"We all reserve a special place in our hearts for Nelson Mandela. Many salute the gallant efforts of Thabo Mbeki to use soft power in influencing Africa’s renewal through the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad) and the related peer review mechanism. But the more brazen efforts of his successors are not helping keep solidarity with new Africans whose memory of the pain of liberation is at best rudimentary and fast fading."
South Africa’s leadership of AU Commission has to be rejected
Nairobi: When President Kibaki announced this week that he would not support South Africa’s bid to have her Technology minister (sic) Dr Nkosasana Dlamini-Zuma elected chairperson of the African Union Commission at the coming summit in Malawi, Kenyan commentaries adulterated the position with simplistic derisions. Claims that this had everything to do with African Union support for the Kenyan position on The Hague Four were given educated casing. Yet a fundamental challenge to African unity and the future role of South Africa is the matter at stake with major ramifications to pan-African institutions.
When South Africa tried to muscle its way to the leadership of African Union Commission in January, its bid was rejected by key presidents for a medley of reasons both to do with style and substance.
The summit had just laid to rest the former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi dream of a pan-African government and was in no mood to create a new godfather when Pretoria rolled out an aggressive and presumptuous bid. Throughout the summit in Addis Ababa, South African president Jacob Zuma was all over the delegations canvassing for his ex-wife in a way no country has done in recent memory.
Indeed, one president abandoned a formal dinner when it turned out to be hosted by South Africa by proxy.
The scenes in the corridors of AU House of the South African delegation celebrating with dance and song the failure of chairman Dr Jean Ping to raise a necessary majority after the elimination of the South African candidate were viewed by many as both juvenile and bossy.
Asked about the charade, South Africa’s minister for International Relations and Cooperation said they were celebrating the message that Africa wants change and that this would come through South Africa “capacitating” the AUC.
South Africa’s determination to reinvent pan-Africanism in its own image was well under way.
Indeed, a week after the Addis debacle, Cape Town hosted the South African Development Community (SADC) extra-ordinary Inter-State Politics and Diplomacy Committee, which resolved that Dr Dlamini-Zuma’s candidature be reinstated and that heads of state meet quickly to roll out her campaign.
Op-ed articles appeared around the continent with very similar content. An editorial in a Kenyan newspaper lamented that while South Africa was dedicated to liberating AU from being “a toothless monument to redundancy,” conspiracies by countries like Kenya and Nigeria were sabotaging this liberative effort.
It is an unwritten rule in AU circles that the big boys – Nigeria, Egypt, South Africa and Libya – should not assume top leadership of the organisation.
South Africa’s attempt to breach this hiding behind her membership of SADC was never taken well. Her assertions that SADC had never had an opportunity to lead conveniently ignored Zanzibari Salim Ahmed Salim, who served with distinction as secretary-general of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).
Dr Dlamini-Zuma is a fantastic person and leader with greater attributes and energy than the current chair of the AUC. But her government has dismally failed to understand that Africa has moved on since the end of apartheid.
We all reserve a special place in our hearts for Nelson Mandela. Many salute the gallant efforts of Thabo Mbeki to use soft power in influencing Africa’s renewal through the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad) and the related peer review mechanism.
But the more brazen efforts of his successors are not helping keep solidarity with new Africans whose memory of the pain of liberation is at best rudimentary and fast fading.
The manner in which ANC jettisoned Mr Mbeki, a suspicious and paranoid leader at home but respected thoughtful statesman abroad, drew a lot from the account of African empathy.
The shenanigans of youth leader Juius Malema and eccentric acts of President Zuma have severely tested the continental view of leadership from down under.
Xenophobic attacks on immigrants across South African townships have opened a wound that heals too slowly.
Add to this the entry of South Africa into the BRICS constellation and the sense that she stands apart when the rest of the continent is dealing with challenges of Economic Partnership Agreements (Epa).
Africa north of the Limpopo is feeling a growing distance from Pretoria while the south seeks more to enforce its vision of what African unity must look like and who should preside at the high table.
- Dr Mukhisa Kituyi is a director of Kenya Institute of Governance firstname.lastname@example.org