Race for AU’s top job moves into overdrive

July 13th, 2012 - 6:36 pm ICT by IANS  

Addis Ababa, July 13 (IANS) The 19th African Union summit has kicked off in this Ethiopian capital with all eyes set on intense lobbying for what is touted as the “mother of all contests” for the executive head of the 54-nation bloc that seeks to find African solutions for African crises.

It’s a two-way contest between incumbent Jean Ping, a former foreign minister of Gabon, and South Africa’s Home Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, a former wife of President Jacob Zuma, for the coveted post of the chairperson of the AU commission, the preeminent decision-making body of the African continent.

Never has the resource-rich continent been so polarized as on this tussle on the leadership issue, with Francophone countries led by Nigeria, an Anglophone African country, rallying around Ping and the southern African region pitching Dlamini-Zuma for the prized post.

The partisan battle for leadership is bristling with intrigue and paranoia even as the African continent grapples with a host of crises, including the political volatility in the post-coup Mali and the unresolved Sudan-South Sudan standoff.

Ping has his supporters, but if Dlamini-Zuma makes it, she will break a glass ceiling of sorts as she would become the first female president of the African Union which observes its 10th anniversary this year.

With barely two days to go for the election, a whisper campaign is on and lobbying - covert and overt - has acquired a new dimension as Ping loyalists and South Africa backers step up their charm offensive to lure the fence-sitters on their side.

The last election in January ended in a deadlock as neither Ping nor Dlamini-Zuma could secure the requisite two-third majority to make it. The deadlocked leadership tussle has spawned much frustration among the African political class which strongly feels that the burning issues confronting the continent are being sidetracked by what one former AU official told IANS is this “avoidable partisan game of one-upmanship”.

In many ways, South Africa, the continent’s economic powerhouse and a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, has broken the AU’s unwritten rule that the continent’s heavyweights, including South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt and Algeria, should leave it to smaller African countries to occupy this post. But this time round, Pretoria has upped the game as it feels that the post has gone to Francophone countries for far too long and it’s now the turn of southern Africa to head the AU’s chief executive organ.

The 15-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) is backing Dlamini-Zuma’s candidature. Dlamini-Zuma has strong credentials for the AU top job - she is a veteran anti-apartheid activist and a former South African foreign minister who knows her way around international corridors of power.

As South Africa’s foreign minister for nearly a decade under Nelson Mandela’s successors Thabo Mbeki and Kgalema Motlanthe, Dlamini-Zuma is well-known and much-esteemed in international diplomatic and political circles. But a subterranean prejudice seems to be working against her, and that has nothing to do with her, but South Africa’s sheer weight in African affairs and on the global stage which is being resented by smaller African countries.

Whichever way the contest goes, the head of the AU commission will have a crown of thorns as the continent navigates through many crises to find its way in the shifting world order.

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

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