Facts, Fallacies of Race for African Union Commission Chairperson

Come Sunday, July 15, 2012, African leaders will once again, resume the process of electing the Chairperson of the African Union Commission. It is to be recalled that last January, the leaders suspended the elections for the African Union Commission following the inability of Dr. Jean Ping to win the requisite two third majority vote to secure his second and final term in office.

This was due largely to the unbridled ambition of South Africa that decided to foist its Interior Minister Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma on the continent. Dr. Zuma was once married to President Jacob Zuma to whom she bore children.

The failure of the African leaders to elect a Chairperson in January sent shockwaves not only within the continent, but also abroad, where partners and keen followers of Africa's political events were baffled over the development. Many had hoped that the leaders would use the elections to send an unmistakable message of Africa's capacity and resolve to overcome the schisms occasioned in succession by the political crises in Cote d'Ivoire and Libya. It was not to be, as several leaders, egged by President Zuma with the Angolan President in tow, fed with a cocktail of lies, disinformation and in some cases, hard to refute allegations of monetary inducements, refused all entreaties to give Dr Ping a second term in office.

South Africa is hell-bent to stamp its hegemony on the continent buoyed by its record as the only African country to belong to the G-20 and BRICS. President Zuma, having won his leadership contest against President Thabo Mbeki, wants the world to remember his pedigree as one-time guerrilla fighter against apartheid. For him, every contest is a war, and in his war theater no prisoners are taken; they are fodder to be killed and annihilated at all cost. This is the mindset President Zuma has brought to the contest for the Chairperson of the AU Commission.

From the time Dr Zuma was introduced as candidate to challenge Dr. Ping, South Africa has used one argument after another, mostly fabricated, to explain the rationale for its action. The arguments include, but are not limited to the discredited claims that Dr Ping was not interested in seeking re-election; Dr. Ping misled Africa on the Libyan crisis; Prime Minister Meles Zenawi encouraged South Africa to field a candidate, France was behind Dr. Ping's candidacy and SADC has never held the topmost administrative position at the defunct Organization of African Unity and its successor, the African Union. These are bare-faced half-truths and deliberate distortion of facts in pursuit of a narrow agenda, informed by arrogance, pride and obduracy.

In defense of its ill-advised decision to throw Dr. Zuma into the race, South Africa has invoked gender, sovereignty and regional representation as rationale. What the country does not state, yet remains incontrovertible, is the fact that three candidates from SADC have contested and lost at different times their bid for the topmost administrative position at the OAU/AU, the last being Mrs Inonge Mbikusita Lewanika of Zambia who lost to Dr. Ping in the first round in 2008.

South Africa has also failed to acknowledge that a SADC national, Dr. Salim Ahmed Salim of Tanzania, a founding member of SADC, holds the record of being the longest serving administrative head of the OAU. Dr Salim was OAU Secretary General from September 19, 1989 to September 17, 2001.

South Africa's penchant to present Dr. Zuma as SADC candidate, and therefore transcending narrow national interest, introduces a number of questions that beg for urgent answers. What is the determinant of the boundary of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), economics or politics? If SADC is a regional geographical body, as South Africa insists with regard to the AUC elections, why does it count among its membership Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) which, geographically, are in Central Africa, and Madagascar, Mauritius, Seychelles and Tanzania that are geographically in East Africa? Is SADC merely an organization of convenience capable of changing the true color of its composition as does a chameleon in every environment? The onus is on South Africa, messianic champion of regional justice, equity and fair-play, to answer these pertinent questions.

In its final push for Dr. Dlamini-Zuma, Mrs Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, Foreign Minister of South Africa, said Dlamini-Zuma is a regional (SADC) candidate. This was restated in a press release issued by the Department of International Relations and Cooperation in Pretoria on July 3, 2012. The release asserted, "As a regional candidate, Dr Dlamini Zuma will be at the service of all African countries, guided in her work by the mandate of the African Union as well as decisions of the Policy Organs of the African Union Commission… Southern Africa and Northern Africa are the only two African Union regions that have not had the privilege of leading the Secretariat of the African Union Commission".

The truth nevertheless, is that there are murmurs across the continent and within SADC that Dr. Zuma is, to all intents and purposes, an imposition. Speaking privately, several SADC countries have expressed displeasure over the manner of her emergence as regional candidate, but are unwilling to challenge or contradict South Africa openly for fear of reprisals. An Ambassador from a SADC Member State, who pleaded anonymity, said in February after the January election deadlock, that Dlamini-Zuma is rather a candidate of South Africa than SADC. "Dlamini-Zuma is an imposition on SADC. She is not a regional candidate as pretended by South Africa and SADC. Her candidature remains an imposition to SADC Member States in particular and to Africa in General", he said.

