporters said she had “more than shown” her loyalty to the current leadership by turning around the department of home affairs.

Insiders spoke of a gentleman’s agreement that big countries in Africa would not put up candidates to run the regional and continental institutions. The fear was that the larger countries would have too much power if they were in charge of these institutions.

This agreement was honoured with Ping, from tiny Gabon, as the AU commission chairperson and Kasuka Mutukwa from Zambia running the Southern African Development Community (SADC) parliamentary forum.

South Africa dispatched a team of presidential advisors, including former defence minister Charles Nqakula and former ambassador to Brazil Lindiwe Zulu, to argue South Africa’s case in various countries.

All SADC countries pledged their support. But in a surprising twist, Senegal also threw its weight behind Dlamini-Zuma, a South African official told City Press.

“Senegal has not only pledged its vote but also said it would help lobby for Nkosazana,” he said. As a key country in West Africa, Senegal could help tip the scales in Dlamini-Zuma’s favour.

Dlamini-Zuma also had the support of the European Union (EU), although the regional body was reluctant to get involved in the race, saying this is an African matter.

But last week French foreign minister Alain Juppe caused an upheaval when 702’s Eyewitness News reported that he had asked Zuma to withdraw Dlamini-Zuma from the race, citing that Ping’s failure to be re-elected might cause problems in Gabon.

Gabon president Ali Bongo Ondimba was said to fear Ping’s return to Gabon because Ping might challenge his leadership.
Diplomats admitted Dlamini-Zuma’s campaign was discussed, but insisted that Juppe never asked for her nomination to be withdrawn.

South African officials said this week EU chief Catherine Ashton pledged to help find Ping another job to ensure Dlamini-Zuma was uncontested.

Said one: “She said she would try and find another place where Ping could go so that he doesn’t need to contest and Nkosazana can be elected unopposed.”

This was denied by EU officials in South Africa, but privately they admitted a preference for Dlamini-Zuma. The election will take place in January next year and if Dlamini-Zuma wins, she will vacate her position at home affairs – which may prompt yet another cabinet reshuffle.

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