Dlamini-Zuma to stay at AU a bit longer?

2016-07-16 13:02
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma (File, AFP)

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma (File, AFP)

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Kigali - African Union Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has told African foreign ministers at the 27th AU Summit that the commission was bowing out "gracefully" as it marked the end of its term.

This is meant to be her last African Union summit in her current position, but there is increasing talk that she might have to stay put for another six months if a worthy successor isn't elected.

Other than peace and security in hotspots like South Sudan, this week's African Union summit in Kigali, Rwanda, is expected to be dominated by discussions about Dlamini-Zuma's successor, as well as ways for the continental body to fund itself – a pressing issue Dlamini-Zuma has been trying to resolve during her 4-year term.

Talk within diplomatic circles is that political discussions have been held over until next year's summit so that leaders can focus solely on these two issues. Even though the actual elections and swearing-in of new AU Commission leaders will happen on Monday, there will be much lobbying before then.

There are three candidates up for Dlamini-Zuma's position.

Equatorial Guinea's Agapito Mba Mokuy is considered to be the candidate with the most serious campaign money behind him and a strong contender.

Candidate from a dictatorship

That country's president, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, has contributed to the AU financially and politically over the years, and a Spanish-speaking national has never held this position.

But some countries have questioned whether a candidate from a dictatorship would be ideal to run the day-to-day affairs of the AU.

Specioza Naigaga Wandira Kazibwe of Uganda has been nominated by east Africa. On Thursday morning the Ugandan government hosted a breakfast on the sidelines of the AU summit to lobby support for her. 

Algerian foreign minister Ramtane Lamamra, whose name was among the first mentioned as a possible successor for Dlamini-Zuma, endorsed Kazibwe in a surprise move, according to the twitter feed of Sarah Kagingo, a communications consultant for the Ugandan government.

Lamamra reportedly told the breakfast that a postponement of the elections would be counter to the AU's rules. Western African states like Senegal have lobbied for a postponement, saying the candidates that were put up were weak. 

According to AU rules a candidate must get two-thirds of the vote to become AU Commission chair - something which might be hard to achieve in this year's elections.

The Southern African Development Community's candidate is not much stronger. They put up Botswana foreign minister Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi.

SADC believes it is automatically entitled to another term at the helm of the AU, and officially South Africa supports Venson-Moitoi, but there have been suspicions in Botswana circles that South Africa has, in fact, been decampaigning her. A news report in the Botswana Guardian has it that Dlamini-Zuma felt her presidential campaign was faltering and now wanted to hold on to the AU position for another four years, but a more likely explanation could be that South African support for Botswana could be embarrassing given their divergence of views. 

Botswana president Ian Khama has not been an enthusiastic supporter of the AU and his opinion on issues like the International Criminal Court diverge from South Africa's (which favours a withdrawal from the tribunal) and from the mainstream ICC position.

Dlamini-Zuma faced fierce criticism throughout her term from francophone countries, which opposed her candidacy in the bruising leadership battle four years ago (which resulted in former AU Commission chairperson Jean Ping being forced to stay on another six months).

The criticism intensified following her decision to step down from the position after only one term, when the expectation was that she would serve two terms to see through some of her programmes.

Different approach to peace

She has been accused of using the AU as a platform to further her leadership ambitions to succeed President Jacob Zuma.

Still, Dlamini-Zuma thanked ministers for their support in her speech this week.

She made it clear that she believed focusing on development was a more effective way of fighting conflict than military interventions, despite some harsh criticism about her being too slow to step in when conflict broke out in parts of the continent.

"Silencing the guns requires a different approach to peace and security.

"Since the majority of our countries are stable and peaceful, we must continue to resolutely focus on the Agenda 2063 priorities such as building energy, road, rail and ICT infrastructure, to power and connect homes and industries; expanding agriculture and agro-processing; investing in the health, skills and education of our people, especially Africa's children, and young men and women, and building inclusive, democratic and tolerant societies," she said.

Agenda 2063 is the AU's development plan adopted three years ago under Dlamini-Zuma's watch.

Spending time at home

She also reminded ministers of plans to silence the guns in Africa by 2020. "We must all do more to honour this pledge," she said, also adding that countries could do more for human rights.

"Our human rights institutions that we created have the obligation to report, and to identify challenges, because none of us have impeccable records on human rights, it is a journey and we have not yet reached our destination. As countries, we must work with our institutions to ensure that we improve on the specific areas identified."

It is hard to tell how an extra six months in Addis Ababa would affect Dlamini-Zuma's presidential campaign back home. Those who want to see her rise to the top post – including lobbyists in the ANC Women's League and ANC Youth League – could not say for sure who her campaign managers were or how her campaign was structured.

One of the criticisms against Dlamini-Zuma in the AU has been that she spent too much time in South Africa during her term, and if she hopes to lobby branches ahead of the ANC's elective conference towards the end of next year, she'll have to spend even more time in South Africa. Already leaders are using local government election campaigns to raise their profiles amongst ANC supporters.

On the other hand, time out of South Africa could help to steer clear of scandals and smear campaigns there.

The unexpected could still happen, however. There has been talk within the ANC of recalling Zuma after the August elections should the ANC not perform well or lose another metro.

This would mean an earlier leadership election and less time for Dlamini-Zuma to campaign on home ground. Other contenders, like Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, who has been very much visible, would have a considerable advantage. 

Read more on:    au  |  au summit  |  nkosazana dlamaini-zuma  |  rwanda

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