Very recently, South Africa - indeed the southern Africa sub-region - has shown enormous goodwill towards Nigeria by the fact that South Africa and Angola were the two countries that joined Nigeria to sponsor our own Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala for the position of World Bank president. Not only that, South Africa prevailed upon their highly rated former finance minister, Mr. Trevor Manuel, not to compete with Dr. Okonjo-Iweala; as a result, Africa presented only one candidate who was universally acknowledged as eminently, but was outvoted by the major powers led by the US. This is a gesture worthy of being reciprocated and consolidated upon.
Before the next AU Summit in Addis Ababa
Abuja: Africa is at a crossroads. The African Union (AU) summit coming up in Addis Ababa in July is very crucial for the entire continent of Africa. During the last summit, neither of the two major candidates that contested for the chairmanship of the AU Commission was able to get the requisite two-thirds of the votes to emerge winner. Nigeria supported Gabon's Mr. Jean Ping, the current AU Commission chairman, to go for a second term but he did not get it and was asked to continue to hold the office till the next summit where the tie would be broken.
He was challenged by South Africa's Mrs. Zuma, former wife of President Jacob Zuma who is that country's current minister of home affairs. Both candidates were former foreign affairs ministers of their respective countries.
That the two major countries in Africa - South Africa and Nigeria - did not take a common position on this important issue is indeed regrettable. The survival and relevance of the African continent depends on the close cooperation of these two countries; it's similar to the survival and relevance of the Anglo-Saxon race predicated on the close collaboration between America and Britain over the years. The latter two quietly organise themselves and rule the world. Similarly, Nigeria and South Africa should have the closest collaboration to save the black race and make Africa relevant in the current global power equation.
From the setting up of the defunct Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in 1963 to the current AU, unity has been a constant message in Africa -- and it has also been most elusive in the continent. One of the great contemporary African thinkers, Dr. Patrick Wilmot, once wrote, "Unity considered in the abstract, and in the face of intractable political problem, tends to be reduced to a panacea for all ills, to a fetish in whose name sentimental appeals are made...Unity for its own sake, unity without precise objectives is a mere formula for political promiscuity...But if sexual promiscuity is condemned, political promiscuity should be doubly so because while medical science has effective cure for syphilis and gonorrhea, political science is yet to find a cure for treachery and reaction."
It is very clear that Mr. Jean Ping, the current AU commission chairman who is seeking a second term, has done his best.
Unfortunately, it is equally obvious that his best, in the circumstances, has not been good enough. Africa is in dire need of quality leadership. The handling of the Libyan crisis last year, the management of the Cote d'Ivoire conflicts, and the systematic relegation of the continent in major global arena, except for a few bilateral initiatives, are all manifestations of leadership failure. It is time for positive change.
Moreover, from 1963, when the OAU was created, to the current AU, it is only the southern Africa sub-region that has never produced any head of the continental organisation. A writer erroneously or mischievously wrote recently in Daily Trust that Dr. Salim Ahmed Salim of Tanzania was OAU secretary-general from southern Africa, but Tanzania is in eastern Africa and not southern Africa. Every other sub-region had, at different times, taken a shot at the leadership of the continental body except southern Africa. Equity, fairness and justice demand that, this time, they should be given the chance. The UN did the same by considering Africa and now Asia for the position of secretary-general. Let us do the same this time for southern Africa.
Very recently, South Africa -- indeed the southern Africa sub-region -- has shown enormous goodwill towards Nigeria by the fact that South Africa and Angola were the two countries that joined Nigeria to sponsor our own Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala for the position of World Bank president. Not only that, South Africa prevailed upon their highly rated former finance minister, Mr. Trevor Manuel, not to compete with Dr. Okonjo-Iweala; as a result, Africa presented only one candidate who was universally acknowledged as eminently, but was outvoted by the major powers led by the US. This is a gesture worthy of being reciprocated and consolidated upon.
At the bilateral level, South African leadership has had and continues to enjoy most cordial relationships and great friendships with succeeding Nigerian leadership. This is because, for anyone who is above 30 years in Nigeria, the history of South Africa and its struggle to end racial discrimination is only second to the nation's history in the nation's schools, institutions and universities: it became the defining element of Nigeria's foreign policy. Since the end of apartheid, many Nigerians have gone ahead and invested in South Africa while many South African companies have heavy investments here as well. There are at present over two million Nigerians in South Africa. Nigeria has every reason to further solidify this strong bond existing between the two countries.
At the personal level, Mrs. Zuma is a strong candidate in her own right. She was part of the struggle for her country's as well as Africa's freedom and democracy. Based on merit, President Thabo Mbeki appointed her foreign minister during the process of laying a strong foundation for the takeoff of the AU. She distinguished herself creditably. She is, at present, home affairs minister where she is able to bring sanity and instill discipline in one of the worst departments in terms of corruption and non-performance in that country. In other words, she is a reformer who is set to shake up the AU bureaucracy from its slumber and non-performance.
Finally, Africa has tried in the past to make the smaller countries feel a sense of belonging by preserving, almost exclusively, the position of OAU secretary-general and now AU commission chairmanship to the smaller countries. Let us try the bigger ones now and see what difference it can bring.
In any case, this is the first attempt by South Africa to aspire to an executive position in the continent since the end of apartheid; how can we afford to fail them? If it is about the issue of UN Security Council reform for an African permanent seat, forget the thought: it may not happen for a long time. And who said even if it happens that cannot be negotiated? After all, there is a saying in Nigeria, that with proper arrangement, even the devil can enter heaven! God save Nigeria.