It is instructive that although South Africa recognizes that it is a privilege to lead, it fails to acknowledge that in 1974, Vernon Mwaanga from Zambia contested for the top post of the OAU against Mr. Omer Arteh of Somalia. Neither candidate could win after twenty rounds of voting. Ben Gurirab of Namibia also contested against Amara Essy of Cote d'Ivoire in 2001 and lost. In 2008, Mrs Inonge Mbikusita Lewanika of Zambia squared off against Dr. Ping and also lost. On each of the three occasions that these candidates from the heart of Southern Africa made their bid to head the administrative organ of the OAU/AU, there was no impediment placed in their way to hinder their victory. They lost fair and square through free, transparent and democratic means.

Missing in this dubious campaign is reference to or admission of the underlying domestic political calculus that underpins the quest to foist Dlamini-Zuma on Africa by all possible means. First, President Zuma, not wishing to go the way of President Thabo Mbeki, has his sight on the forthcoming election to determine the leader of the African National Congress (ANC). Dlamini Zuma has the potential to unseat her former husband in such contest and the safest way in President Zuma's political calculation, is to send this formidable and potential rival into political exile in faraway Addis Ababa. One cannot fail to read the personal angle behind the push to get Dr. Zuma elected.

Second, President Zuma desperately needs to project his leadership prowess, which has become a subject of intense domestic debate raised to a new level by his depiction in Brett Murray's allegorical cum satirical painting poignantly called "The Spear". The furore generated by Murray's depiction of President Zuma overshadowed the question of his leadership quality. Zuma obviously believes in South Africa's dominance of the continent and thus, he has stopped at nothing to take his colleagues in the continent for granted. No African leader is yet to acknowledge that President Zuma consulted him or her prior to announcing the candidature of Dr. Zuma.

Third, South Africa stands the notion of African unity and solidarity on its head. In South Africa's case, draped in the innocuous garb of SADC, to seek the position of chairperson, it is stated that "The founders of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), now the African Union, envisaged an African continent that is independent, united, peaceful and prosperous. This is our historic vision… At almost fifty, the African Union stands ready for renewal and rejuvenation in order to move the continent forward. This task demands a visionary leadership with a Pan-African outlook". Why does South Africa continue to pile pressure on Dr. Ping and his country Gabon to withdraw from the race?

Fourth, absent in all SADC nay South Africa's campaign documents and pronouncements on the elections, are the keywords "compromise", "consensus", "restraint" and "sacrifice" in the supreme interest of Africa. Instead, there is soffit of convoluted arguments supporting rotation and why SADC must unseat Dr. Ping. South Africa is the lone voice standing against the resolution of the AU leadership election imbroglio. At the two meetings held in Cotonou, Benin Republic on March 17 and May 14, 2012 respectively, of the Ad Hoc Committee of Heads of State established last January to look into the electoral deadlock, none other than President Zuma stood vehemently against compromise and consensus. Gabon, it was reported, was willing to withdraw Ping on condition South Africa withdrew Zuma. So adamant was President Zuma that the Committee was unable to agree on the outcome of its second meeting. The Committee is scheduled to reconvene in Addis Ababa to adopt the report it shall present to the Assembly prior to the elections on July15, 2012. Ojo, a political analyst, is based in Nairobi, Kenya. stands in the way.

Fifth, analysts in Africa and elsewhere, attribute South Africa's determined quest to head the AU Commission as part of its grand strategy to upstage Nigeria in the bid for a permanent seat at the UN Security Council. To these analysts, an AU Commission under Dr. Zuma would be an adjunct or external division of South Africa's Department of International Relations and Cooperation, ready to do the country's bidding at all times and in all manner.

Reliable sources indicate that even at this late moment, with less than ten (10) days to the elections, South Africa is still trying to harangue Ping and Gabon to withdraw from the race. Information also has it that arrangements were concluded for Ping to meet President Zuma in the evening of Friday, July 6, 2012 in Pretoria reportedly at the latter's request. Since no reason was given for the impromptu and inopportune request, tongues are wagging on its real intent. Analysts believe that the motif may be anything but altruistic, open to conjecture considering South Africa's antics of disinformation and fabrications. Who knows, as has happened on other occasions, if South Africa will put a spin to the outcome of the hurriedly arranged meeting with Ping? The rumor mill is rife with claims of South Africa boasting to be willing to spend any amount it will take to buy support for Dr. Zuma even if doing so corrupts the electoral process at the African Union. Sources within SADC suggest that South Africa assured the group that it has the requisite votes to win a Ping – Zuma rematch on July 15, 2012. Word had it also that a 13-member South African delegation comprising ANC cadres, senior Government officials and others was on its way to Libreville between July 6 and 7, 2012 for a final campaign onslaught on President Bongo.

Little needs to be said of the fact that Dr. Ping is an employee of the African Union. He takes his instructions from the Member States of the AU and cannot be held accountable for the political prevarications on the Libyan crisis, including South Africa's positive vote at the UN Security Council in April 2011 in favor of Resolution 1973 that legitimized the NATO invasion of Libya. Dr. Ping did not move any frigate to West African waters in the height of the Cote d'Ivoire crisis neither did he supply arms and ammunition to Laurent Gbagbo. Two sovereign countries from SADC did both. How can Dr. Ping be held accountable for the action of these independent countries?

