/ 7 February 2019

Exclusive: African Union boss accused of hiring ‘old crony’ — by his deputy

Chairperson of the African Union Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat
Chairperson of the African Union Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat (Ashraf Shazly/AFP/Getty Images)

The deputy chairperson of the African Union Commission launched an unprecedented attack on his boss, chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat, in a letter to Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo, revealing deep divisions within the senior leadership of the AU and shedding more light on previous reports of nepotism and sexual harassment.

In the letter, dated November 6 2018 which the Mail & Guardian has seen, Thomas Kwesi-Quartey complained that the chairperson had gone over his head to appoint an “old crony” as AU Ambassador to Brussels. This was “not good governance”, he said.

Ahmat Awad Sakine, a Chadian diplomat, was appointed as the AU’s permanent representative to the European Union in September 2017. Smaїl Chergui, the African Union’s peace and security commissioner, allegedly signed Sakine’s letter of appointment. 

He denies the allegation saying: “As you know, commissioners have no admin responsibility … the office of Brussels is not under my authority … So this matter is simply impossible.”

Kwesi-Quartey also criticised Faki for failing to outline any “central organising idea” for his term as AU commission chair, saying that efforts to study and debate proposals to reform the commission were “considered an intolerable affront”.

The authenticity of the letter was initially confirmed by Kwesi-Quartey’s spokesperson, Doreen Appolus, who said that it was confidential and urged the M&G not to publish. “You are taking away attention from all the good things,” she said. In a text message several hours later, she retracted this confirmation: “I do not know about this letter but what I can tell you is, it is not in our possession and therefore we cannot authenticate the author and/or the motives behind it, particularly its suspicious emergence at a time the African leaders are gathering for the African Union Summit.”

AU commission chair Faki declined to comment. Spokesperson Ebba Kalondo said: “The writer of the letter is best placed to explain the allegations. The letter was not addressed to [Faki].”

The 32nd AU Summit is currently underway in Addis Ababa, with heads of state due to meet on February 10 and 11.

However, tensions were already evident during the ministerial-level Executive Council, according to three people who were present at the meeting on Thursday. Faki allegedly attempted to pass a resolution that would have expanded his powers within the commission, but this failed after an intervention from Kwesi-Quartey. “The chair was so, so angry, you could see it on his face,” said one source, who asked to remain anonymous.

The dispute between Kwesi-Quartey and Faki stems in part from who gets to control human resources functions. Although hiring and firing technically fall under the deputy chair’s ambit, the chair has allegedly gone over his head on a number of occasions.

In his letter, Kwesi-Quartey also confirmed that he was aware of the sexual harassment and gender discrimination occurring within the commission, which was first reported in the M&G in May 2018.

“Another problem I observed during our first six months in office was the low morale of staff, especially the female gender. I noticed from complaints (now vindicated by the Independent Report on Sexual Harassment) that female staff were deliberately given short-term contracts (around three months), so that the renewal then would be a negotiation between unequal parties usually/generally involving sexual favours to have one’s contract extended.”

Kwesi-Quartey identified a senior Commission official, who has subsequently been transferred out of the Commission, as being “the cog in this affair”. Amine Idriss Adoum led the Directorate of Administration and Human Resources Development for four years, before taking a senior position in the NEPAD Agency.

Amoun denies the allegations. “I have never harassed, discriminated or harmed anybody in the AUC and this can be verified by an investigation. This is a false accusation and I am ready to face any investigation to be run impartially, independently and professionally. You can double check the numbers and my records while I was at the AUC. I have passionately worked to increase the number of female staff and youth at the AUC, under the leadership of Mrs [Nkosazana Dlamini] Zuma, and worked hard to bring more women at leadership positions,” he said.

In November, the AU’s investigation into sexual harassment identified at least 44 instances of alleged unfair labour practices, sexual harassment, sexual assault, fraud and nepotism, some of which implicate senior officials. Despite promising to take the allegations seriously, no further action has yet been taken.

Several sources within the AU commission confirmed the dispute between the chairperson and his deputy is having a detrimental impact on the work of the continental body. “You see the AU is not doing anything because the leadership is dead,” said one, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Member states might as well be throwing their money away.”

This article has been amended to reflect comment from Amine Idriss Adoum.