The incompetent and flamboyant ex-Commissioner of the African Union – Jean Ping – is now history. It is simply gratifying and indeed a good omen seeing him left office with his head down. We are expecting leadership form the new and first women Chairman of the AU Commission, Ms. Dlamini Zuma.
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma , South Africa’s minister of home affairs, was on Sunday elected as the first female head of the African Union Commission.
Ms Dlamini-Zuma, who received 37 votes in the last round of voting, needing 34 to win, defeated incumbent and rival Jean Ping of Gabon, who had headed the steering body of the 54-member organisation since 2008.
A failure by the AU to resolve the leadership contest between candidates from rival English- and French-speaking blocs at its summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, would have divided the continental body and undermined its credibility in the world.
The internal battle to head the AU’s main steering body and voice outside Africa had dragged on since last year when Ms Dlamini-Zuma had challenged Mr Ping of Gabon, a former foreign minister, for the post.
A vote at a summit in January ended in stalemate, splitting the continent between its French-speaking bloc of states, which broadly backed Mr Ping, and English-speaking member states, especially the southern group, which largely swung behind the ex-wife of President Jacob Zuma .
Lobbying by both Mr Ping’s and Ms Dlamini-Zuma’s supporters had intensified ahead of the vote this weekend. The winner required 60% of votes to be elected.
Benin President Boni Yayi, the current holder of the AU’s rotating chairmanship, told the summit ahead of the leadership election that the body would suffer if the vote was once again inconclusive. “Last January we failed. At this summit, we don’t have the right to fail any more,” he said in a speech.
Critics say the AU showed itself hesitant and slow-moving in its response to the conflicts last year in Libya and Côte d’Ivoire, allowing Western governments to take lead roles.
“A new failure will signify the division of the continent,” Mr Yayi warned, urging the heads of state to use the vote to show Africa’s ability to work together and find consensus.
NOT LIKE THE UNITED NATIONS
Ms Dlamini-Zuma earlier rejected suggestions that the rivalry risked tearing the continental body apart.
“I think the continent is stronger than to allow itself to just be fractured by elections involving two people,” she said, adding that all of the AU’s 54 members states should support whoever emerged as the winner.
Some smaller countries had argued that Ms Dlamini-Zuma’s candidacy broke an unwritten rule that Africa’s dominant states should not contest the AU leadership. South Africa is the largest economy on the world’s poorest continent.
But Ms Dlamini-Zuma said this tacit rule was not fair as the AU’s constituent charter viewed all member states as equals.
“It’s not like the United Nations,” she said, referring to the veto power held in the world body by the five member states of the UN Security Council.
Seeking to deflect fears that South Africa might seek to use the AU post to try to dominate the continent, Ms Dlamini-Zuma argued that she was standing “as an AU candidate, not as a representative of South Africa“.
Mr Ping was this week criticised by southern African countries for a statement he issued accusing the South African media of trying to tarnish his image and derail his re-election campaign.
Speculation in weekend papers that Mr Ping would withdraw from the race prompted him to issue a statement on the AU website earlier this week refuting the claims.
South African International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said on Thursday in a radio interview that Mr Ping had abused AU resources, the organisation’s website and its letterhead for “personal campaigns”.
Ms Nkoana-Mashabane concurred with Botswana’s Foreign Minister Phandu Skelemani, who had raised the matter at the summit and said Mr Ping’s conduct violated the “provisions and spirit of the statutes of the AU Commission”.
He also accused Mr Ping of potentially sowing division in the organisation, adding that the statement amounted to a “direct attack” on South Africa.
“In this regard, the conduct by the chairperson of the AU, namely abuse of AU resources, attack on and divulging information of a member state is unprecedented, and can bring disrepute to the integrity of the AU,” Mr Skelemani said. “This therefore calls for an apology on his part, and retraction of the statement through the same medium used.”
Ms Nkoana-Mashabane also moved to dispel “myths” that South Africa was party to a “gentlemen’s agreement” taken by the five large African countries — Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt, Algeria and Libya — that they would not hold leadership positions in the AU.
“That agreement does not exist. If it did, countries like Nigeria would not have had an opportunity to go in,” she said. Nigeria held the position for three years, for an “interim” term.
Ms Nkoana-Mashabane said that “to prove the humility of South Africa, we have been a free nation for the past 18 years, we have not contested for any of the positions here“.
She said when smaller states from the southern African region had tried to secure the position, they were rejected because they were viewed as “small” and “not too strong“. Now that the Southern African Development Community agreed on a candidate, however, it was time to take the helm.
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