Midnight drama, deals in battle for AU’s top job

July 16th, 2012 - 10:17 pm ICT by IANS  

Addis Ababa, July 16 (IANS) It was midnight drama, intrigue and last-minute deal-making at the Chinese-built new building of the African Union as rival camps upped the stakes for the AU’s top job, which has been won by South Africa’s Home Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

African leaders, who are in the Ethiopian capital for the 19th biannual AU summit, finally gathered in the conference hall of the AU new building Sunday evening for the first round of voting for the post of the AU Commission chair, the 54-nation bloc’s chief executive head.

The continent has never been polarised like this before as camps backing Jean Ping, the incumbent chairperson of the AU Commission and a former Gabonese foreign minister, and Dlamini-Zuma, a seasoned minister and anti-apartheid activist, raised their pitch and intensified the last-minute lobbying.

The first two rounds of voting failed to produce a clear winner, who is expected to secure two-thirds votes in the 54-nation grouping. Finally, the last round of voting close to midnight saw Dlamini-Zuma, projected as the southern Africa region’s candidate, sailing through with 37 votes, making her the first female president to head the AU’s executive body.

The results left almost everyone surprised as nobody was expecting such a clear victory even as there were sighs of relief that the leadership stalemate, which was dragging on since a deadlocked vote in January, was finally over.

“Thank God, it’s over. We voted for Africa,” a Ghanaian diplomat, who refused to be named, told IANS here Monday.

None of the delegates were ready to disclose which way their country voted for, saying that the entire continent stood united behind the new AU head.

“We are now looking to the future; we have many crises on our hands and it’s time for robust African leadership of African issues,” said a Zimbabwean diplomat, who looked pleased that the candidate supported by her country has won.

But declarations of African unity and solidarity apart, there were subdued whispers about some Francophone countries switching sides to support South Africa’s candidate.

The guessing game is still on, but several diplomats spoken to disclosed on condition of anonymity that the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, Benin and Burundi moved over to the South Africa camp.

The voting pattern will never be known as it was a secret ballot and given the sensitivity of the issue, no one is prepared to stick its neck out.

“South Africa is the continent’s largest economy and has enormous clout,” said a Gambian diplomat, hinting at some deal-making on the sides.

It wasn’t exactly a contest between the Anglophone Africa and Francophone Africa as it was widely projected to be, but the real contest, an insider disclosed, was between the continent’s two heavyweights, Nigeria, pitching for Ping, and South Africa batting for Dlamini-Zuma.

South Africa’s astutely-crafted campaign, led from the front by President Jacob Zuma, played a role in the victory of Dlamini-Zuma (a former wife of Zuma), said an insider.

Besides highlighting her credentials as an anti-apartheid activist and her record, which included stints as health minister and foreign minister, the South African campaign for Dlamini-Zuma focused on projecting her as the potential first female head of the AU Commission in the AU’s decade of the empowerment of women.

The campaign also highlighted that the southern Africa region so far has not got a chance to get its candidate elected for the AU Commission chair.

On the other hand, the Ping backers seemed to have lost momentum in the last stages of the campaign. While Zuma came to Addis Ababa Friday, a day before the summit started, the presidents of Nigeria and Ghana, key Ping backers, failed to show up apparently on grounds of some domestic crises.

According to some insiders, Ping’s promotion of China’s interests in Africa and his perceived mishandling of the Libya crisis last year which opened the door for regime change also played a role in his defeat.

The much-hyped election may be over, but now all eyes are on how the new head of the AU goes on to tackle multiple crises besetting the continent, including the fragile security situation in the post-coup Mali, the Sudan-South Sudan stand-off, and political crises in Guinea Bissau and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

(Manish Chand can be contacted at manish.c@ians.in)

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