After the botched election the AU needs to bridge the divide

The election of a new chairperson for the African Union Commission ended in a stalemate last week when neither the incumbent, former Gabonese foreign minister Jean Ping, nor South Africa’s Minister of Home Affairs, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, gained the required two-thirds majority.

The vote went to four rounds. By the final-vote stage, according to African Union (AU) rules, Dlamini-Zuma had withdrawn her candidature. The final vote amounted to a referendum on Ping’s record, which he lost.

Since he took the position in 2008, Ping has presided over an AU without a clear sense of direction. Granted, its problems were partly attributable to ex-Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s heavy-handedness but Ping is to blame for the failure to inject real life into AU institutions, most of which remain mere shells 10 years after their formation. Also the AU has been criticised for doing little to resolve African conflicts.

So where to from here? At the AU meeting in Malawi in July, there will be new efforts to find a replacement for Ping. By then, probably, African countries will have been able to find a compromise candidate who will appeal to both sides of the Western/Southern Africa divide.

Meanwhile, the fall-out from the botched election needs to be managed carefully. The rift that has emerged will be difficult to heal without leadership: the AU has squan­dered the opportunity to give the leadership to South Africa in the post-Gaddafi era.
Given her astute diplomatic skills, Dlamini-Zuma would have worked hard to return the AU to the ideals of the 1990s, as articulated by former presidents Thabo Mbeki of South African and Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria. They sought continental institutions that had manageable mandates rather than the grandiose schemes Gaddafi and Ping tried to foster in Addis Ababa in recent years.

The other lost opportunity is to have had South Africa assuming a much bigger role in financing the AU, meeting some of the budget shortfalls the AU now faces. The National Transitional Council of Libya is not going to bankroll the membership of poor West African countries in the way Gaddafi did; somebody will have to find new financial avenues. China and Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez might pay the membership dues for these countries but this is unlikely. In the long run, if the countries cannot meet their financial obligations they need to pull out of the AU — no membership fees, no participation and obligations.

Resolution of the financial issues will need to be accompanied by attempts to mend the equally troublesome rift between South Africa and Nigeria. This began last year over the contentious presidential elections in Côte d’Ivoire, when South Africa tried unsuccessfully to forge a new initiative that went against that of would vote West African states. Although South Africa backtracked from this position, the wounds are still fresh. Before the AU chairperson’s election there were credible reports that Nigeria, with its West African neighbours, would vote for Ping just to embarrass South Africa.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan may be too preoccupied with his country’s ongoing internal strife to play an effective role in African affairs but a rapprochement with South Africa is necessary to reinvigorate the AU. The worst scenario after Dlamini-Zuma’s loss would be for South Africa to become increasingly reluctant to play a continental role and instead focus exclusively on the Southern African Development Community.

Whatever the outcome of the leadership contest at the AU there is resolution of a need to appreciate that often far too much is expected of the organisation. Even if it had the resources, the AU could not resolve all African conflicts; neither could it effectively police the behaviour of sovereign states.

The realistic and long-standing division of labour in Africa is the division of regional institutions abetting (not leading) states in the fulfilment of their sovereign objectives. In its second decade the AU will need leaders who are cognisant of this fact. This will be critical in fashioning a modest and lean institution in Addis Ababa, one that works collaboratively with sub-regional institutions to foster prosperity, security and dignity in Africa.


Gilbert M Khadiagala is Jan Smuts professor of international relations and head of the department of international relations at Wits University

Staff Reporter
Guest Author
Advertisting

Mkhwebane moves to halt ‘grossly unfair’ impeachment process

Mkhwebane moves to halt ‘grossly unfair’ impeachment process

Chaos theory: How Jürgen Klopp has harnessed the unpredictable

The Liverpool manager has his side playing unstoppable football but it’s the attention to detail off the field that has bred the success

Miners speak out against Sibanye

Not a year into buying Lonmin, Sibanye is accused of mistreating the mineworkers who were injured eight years ago during the Marikana massacre. But the platinum giant says it is a miscommunication. Athandiwe Saba and Paul Botes visit Marikana to find out the truth
Advertising

Press Releases

Wellcome Trust award goes to UKZN mental health champion

Dr Andr? J van Rensburg, a senior researcher in UKZN's Centre for Rural Health, received the Wellcome Trust Discretionary Award.

MTN gears up to deliver improved customer service

On 28 January, the first batch of MTN contract customers will be migrated onto the new customer service platform.

Request for expression of interest on analysis of quality and outcome indicators for regional and district hospitals in Lesotho

Introduction The Ministry of Health of Lesotho with the support of the World Bank funded Nutrition and Health Systems Strengthening...

MiX Telematics enhances in-vehicle video camera solution

The company has launched the gold MiX Vision Bureau Service, which includes driver-coaching tools to ensure risky driver behaviour can be addressed proactively and efficiently.

Boosting safety for cargo and drivers

The use of a telematics system for fleet vehicles has proved to be an important tool in helping to drive down costs and improve efficiency, says MiX Telematics Africa.

Silencing the guns and firearms amnesty

Silencing the guns and firearms amnesty

Gender-based violence is an affront to our humanity

Gender-based violence is an affront to our humanity

UK-Africa investment summit 2020: Think Africa Invest SA

UK-Africa investment summit 2020: Think Africa Invest SA