Friday, February 17, 2012

Africa: A New Race for AU Chair

Source: ISS

A New Race for AU Chair

Hallelujah Julie, Junior Researcher, Conflict Prevention and Risk Analysis, Addis Ababa

This past weekend, on Sunday 12 February 2012 the Extra-ordinary Inter State Politics and Diplomacy Committee (ISPDC) of SADC, consisting of ministers of foreign affairs, met Cape Town, South Africa to consider the outcome of the elections for chair of the African Union (AU) in January this year. Following the meeting it was announced that SADC plans to once again put forward Dr Nkozazana Dlamini-Zuma, South African minister of Home Affairs, as candidate for the position of chairperson of the AU Commission.

This follows the failure of Dlamini-Zuma to achieve the required two-thirds majority during the first round of elections for this post in Addis Ababa on 30 January this year. Her rival, outgoing chair Mr. Jean Ping, former Foreign Minister of Gabon, also failed to get enough votes to renew his mandate for another 4 years.

In an unprecedented and somehow dramatic turn of events, the Assembly decided to suspend the elections of not only the Chairperson but also all the other leadership posts of the Commission open for elections. Equally interestingly, since such a scenario was not anticipated in the Rules of Procedure of the Assembly, the summit decided, as an interim measure, to extend the mandate of the present Commission until the next AU Summit in Lilongwe, Malawi, (23-30 June 2012) to avoid an administrative vacuum.

The result is that the next six months will see a lame duck administration at a time when the continent seeks a strong leadership, following dramatic events in 2011 where it was seen by some member states and critics as slow to react and divided in its decision-making. Given that the Commission has just come out of a bruising election process and that it only has an interim authority, it is feared that the management of the Commission may find it difficult to provide effective leadership. It may only be able to ensure that basic affairs in the day-to-day business of the commission are conducted.

Many expressed further concern that the AU is facing a danger of serious division. Looking at the fierce campaigning and lobbying, and the divisive election process, the situation is also feared to undermine long existing African solidarity and Africa’s preferred consensual politics. The possible ramifications of the ‘ugly’ election process on the working relations and cooperation between the AU and other sub-regional bodies such as SADC, ECOWAS and the EAC is also a point raised by others. A divided Africa unable to effectively engage in continental and global issues in unison is worrying.

However, it would also be possible to see this development from a different angle. The fact that neither of the two candidates for the Chairperson of the AU were able to get a 2/3 majority, their stiff competition and vigorous campaigning can be seen as a manifestation that the old culture of consensual politics is over. Whether this marks the onset of a new political culture has yet to be seen, but the signs of political vibrancy and institutional accountability witnessed at the summit are very encouraging.

Meanwhile it is worthy to note that the election of ten members of the AU Peace and Security Council, one of its most active and crucial organs, also took place at the summit. They will serve a two-year term starting in March 2012. Those elected include Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo from the Central Region; Djibouti and Tanzania from the Eastern Region; Egypt from the Northern Region; Angola and Lesotho from the Southern Region and Cote d`Ivoire, Gambia and Guinea from the Western Region.

The Assembly, which adopted 25 Decisions, one resolution and two Declarations has also formed an ad-hoc committee of 8 Heads of State and Governments composed of one Member State per region together with Gabon, South Africa and the Republic of Benin as Chairperson with a mandate to look into the election matter ahead of the next Summit. At the extraordinary summit held in Cape Town, SADC announced that Angola, as chair of SADC, will represent the region on this committee. The eight-member ad-hoc committee will meet in March 2012 to hold discussions on the elections and clear up the confusion surrounding the eligibility of the existing candidates. The committee will present its report to the 19th Ordinary Session of the AU Heads of State and Government scheduled for 29-30 June – a summit that promises to be crucial for the future of the AU.