There is no doubt that Zuma's emergence as the Commission's Chairperson is at variance with Nigeria's strategic interests. Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt and Ethiopia are all contenders for an African slot as a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council - if that slot becomes available. The fear therefore is not only that Dr Zuma could use her position to project South Africa's foreign policy positions but that she could also use it to subtly canvas for her country's candidacy for the envisaged African slot as a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council. These fears perhaps informed the opposition of Nigeria, Egypt and Ethiopia to Dr Zuma's candidacy.
Dr Zuma's emergence as chairperson of the AU Commission
Abuja: The recent emergence of Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, South Africa's Minister of Home Affairs and former wife of the country's current President Jacob Zuma, as the third chairperson of the African Union Commission has been generating angry reviews among many Nigerians who feel humiliated that for the umpteenth time the country's candidate for a key position in the continent was trounced. That defeat of Nigeria's official candidate is of course being deconstructed differently by several analysts. Nigeria supported Jean Ping, a mixed race Gabonese (his father was Chinese and mother Gabonese) who was running for re-election. There are several lessons from that election.
One, there is a need to make a clear distinction between the African Union Commission and the African union. The African Union Commission serves as the AU's administrative branch and as a secretariat of the Pan African Parliament. The Commission implements AU policies and coordinates the body's activities and meetings. The Chairperson of the Commission is elected to a four year term.
Since the inception of that position in 2002, it has been monopolised by the nationals of French-speaking countries. The Commission's first Chairman, Amara Essy of Côte d'Ivoire, held the position in acting capacity for one year (9 July 2002 to 16 September 2003). After Amara Essy we had Alpha Oumar Konare from Mali (16 September 2003 to 28 April 2008) and Jean Ping from Gabon (28 April 2008 to 15 July 2012).
Unlike the African Union Commission, Chairpersons of the African Union are elected for a one-year tenure and the person must be a serving Head of State or Head of Government. The current chairman of AU is Yayi Boni from the Republic of Benin (whose tenure started on 29 January 2012). Before him we had Theodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo from Equatorial Guinea, whose tenure lasted from 31 January 2011 to 29 January 2011. What is clear is that the English-speaking part of the continent has felt, to use a Nigerian expression, 'marginalised', and craved for the strategic positions in the continental body to reflect the continent's linguistic character.
Two, I believe that Nigeria's foreign policy strategists monitoring the politics around the election of a new Chairperson of the African Union Commission did not have their ears on the ground and therefore failed to pick up the muffled grumbling of the Anglophone part of the continent, especially members of the Southern African Development Commission (SADC). Had they done so, they would have dropped their support for Jean Ping after the January stalemated election and propped up an Anglophone candidate from one of the small countries in the SADC region, preferably a female candidate. Jean Ping has had a one term of four years and for organisations like the African Commission, it is actually unhealthy to allow its key officers, including the Chairman of the Commission, to have more than one term as such positions need to go round quickly among the different members to give every country what Nigerian politicians would call a 'sense of belonging'.
Three, there is no doubt that Zuma's emergence as the Commission's Chairperson is at variance with Nigeria's strategic interests. Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt and Ethiopia are all contenders for an African slot as a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council - if that slot becomes available. The fear therefore is not only that Dr Zuma could use her position to project South Africa's foreign policy positions but that she could also use it to subtly canvas for her country's candidacy for the envisaged African slot as a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council. These fears perhaps informed the opposition of Nigeria, Egypt and Ethiopia to Dr Zuma's candidacy.
I think that, given the threat posed by Dr Zuma's Chairmanship of the Commission to Nigeria's strategic interests, President Jonathan was misadvised about attending the conference. He - or at least the Vice President - ought to have been in Ethiopia to engage in the last minute horse-trading that often decides the outcome of such crucial elections.
Four, it is true that there is a convention that the Chairmanship of the AU Commission should be reserved for the smaller countries and that the five largest contributors to the AU- Nigeria, South Africa, Libya, Egypt and Algeria - are discouraged from contesting for that position. But that is only a convention, not a rule. South Africa not only tapped into the latent grumbling among the Anglophone countries by presenting a candidate, she also ensured that any loud grumbling against the violation of that convention would be muffled by presenting a woman because in the global politics of feminism, a woman is seen as a minority subordinated and dominated in a largely patriarchal world. Had Nigeria propped up a qualified female candidate from an English-speaking country, preferably from SADC, the issue of violating the convention would have been successfully played up.
Five, the election of Dr Zuma shows a failure of not just leadership but foreign policy formulation in Nigeria. In late December 2010, the National Economic Council (NEC) reportedly resolved that going forward, Nigeria would no longer play 'big brother' to countries in trouble without getting anything in return. It also proposed that the nation's foreign interventions and assistance would henceforth be guided by 'national interest'.
At a seminar to 'review Nigeria's foreign policy' organised by the Presidential Advisory Council on International Relations (PAC-IR) in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at Abuja from 1- 4 August 2011, this point was re-emphasised. In an address at the seminar, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Olugbenga Ashiru reportedly said that Nigerians must benefit maximally from the nation's foreign policy.
In his speech while declaring the seminar open, President Jonathan reportedly noted that "although the country had played a leading role in the emancipation of the African continent from colonialism and racial discrimination, there is need to now focus on new priorities...." (Daily Trust 11 August 2011).
The President's position re-echoes the sentiments expressed by Governor Babangida Aliyu of Niger State after the NEC meeting in December 2010 when he was quoted as saying that "...we are going to shed that belief that we are big brother where we go to help other people and we never get something in return...So, wherever we go or whoever we relate with, must be because it will help us develop, rather than, as we normally say, that we have gone to help these or that people without getting anything in return."
I regard these pronouncements and posturing as among the lowest points in our foreign policy formulations. Not only was 'national interest' wrongly conceived in very narrow mercantilist term of immediate economic gratification, they also declared that 'henceforth Africa would no longer be the centrepiece of the country's foreign policy'.
Ironically the country's strategic importance to the rest of the world is largely because of its perceived leadership role in the continent. In essence, such inappropriate grandstanding in the name of reviewing our foreign policy was meant to discourage the sort of sociological investments in other African countries which usually translate into leverages in situations such as the election of Chairperson of the Commission of the African Union. We cannot eat our cake and have it. Countries are not respected because of their past benevolence but because of the leverages they can bring to the table at any given point in time.
Six, did Nigeria deliberately allow South Africa's Dr Zuma to triumph as a payback for the country's support of Dr Ngozi Iweala's bid for the presidency of the World Bank - as some people believe? While anything is possible in international politics, in the absence of hard evidence to support such a position, it must remain in the realm of speculation.
What seems to be obvious is that the country needs to return to the drawing board in its foreign policy-making. We can still accomplish far more than we are doing now in our foreign policy - despite lingering domestic problems - if we get our foreign policies right and play smart politics. For a start, we do not need to announce to the whole world that we are reviewing our foreign policy as we misguidedly did last year. Foreign policies ought to be under constant review anyway because of the dynamic nature of the international system.
It is the day job of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and think tanks such as the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs to constantly monitor developments in the international system for potential changes that will throw up opportunities or threats or affect the configuration of power and then devise appropriate responses.
You do not need to advertise your weakness to the whole world by announcing that you are reviewing your foreign policy or that henceforth your foreign policy will be guided only by national interest because as Wole Soyinka would tell us 'a tiger never proclaims its tigeritude'.