The Nigerian delegation has repudiated claims that it has thrown its weight behind SA's Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma for the position of AU chair.
Nigeria has resolutely supported the re-election of Gabon’s Jean Ping for the role of AU chair but news reports in South Africa this week cast doubt on its allegiance.
Speaking to the Mail & Guardian on Friday, Nigerian Foreign Minister Olugbenga Ashiru said Nigeria’s position, along with the Ecowas sub-region remains the same as always.
“We have endorsed Ping and we stand by that position,” he said.
Ashiru, who was attending the Global African Diaspora Summit in Johannesburg this week, said that statements attributed to Nigerian Vice-President Mohammed Namadi Sambo by South African media had been reported incorrectly.
On Thursday the New Age newspaper reported that Sambo, who was attending a binational commission at Tuynhuis in Cape Town, had told journalists that his country would back Dlamini-Zuma for the AU post.
However, Ashiru said Sambo, who had been answering questions from journalists, had made no reference specifically to the position of African Union chair.
“Our vice-president was very general and friendly in his statement,” he said. “He replied that Nigeria and South Africa are friends and must work together to support the development of Africa.”
Ashiru reiterated Nigeria’s stance that a smaller country should hold the AU chair. “One of our own guiding principles is the fact that Nigeria believes the post of the AU should not be held by the big countries. We should leave the post to small and medium African countries to hold so they can feel a sense of belonging to the continent,” he said.
“In our own subregion, Ecowas, we’ve endorsed Ping. If we’ve endorsed a candidate from our own sub-region, Nigeria, as a disciplined member of that sub-region, cannot go behind and endorse somebody else. We stay with the decision of our sub-region.”
South Africa’s bid for the AU chair has not been a popular one. Its decision to pursue the post was seen in some quarters as evidence of its growing hegemony on the continent and it was also accused of breaking the unwritten rule that large countries should not stand for the position.
The election of a new AU chair was abandoned in January after a voting deadlock in which neither Ping nor Dlamini-Zuma could muster sufficient votes to secure the seat.
Countries will vote again at a meeting in Malawi to be held at the end of June. Given the regional and national tensions around South Africa’s bid for the seat, and the ongoing debate on how to resolve the impasse, it seems unlikely that Nigeria would have chosen so informal a setting in which to declare its support for South Africa.
Quotes attributed to Sambo by the SABC and the New Age have been vague and cite Sambo as saying that Nigeria would “support South Africa to take any position”, not only in the African Union but also in the United Nations.
Although it carried a similar headline, the IOL was more circumspect in it’s articulation of Sambo’s comments, characterising them as part of a statement denying that Nigeria was leading a campaign against Dlamini-Zuma’s bid for the AU.
One west African delegate at the summit speculated that South African officials were capitalising on the ambiguous reports to bolster the country’s bid.
Over the past few days it’s become clear that South Africa is using the summit to campaign for Dlamini-Zuma in the weeks remaining before the election in Malawi and some delegates have not taken kindly to this.
The department of international relations and cooperation declined to comment on the issue.
Department spokesperson Clayson Monyela told the M&G that Dirco could not comment because Dlamini-Zuma is a candidate of the region and not the country.
“The region is engaging on this matter and is … in consultation with the other regions,” he said.
AU African Diaspora Summit
Meanwhile African leaders on Friday called for greater collaboration between Africans across the globe in the social and economic development on the continent.
The AU on Friday marked its 10th anniversary by holding the first Global African Diaspora Summit in Johannesburg.
The AU defines the African diaspora as “peoples of African origin living outside the continent, irrespective of their citizenship and nationality who are willing to contribute to the development of the continent and the building of the African Union”.
In recent years the diaspora has emerged as critical to African development. According to the World Bank, migrant remittances to developing countries amount to about $325-billion annually – almost three times the official aid received. In Lesotho, migrant remittances equal roughly 25% of GDP.
More than 60 heads of state, including Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe and Swaziland’s King Mswati III, attended the event which coincided with Africa Day.
Speaking at the opening of the summit, President Jacob Zuma said that in order to achieve the goals of an African renewal and to advance the African agenda worldwide, Africa and its diaspora must work together in more organised ways than before.
“We have to end the existence which makes our people to suffer endlessly from malaria, TB, Aids and many preventable and curable diseases,” he said.
Zuma said African leaders must “write a new story and a new paradigm”.
“It must be a story that says Africa, working with its diaspora, will move faster to meet the Millennium Development Goals,” he said.
African and Carribbean officials meeting at the summit hope to promote cooperation between the two regions, with a focus on improving trade, science and technology, education and tourism links.
Governments meeting at the summit will adopt a set of legacy projects through which to achieve their goals.
These include establishing financial instruments, setting up askills database of diaspora professionals and developing an AU diaspora volunteer programme to link the diaspora with local development projects on the continent.