SA is the biggest loser at AU

2017-02-05 06:05
Jacob Zuma. (File)

Jacob Zuma. (File)

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Johannesburg - After four years at the helm of the AU, South Africa’s influence seems to be slipping, with many major policy decisions not going its way.

These included the admission of Morocco to the AU after a 23-year absence, the election of Chadian Foreign Minister Moussa Faki Mahamat as AU Commission chairperson, as well as the watered-down AU withdrawal strategy from the International Criminal Court (ICC).

One of the South African delegates at the summit said Mahamat was too much of an unknown factor to be trusted.

It is, however, unclear whether President Jacob Zuma ultimately voted for him or was among the 15 heads of state who abstained.

A South African government official said Zuma and Mahamat were “close personal friends”, so Zuma would not have been averse to Mahamat’s election.

It is also understood that Mahamat had strong backing from Algeria, which was opposed to Morocco’s admission to the AU, just like South Africa was.

The important position of political affairs commissioner went to Burkina Faso’s Minata Cessouma Samate – a country South Africa considers to be too close to France.

South Africa also failed to convince the continental body that southern Africa deserved a second term at the helm, with the foreign minister of Botswana, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, falling out early in the seven rounds of voting.

A member of the South African delegation said there were differences of opinion among the delegation about who to support, with some favouring Venson-Moitoi as the official Southern African Development Community candidate; others Kenyan Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed as an outspoken critic of the ICC; while others reckoned Senegal’s candidate, Abdoulaye Bathily, should have got the position as “the only true pan-Africanist candidate”.

Bathily, too, was eliminated in the early rounds.

The official said it was a “strategic decision” not to put up any candidates as commissioners because South Africa had held the top spot for four years.

Morocco’s admission followed soon after the election, and came as perhaps the biggest shock for the southern African contingent.

A South African delegate emerged from the meeting looking shocked and dazed, saying “it was difficult to follow what the guy who summarised the proceedings” was saying.

Another delegate, when asked how South Africa felt about Morocco’s admission, simply said: “We have no feelings.”

Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, too, is said to have made an impassioned plea against the “colonial occupation of Western Sahara” by Morocco, but he, too, was defeated despite the high regard with which he was held in the AU in the past.

South Africa wanted the issue of the independence of Western Sahara to be discussed before a decision could be made on Morocco’s admission, but 39 countries said Morocco’s request to join should be granted without preconditions.

The decision was ultimately considered to have been made by consensus.

Morocco left the Organisation of African Unity in 1984 after the continental body recognised the independence of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.

South Africa felt betrayed by Tanzania, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Swaziland’s support of Morocco’s unconditional return, while South Africa, Zimbabwe, Algeria and Angola were vocally opposed to it.

“They said they’re not interested in discussions on the [AU’s] constitutive act, but it should be like when you join a club. You should meet the requirements first,” a South African delegate said.

The South Africans wanted to have a committee set up to consider the constitutive requirements, also as a delaying tactic until the expiry of the term of current AU chairperson, Guinean president Alpha Condé, who is considered to be sympathetic to Morocco.

The passing of the ICC collective withdrawal strategy was a hollow victory for South Africa, which has been at the forefront of pushing for a collective withdrawal and has already given notice of its own withdrawal.

In the end, the strategy was a political statement with few teeth, and there were “many reservations”, publicly expressed, by countries such as Nigeria, Senegal and Botswana.

Even Uganda, which supported the strategy, said after the summit it would not withdraw immediately.

Jakkie Cilliers, from the Institute for Security Studies, said South Africa seemed weaker after this year’s summit because “it’s distracted by the internal factional battles within the ANC ahead of its conference [at the end of this year]”.

For this reason, he said it “has been frustrated in its efforts to push on initiatives such as the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises, while our stature suffers under Zuma’s lack of vision, corruption allegations and the general incoherence in government policies.”

Read more on:    au  |  icc  |  moussa faki mahamat  |  jacob zuma
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