Speculation abounds over AU future of Dlamini-Zuma

2015-02-01 15:00

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The big news at the African Union (AU) was not the drama around Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe’s ascent to the top position of AU chairperson, but talk that its administrative unit may have a new head by next year.

Speculation is raging that AU Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma might not return for a second term.

Come 2016, and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma could be heading back to South Africa following a four-year AU stint.

Talk in and around the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, by diplomats and media attending this week’s summit is that she will not lobby for a second term when her time is up next year. The name of a possible successor, Algerian foreign minister and former AU commissioner Ramtane Lamamra, has been mentioned, an observer who works closely with the AU said.

It is still early days – after this summit, there are two more before the AU Commission chair is elected in the middle of next year – but Lamamra appears to be a strong candidate. He is well respected, experienced and from the francophone bloc, a lobby group that opposed Dlamini-Zuma’s election.

Convention also has it that the chairpersonship alternates between the anglophone and francophone countries.

But Dlamini-Zuma has refused to give any indication of what she will do.

A source close to Dlamini-Zuma said she was very difficult to read and “you cannot even speculate on this. She takes things one day at a time.”

On at least two occasions, when asked whether she would leave the AU to run for ANC president, Dlamini-Zuma refused to comment.

Even as there is uncertainty over whether she will stay or go, francophone countries already seem to have agreed on Lamamra as their candidate. They have lobbied quietly for him at the summit.

Exchanging the dusty Ethiopian capital’s injera (a pancake-like flatbread made with teff flour) and thin air for South Africa’s pap and relative lushness is unlikely to be seen as a tragedy for Dlamini-Zuma.

In an interview a year ago, she appeared a little homesick (Addis was until recently considered a diplomatic hardship posting) and, at the time, there was strong talk of the possibility of her making a bid for the ANC presidency in 2017.

Talk of her stepping up to that post has, however, been somewhat muted of late, with lobbyists in the ANC turning their focus to Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa instead.

“We have a tradition in the ANC of the deputy president becoming the president and, if there is any deviation, it would have to come from the branches.

“We, as leaders, cannot disrespect the branches,” an ANC national executive committee member told City Press this week.

Although she has been efficient in improving systems and ensuring meetings start on time, Dlamini-Zuma has done little to endear herself to her colleagues in the AU.

Her election in 2012 followed an acrimonious bout of lobbying and critics felt she could have done more to heal the subsequent rifts.

During her opening statement at the AU assembly this year, for instance, she spoke in English and Swahili only and failed to make an effort to communicate in French or Portuguese as a gesture of conciliation.

Critics have also accused her of appointing too many South Africans around her at the AU headquarters, which has about 700 staff members.

Some of her challenges at the AU include getting member countries to make contributions – so that the union relies less on donor funding – and pushing a development agenda instead of conflict resolution (which has made her some enemies).

Dlamini-Zuma’s Vision 2063, an action plan towards an ideal Africa, is one of her legacy projects. Sadly, it might not bear enough fruit in the short term to keep the momentum – and could well end when her term does next year.

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