Top AU job issue overshadows Global African Diaspora summit
Johannesburg: The intensifying contest for the chair of the African Commission – which pits SA against Gabon and the continent’s regions against each other – overshadowed the first Global African Diaspora summit in Sandton on Friday. Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, SA’s challenger for Africa’s top government job, was allegedly given a prominent role in the summit events to raise her profile. And tension between SA and Nigeria – which is opposing Dlamini-Zuma’s bid – ratcheted up a few more notches over an apparent switch that turned out not to be a switch in Nigeria’s position.
The summit – attended by only nine heads of state or government from Africa and the African diaspora, mainly the Caribbean and the Americas – aimed to find ways to use the resources of Africans abroad to boost the continent’s development.
The core of this was a commitment to create five “legacy projects” which would blaze the trail of “integrating the African diaspora into all socio-economic and political activities of the continent”, as President Jacob Zuma put it in his closing remarks.
The projects are a skills data base to match the expertise of African professionals in Africa and the diaspora with the continent’s development needs; the creation of an African Diaspora Volunteers Corps – a sort of Peace Corps through which Africans abroad could participate directly in the continent’s development; an African Diaspora Investment Fund, to finance development both in Africa and in the diaspora; the establishment of a Development Marketplace for the diaspora as a framework for facilitating innovation and entrepreneurship between Africa and the diaspora; and creating an African Remittances Institute to channel the remittances of Africans abroad into development.
Many questions were asked about why Africans abroad would want to route the money they send home to their poor relatives through an African Union bureaucracy. That would have to be worked out as the legacy projects were implemented, officials said.
Both Dlamini-Zuma and her rival, the AU Commission’s chairman, Jean Ping of Gabon, were prominent at the summit. Dlamini-Zuma was mistress of ceremonies at a gala dinner on the eve of the event. Since it was an AU occasion, Ping was also present at all events, creating a tangible tension between them, which Yvonne Chaka Chaka tried to ease, getting them all, one by one, to sing Everything’s Going to be Alright!
Nigeria was represented by Vice President Mohammed Namadi Sambo, who had earlier in the week co-chaired the SA-Nigeria Binational Commission with Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe. Nigeria has been active in supporting Ping and opposing Dlamini-Zuma in the contest for the AU chair which comes up for election again at the next AU summit in Lilongwe, Malawi in July.
The two went head-to-head for the first time at the last AU summit in Addis Ababa in January but neither could command the two-thirds majority of African leaders needed to secure the job.
SA officials got very excited last week when Sambo seemed to switch sides. At a joint press conference with Motlanthe he denied his government was campaigning against Dlamini-Zuma and added that Nigeria would support SA “not only for a position in the AU but even for a position in the United Nations”.
But Sambo later denied this was a pledge that President Goodluck Jonathan would vote for Dlamini-Zuma in Lilongwe and said that that vote would be made “at presidential level”. The Nigerian High Commission in Pretoria was more blunt, issuing a statement in response to Sambo’s initial remarks saying he was referring to AU positions in general when he expressed Nigeria’s support for SA and had “made no specific reference to the position of the AU chairperson”.
It added that Jonathan had recently received delegations from SA and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) – which is officially backing Dlamini-Zuma – and had explained that “Nigeria’s position has not changed”.
Although Sambo gave his original answer in response to a question from an Independent Newspapers journalist, the New Age newspaper – perceived as being close to the SA government – carried the story on its front page.
This week SADC is holding a special summit in Luanda where the region’s leaders will decide whether or not to back Dlamini-Zuma.
* Fabricius is the Foreign Editor.