Addis Ababa - African leaders are set to decide on a successor for African Union (AU) Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma on Monday, but even at this late stage, the race for the position is still wide open.“We can say what we want, but at this point everything is still speculation. We will only know on the day of the elections,” a staff member of the AU Commission, who is privy to the lobbying, told City Press a few days ago. Out of an unprecedented five candidates, three have emerged as front-runners, but horse-trading, continuous lobbying and a voting process that works on the basis of elimination mean anything could happen on the day.Secret votesKenya’s Foreign Minister, Amina Mohammed, is a favourite, and her team, led by Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta, has criss-crossed the continent to shore up support.There were reports out of Bamako, Mali that she had a team of 90 lobbyists at the France-Africa summit earlier this month. An official with inside knowledge of South Africa’s lobbying told City Press that Mohammed also enjoys the unofficial backing of President Jacob Zuma.Although Zuma is bound by regional protocol to publicly support Botswana’s Foreign Minister, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, for the position, heads of state will cast secret votes in the AU assembly.In recent times South Africa has teamed up with Kenya on its call for African states to withdraw from the International Criminal Court, while Botswana’s president, Ian Khama, has openly voiced his support for the court.Dlamini-Zuma hinted at a gender summit dinner in Addis Ababa on Tuesday night that, even though she should be neutral, she, too, wanted to see a woman succeed her. It is rumoured that this woman is Mohammed. Dlamini-Zuma said when the AU started implementing its 50-year plan – Agenda 2063 – “women said now that we have you, Ma’am, as a first woman here in 50 years, we must hold this position for [another] 50 years”.Midnight deadlineChad’s foreign minister and former prime minister, Moussa Faki Mahamat, has been considered a dark horse, but his name is also mentioned as a favourite. “Chad is seen to have the backing of Algeria, which wants to have him there to block Senegal at all costs,” said an African diplomat in Addis Ababa.Mahamat’s nomination came two hours before the midnight deadline in October and his backers had to scramble to find an official to receive it.Algeria does not support Morocco’s bid to become an AU member after it left the AU’s predecessor, the Organisation for African Unity, when it recognised the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic as a country.Senegal is seen to be backing Morocco’s bid.Mahamat is a veteran diplomat and Pan-Africanist fluent in English, French and Arabic, but Chad had a recent turn at the AU top job and this could count against him. Central Africa is also the only region fielding two candidates - the other being Equatorial Guinea’s Foreign Minister, Agapito Mba Mokuy, who, at 51, is the youngest, but also the weakest contender.“If countries decide to vote according to regions in the first round, this could split the central African vote and Chad is likely to lose out,” an official on the AU Commission said.Heads abstainedSenegal’s Abdoulaye Bathily, the former UN special envoy for central Africa and a former minister and academic, has also run a strong campaign, painting himself as a Pan-Africanist who can bridge the divide between Anglophone and Francophone Africa. He is fluent in both those languages. He might, however, be undermined by Senegal’s stance on Morocco and Anglophone hostility. “Senegal was the one who led the campaign to abandon the elections in Kigali, which alienated many countries,” the AU official said.None of the three candidates fielded for AU Commission chairperson during that summit mustered a two-thirds majority because half of the heads of state abstained owing to lobbying led by Senegal.Senegal said this was necessary out of protest against what it termed the low calibre of the candidates. Hours after the unsuccessful vote, Bathily’s candidacy emerged.Venson-Moitoi has a slender chance of emerging as an outside candidate during the voting process, should the battle become too bruising.Even though her lobbyists claim that they have support from 25 out of the 54 member states, at least two election watchers said this was overoptimistic. In Kigali she at most mustered only 13 votes.“How can you have any chance when your own president isn’t even campaigning for you?” said an African diplomat in Addis Ababa. Botswana’s Khama does not attend AU summits and his country isn’t held in high esteem by the continental body.