The main bone of contention is that South Africa’s challenge is creating a precedent in that the AU election rules allow the incumbent to vie for a second term because four years is too short for any chairperson to produce any tangible achievements. Still, South Africa has been making a last-ditch effort for its candidate to head the African Union Commission and claims to have secured the support of 24 countries, 14 from SADC and 10 from sway states, mainly from Central Africa, whose debts the continent’s economic giant has promised to inherit as well as clearing some of their arrears with the AU
Countries step up campaigns ahead of AU elections
Nairobi: The battle for supremacy between Nigeria and South Africa and an attempt by France to play a bigger role in African issues, are likely to influence who becomes the next head of the African Union Commission in this week’s polls. There is a growing competition between Nigeria and South Africa for the control of the continent’s economic and political scene after South Africa offered the candidature of Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, contrary to the unwritten rule that big economies should stay away from the leadership.
The current chair, Jean Ping, is said to enjoy the support of France, which has been trying to mobilise the Francophone countries to support the incumbent from Gabon since the January election failed to produce a winner.
The elections will be repeated during the heads of state summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from July 9-15, after the one held in January ended in a deadlock when both Mr Ping and Ms Dlamini-Zuma failed to get a two-thirds majority.
Sources in Addis Ababa revealed that Nigerian diplomats all over the continent have been campaigning against Ms Dlamini-Zuma due to the fact that South Africa is breaking the unwritten rule that the Big Five who finance 75 per cent of AU operations should not vie for leadership. These countries are Egypt, South Africa, Nigeria, Algeria and Libya.
But South Africa is arguing that Ms Zuma represents gender balance and that since the formation of the OAU 49 years ago, the southern and northern regions of the continent are the only ones that have not had the privilege of leading the commission. The position has been occupied by West Africa seven times, Central Africa three times, and East Africa two times.
A diplomatic source in Addis Ababa dismissed the South African argument that the southern region has never led the continental body since it was started 49 year ago.
“Tanzania is a member of SADC and its national, Salim Ahmed Salim, was the secretary general of the Organisation of African Unity for an unprecedented three terms covering a period of 12 years. Their claim is therefore not true,” said the diplomatic source. In the East African region, Kenya is supporting Mr Ping on the basis that his candidature is a package that also involves Kenya’s Erastus Mwencha.
In the January elections, Kenya, Rwanda, Ethiopia, and Djibouti voted for Mr Ping, while Uganda, Burundi, Tanzania and South Sudan voted for Ms Zuma.
South Africa is using its economic muscle and military might to provide technical support, military material and financing to South Sudan, Uganda and Burundi. This time around, Burundi has expressed an interest in the post of the AU Commissioner for Political Affairs.
Sources say that the stalemate that was experienced in January could be repeated, because the stalemate between Gabon and South Africa is yet to be solved. This would give the current deputy chair, Mr Mwencha, a chance to act in the interim before a substantive chairman is elected.
Soon after the January summit in Addis, the ad-hoc committee asked South Africa and Gabon to come up with a bilateral arrangement on how to solve the problem, but without success. Now the ad-hoc committee comprising six heads of state plus South Africa and Gabon, are set to meet on July 14 on the eve of the election to come up with recommendations.
The main bone of contention is that South Africa’s challenge is creating a precedent in that the AU election rules allow the incumbent to vie for a second term because four years is too short for any chairperson to produce any tangible achievements.
Still, South Africa has been making a last-ditch effort for its candidate to head the African Union Commission and claims to have secured the support of 24 countries, 14 from SADC and 10 from sway states, mainly from Central Africa, whose debts the continent’s economic giant has promised to inherit as well as clearing some of their arrears with the AU. This was the same style that was employed by the late Libyan strongman, Muammar Gaddafi, when he sought to control the affairs of the continent, especially over his pet subject of a United States of Africa.
A South African national already in Addis Ababa who spoke on condition of anonymity, noted that he could not rule out the possibility of South Africa offering to inherit some of the debt of certain sway states to secure their vote. But it could also be said of some of these states that they are being held hostage by French money and influence. South Africa is said to be targeting swing states like Chad, Burundi, Uganda, Guinea, Central African Republic and Comoros. But sources say that Jean Ping’s private business dealings with some states could see them vote in his favour.
The differences between Nigeria and South Africa have been exacerbated by the recent diplomatic row in March, when South Africa deported 125 Nigerians, among them a senator, who arrived at Johannesburg’s Oliver Tambo International Airport, claiming they had fake yellow fever vaccination cards.