AU leadership battle: was it worth it?

2012-07-17 00:00

THE battle for the chief executive office of Africa, the chairperson of the African Union Commission, is over after a victory by the southern African candidate, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, on Sunday night. But the battle for a renaissance of the continent from the legacy of colonialism, under-development and misrule begins. It is this that will tell us if this brutal contest for the chairpersonship was worth it.

While the position of head of the African Union Commission is not new, this time around it was far more intense than we have seen in the past few decades. The two contesting candidates, Dlamini-Zuma and the Gabonese incumbent, Jean Ping, were so strong that the outcome could not be easily predicted. The regions behind them, central and southern Africa, campaigned strongly for the votes, although perhaps without much publicity. As a result, when the elections were first held in January 2012, there was no winner after many rounds of voting.

Many people in Africa were embarrassed about the stalemate in which the January elections ended, seeing this as a failure on the part of the continent. They misunderstood that democratic elections must be decided by numbers rather than a moral obligation to at least have someone in the hot seat.

The public discourse since January has been dominated by somewhat false debates about whether big countries should contest this key position in the AU because some are concerned that big countries would acquire disproportionate influence in the affairs of the AU. This is a non-issue because in terms of the rules, countries do not field candidates in this case, regions do. There has never been a persuasive argument as to why candidates from big countries should be excluded.

The argument that the divisions, especially along Francophone-Anglophone lines, had been precipitated by southern African and South African ambitions, could also not be maintained without becoming irrational. These were not the only lines along which countries were divided. In fact, Ping enjoyed the support of a few large Anglophone countries, including Nigeria, Kenya and Ethiopia. Dlamini-Zuma also received support from the likes of Burundi, Rwanda and Congo-Brazzaville — all Francophone.

Secondly, this idea that everything must be done to avoid a division of views shows a misunderstanding of African politics. The Organisation of African Unity (OAU) was born out of deep ideological disagreements between what became the Monrovia and Casablanca blocs, over the form and nature of integration that Africa needed to follow. There were divisions recently, when the late Muammar Gaddafi of Libya began the grand debate on whether Africa was now ready to move a step higher and form a union government that the Casablanca bloc had wanted in 1963. There are frequent disagreements on how to interpret national democracy, human rights, national development, and over which of the 14 regional schemes must be regarded as the AU’s building blocks.

It is not the fact that divisions surfaced that matters most for the citizens of Africa, but whether a strong commission will emerge that will ensure that all major AU decisions are energetically and systematically implemented. It is whether the AU will enhance its voice and agency to protect Africa from growing neo-colonial tendencies that seek to marginalise it, as we recently witnessed with the illegal Nato campaign in Libya or the French military intervention in Cote d’Ivoire. It is the commission’s work to unite the continent on a programme of economic and social progress that will tell whether Dlamini-Zuma is a good candidate for Africa or not. She will be missed in South Africa for her energy and abilities, but her new appointment is good for Africa. Gone are the days when countries sent the least competent people to Addis Ababa, instead of the strongest.

• Siphamandla Zondi is the executive director of the Institute for Global Dialogue, but writes in his personal capacity.


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