Addis stalemate a victory for democracy

2012-02-04 09:50

The stalemate of the African Union’s contest for the continental body’s chair has been roundly and wrongly couched as proof of African disunity.

It is yet another manifestation of the falsehood that differences of opinion necessarily equate to divisions and therefore conflict.

The debate that certain countries acted in ­furtherance of France’s interests or for the ­hegemony of the English-speaking bloc and not for the pan-African body’s interests is, on the whole, irrelevant because in the realm of ­international relations, countries always act on what they believe to be best for them.

Instead of criticism, the African Union and its members deserve praise for openly differing and advancing each party’s views on who should lead the organisation.

The concern that the continental body will be paralysed by indecision and lack of leadership, if valid, speaks to the inadequacy of institutions that are suppose to deepen efficiency.

Six months is too short a period for well-established structures to crumble because of the possibility that there might be a new leader at the helm.

For the first time in its short history, AU ­members had two highly regarded prospects for the job, as the results of the voting showed.
It is significant that despite the numerical superiority of the Francophone bloc and the view that it is a proxy for France on the continent, the votes were split almost in half.

Many cases of inertia from African leaders on multilateral bodies can be traced to the complacency that comes from incumbents believing their tenures are secure regardless of how they ­perform.

The passion demonstrated at last week’s meeting in Addis Ababa sends the right message to whoever will be elected to the chair when the African Union meets in Malawi later this year.

It was a healthy sign of democratic engagement that many, including South Africa’s governing ­party, can learn from. Differences of opinion are a healthy sign of democracy and we are all the ­richer for having them.

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