A far-fetched argument, but one that calls for response, is the twist given to the circumstances that brought Ambassador Peter Onu of Nigeria to office as acting Secretary General of the OAU. Nkoanna Mashabane claims that Nigeria which is one of the five big countries funding the Commission, headed the Commission in 1983. This she said, to challenge the "unwritten gentleman's agreement" that subsisted among the "Big Five", namely, Algeria, Egypt, Ethiopia, Nigeria and South Africa, not to contest or field candidates for the position of the Chairperson of the Commission. Ambassador Peter Onu, by right of succession as the most senior official of the OAU, assumed leadership in an acting capacity. Mr Adekunle Daniel, former staff of the OAU, remarked that when Peter Onu assumed office as acting Secretary General, the Nigerian Government warned him not to seek to be the substantive Secretary General of the OAU based on the gentleman's agreement. Indeed, he respected that position and acted in accordance with the rules of the OAU.

The decision by Algeria, Nigeria, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya and South Africa among others not to contest for the AU top job was based on the understanding and principle of solidarity and unity which South Africa is now bent on breaking by all means. Nowadays however, South Africa rejects the agreement and repeatedly asks to be presented with the written evidence of its content and existence.

Orchestrating the need for rotation in the position of the chairperson of the AU Commission even though no decision has ever been taken by the highest body of the AU, its Assembly, South Africa, seemingly insists that not only must the rotation start immediately, but it must do so from its region with a South African as first candidate for the rotation. This is a push that will rob Africa of its enviable 49 years history of electing the administrative heads of its highest political organization based on merit, and also diminish the continent's recent democratic gains. Well- endowed countries in economic and political terms in Africa have a lot going for them. They must give a sense of belonging and inclusiveness to the smaller ones in furtherance and demonstration of the true spirit of "Historic Vision – New Strategies for Unity, Peace and Prosperity", the campaign mantra of Dr. Zuma.

Algeria, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria have a big challenge to rescue the continent from the strangulating hold of South Africa. At the elections on July 15th, other key regional players, more especially Chad, Cote d'Ivoire, Uganda and Rwanda must join efforts to prevent a deadlock in the elections. A deadlock in July will do incalculable harm to Africa's external image, its relations with its development partners as well as deepen the division in the continent. Mention too must be made of the harm already done to the morale of the functionaries of the AU Commission. Benin as chair of the Union, must display uncommon dexterity in reading the pulse of the elections and respond in a manner that serves Africa's wider interest. Africa is larger than the sum total of one country's insatiable ambition and interests.

Although Nigeria is not fielding a candidate for chairperson, the country is perceived to be pitched in a leadership contest against South Africa, a measure of which, the result of the election will demonstrate. Nigeria is a strong supporter of Dr. Ping and is opposed to Dr. Zuma as a matter of principle. For South Africa, heading the AU Commission is a do-or-die affair, anchored on the fact of its being Africa's only member of G20 and BRICS. Nigeria cannot and must not fold her arms in this race.

In its quest for leadership, the issue of much needed solidarity and unity amongst Member States counts nothing to South Africa. By being adamant and refusing to heed the repeated well-meaning advice of countries like Nigeria, Ethiopia, Egypt, Algeria, and Kenya among many others, South Africa, has told the world that Africa's unity is secondary to her individual interest. Dr. Zuma's infamous dance last January on the corridor of the AU headquarters with a small band of her supporters following the announcement of Dr. Ping's inability to secure a crucial two third majority in the fourth ballot, spoke volumes on the character and temperament of South Africa's diplomacy. Beggar thy neighbour; celebrate misfortune, the dance said! What a quality in an aspiring leader with a "historic vision".

Yet, as Africa heads into another electoral round for the chairperson of the AU Commission, the onus is on South Africa to subordinate her ambition to the wider interests of the continent. What Africa needs most at this crucial juncture are solidarity, unity, coherence, and a big push to overcome the challenges of the recent past, more notably, the security challenges in Mali, Guinea Bissau, Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan.

As distinct from SADC, South Africa must demonstrate to the world that she does not need Dlanimi-Zuma as head of the AU Commission to exercise leadership and influence. South Africa, a behemoth in Africa, got it wrong in the Zuma candidature. It is not too late to get it right. South Africa – withdraw Dr. Zuma from the race. South Africa – join the mighty sea of unity and solidarity in Africa. South Africa – give Dr. Ping the right of refusal to a second term in office!

Alexander Ojo, a political analyst, is based in Nairobi, Kenya.

Come Sunday, July 15, 2012, African leaders will once again, resume the process of electing the Chairperson of the African Union Commission

Last January, the AU leaders suspended the elections for the African Union Commission following the inability of Dr. Jean Ping to win the requisite two third majority vote