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The stalemate of the elections for the chairperson of the AU Commission in January 2012 and the upcoming continuation of this saga at the July 2012 summit must be déjà vu for South Africa. Reminds one of the voting duplicity of Charles Dempsey which cost South Africa hosting the Football World Cup 2006. The confidence of South Africa in the first elections suggests some countries might have promised their votes and not delivered. This would have been playing South Africa which is supposed to have suggested to some of these countries to publicly declare support for Gabon and vote for South Africa!
After 4 rounds of voting no candidate garnered the required 36 votes. The results between the incumbent Dr Ping of Gabon were (28;27; and 29) and Dr Dlamini-Zuma of South Africa (25;26; and 24) over three rounds. In the last round Dr Ping stood alone and received 32 votes. Dr Dlamini-Zuma gained a vote in the first round and then lost two votes in the third round. If Ping reduced the support for Dlamini-Zuma then could he have mobilised even more votes in the past five months, considering the results of the 3rd and 4th rounds? Might some member states decide that rather than having another impasse and since Gabon was only short of 4 votes, that more countries switch to supporting its candidate?
How did Gabon, not being a prominent or large African country, garner much more support than South African during the three rounds of voting? Obviously South Africa is not competing only against Gabon, these elections reflect the tepid reaction of Africa towards South Africa. Certainly the fear of a large and dominant power taking over this post must have been a major driving force. Kenya is unlikely to have supported South Africa because this could cost her the deputy chair position. Ethiopia and Nigeria opposed South Africa because of the un-codified agreement that big powers should not seek the top post. South Africa stated that some foreign powers, particularly France, were involved in siding with Gabon. Although there have been denials about foreign powers having a role in these elections is this credible considering that they contribute a substantial amount to the AU budget relies on foreign donors, possibly creating a desire to have a relatively weak administration. France still keeps strong links with its former African colonies and the relatively new Hollande government could provide various forms of support for Gabon rather than South Africa! Under the OAU all members paid the same dues, in the AU members are assessed based on socioeconomic criteria. So Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Nigeria and South Africa between them contribute 75 percent of the members fees. Yet many African countries still do not pay their contributions regularly or timeously. Surely they should be sanctioned from participating in AU activities, like the upcoming elctions. Should the members with the largest contributions not be given more say in the affairs of the AU?
A major issue in January 2012 was the supposed divisions based on language groups. Critics saying so are being unrealistic considering Africa’s colonial past. The analysis must note that the language groups are not cast in stone; other variables such as geographic location, membership of regional economic groupings, national interests and strengths of bilateral relations must be considered. 24 countries can be viewed as French speaking; 18 as English speaking; 5 Portuguese speaking; 2 mainly Arabic and 1 Spanish speaking. But not all English and French speaking countries will support South Africa and Gabon respectively. Strained relations between South Africa and Swaziland and Zimbabwe may lead them to break ranks with the developments in the Southern African Development Community (SADC), to vote for South Africa; whilst Algeria and the DRC which are French speaking could, because of good relations vote for South Africa etc.
Dr Ping issued a hard hitting press release on 10 July 2012 denying that he had been in South Africa on 6 July 2012 to negotiate with the government on a withdrawal from the upcoming election, as reported in the Sunday Times of 8 July 2012. In thinly veiled attacks on the South African media, though actually targeting the South African government, he decries what he calls underhand campaign tactics of lies and innuendos menat to tarnish his candidature. In a counter attack he states that “it is well known that it is the Government of South Africa which impeded ECOWAS’ efforts to settle the Cote d’Ivoire crisis timeously and the same Government that voted in favour of resolution 1973 that authorized the bombing of Libya.” Interestingly no mention is made that his country Gabon and Nigeria also voted for the resolution 1973 or the efforts of South Africa in seeking to deal with both crises.
What will be the reaction of South Africa and can it play more strategically to its strengths? What about the wide-ranging contributions to Africa in peace building, socioeconomic transformation and others since 1994 that are often conveniently forgotten. Its investment and trade with many African countries has boosted growth across the continent; it contributes development and humanitarian aid to many countries, is building the human capacity of many African states, hosts increasing numbers of African forced and voluntary migrants, and champions Africa’s cause globally. It has also fought for the reform of global institutions and a stronger role for Africa in these fora. When it participates in these fora it does so not narrowly representing itself but either SADC or Africa.
Whither the role of soft power and economic diplomacy in this situation? Can South Africa positively get leverage from its strong economic ties and huge investments across Africa, to win more support? South Africa has over the past few months invested huge human and other resources lobbying across the continent and one wonders whether this included strategically utilising former president Mbeki to lobby many of his former colleagues across the continent. It must use the fact that it has never sought to play big brother to other African countries and thrown its weight around, pushed for the transformation of the OAU and formation of NEPAD, AU, African Peer Review Mechanism, African Renaissance etc.
Dr Ping has served in various ministerial positions and as Gabon’s foreign minister for approximately 9 years, and has bolstered his candidature by serving as AU Commission Chairperson over the past 4 years. He can argue for a second term to finish the work programme he started four years ago. Meanwhile, Dr Dlamini-Zuma has served as health, foreign and home affairs minister of South Africa since 1994 and has amassed vast experience and pedigree in international relations and African affairs. She performed a pivotal role as part of the South African team that led in the creation of the New partnership for Africa’s Development and AU. Over the past 49 years all 11 Secretaries-General of the Organisation of African Unity and Chairs of the AU Commission have been males and from central, east and west Africa. Three of them were from English speaking countries and the rest from French speaking states. This makes a strong case for a competent female candidate from southern Africa. Should these not have been amongst the major criteria for evaluating the candidates, in addition to their programmes for improving the effectiveness and efficiency of the AU Commission and the extent to which they have served the African agenda?
Why must only African heads of government and state be the only ones to choose the high ranking officials of continental and indeed sub-regional bodies? Why are African civil society and other stakeholders not included allowing for a more objective process? It is interesting that the AU Charter on Elections, Democracy and Governance came into force in February 2012 after the 15th member of the organisation ratified the instrument in January 2012. The protocol must not only be utilised to judge how members conduct themselves at home, but also in the affairs of the AU. This impasse, much as it is supposed to have divided Africa and destabilised the AU, has at least created space for reflection on its future and possible transformation. Democratic elections are a contest and often take a Machaivellian hue of the end justifies the means and he campaigns can be expensive. So candidates require resilience and tough skins. But might the cost to African unity and progress not be too high a price to pay in this case? If no compromise can be reached between the two countries should they not both withdraw if there is no winner under the present rules?, then Will this opportunity be grasped or will African leaders fail their people again? Can African people themselves mobilise and use the opportunity to seek fundamental change? Which will it be? Time will tell!
Written byDr Matlotleng Matlou, Chief Executive Officer, Africa Institute of South Africa