The outcome of South Africa’s and Nigeria’s shuttling and lobbying around Africa in the past few months is likely to be decided this weekend when the African Union meets in Addis Ababa to decide who will become its commission chairperson.
Neither of the two candidates secured the requisite two-thirds of the votes needed to win in January and the lobbying since then has been fierce.
President Jacob Zuma, his Cabinet ministers and the foreign ministers of the states in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) have been lobbying countries to support the candidature of Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, arguing that the southern region has never led the continental body since it was founded 49 years ago. The position has been held seven times by West Africa, three times by Central Africa and twice by East Africa.
The point was made by home affairs spokesperson Ronnie Mamoepa this week, who said it was time for the southern region to be given a chance.
Those lobbying for the southern region also claim that Africa’s voice has become weaker in global politics under the current chairperson, Gabon’s Jean Ping.
But Nigerian diplomats have been lobbying hard against South Africa’s position and claim that the country is breaking an unwritten rule that the five countries who collectively fund 75% of the AU’s operations – Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt, Algeria and Libya – should not vie for the leadership of the commission.
In recent months Nigeria has been forced to endorse Ping openly after a diplomatic row ensued in May following local media reports that Nigerian Vice-President Mohammed Namadi Sambo had told journalists his country would back Dlamini-Zuma for the AU post.
Within hours the Nigerian high commission in Pretoria issued a statement saying Sambo was referring to positions at the AU in general and had not specifically mentioned the position of commission chairperson.
According to several diplomats speaking this week, Ping appears to have a better chance of winning because of the large number of Francophone African countries, of which Gabon is a member.
In the heads of state’s January vote, the first round went 28 votes to 25 for Ping, but in the second round Dlamini-Zuma was the higher with 27 to 26. In the third round, Ping took 29 votes to 24. According the AU rules, Dlamini-Zuma had to withdraw, leaving Ping as the sole candidate, but he could not garner two-thirds of the vote – 35 countries.
It is unclear whether the AU will allow Ping or Dlamini-Zuma to be nominated again if they fail to secure the backing of two-thirds of the member states this weekend. But the diplomats believed that they should be barred from trying again.
Claude Kabemba, political analyst and an authority on Africa, said he was doubtful about whether there would be an outright winner at the summit. “It is difficult to see how the balance is going to shift compared to what transpired in January. But if there is a win, it’s going to be a narrow one. I believe that, in the end, it will come down to who lobbied hardest in the past few months and who, between Nigeria and South Africa, has managed to use their political influence and economic relations to garner support for the two candidates.”