After abstentions by more than half of the member states at the recent AU summit elections will now happen at the January summit.
KIGALI – Lobbying for the January 2017 round of elections for the most powerful position in the African Union started weeks before heads of state convened in Kigali, Rwanda for the elections this month.
There was a strong lobby from the West African Economic Community, ECOWAS, to postpone the elections for AU Commission chairperson or to reopen nominations after these closed three months ahead of the summit, but the continental body said this was against its rules.
Elections will now happen at the January summit again anyway, after abstentions by more than half of the member states at the recent summit that resulted in a failure by any of the three candidates to get the required two-thirds majority.
Senegalese politician and diplomat Abdoulaye Bathily, is one of the names mentioned by lobbyists at the recent AU summit. He is said to have stepped back ahead of the Kigali summit in favour of Algerian foreign minister Ramtane Lamamra, who withdrew at the last minute.
A lobbyist said Bathily’s experience as a cabinet Minister, his academic background (Bathily is a professor), and more recently his experience in a world body like the United Nations (he is Ban Ki-Moon’s Special Representative for Central Africa and Head of the United Nations Region) will serve the AU in good stead. His ability to speak both English and French has also been raised as a plus – incumbent AU Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has tried in vain to master the language sufficiently to use it on the podium.
Senegal raised Bathily’s name as a possible candidate weeks before the summit, while ECOWAS tried – unsuccessfully – to lobby the AU to reopen the nominations process.
Other Big names to enter the race?
There has also been a push in favour of the former Tanzanian president Jakaya Kikwete, who stepped down as president last year after his two terms ended. Kikwete is well-regarded in the continent, and his record of governance has won him awards such as the African Achievers’ Good Governance Award.
AU legal counsel and director of legal affairs, Vincent Nmehielle, told journalists who asked about Kikwete’s possible candidacy that a president at the helm of the AU could present “protocol problems”.
Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa, Carlos Lopes, has been mentioned as another possibility. Lopes was born in Guinea-Bissau. By virtue of his high profile position, he regularly attends AU summits and addresses meetings there.
The former head of the African Development Bank, Donald Kaberuka, is another high profile name that has come up. The Rwandan-born Kaberuka was recently appointed as head of the AU Peace Fund – an important initiative as the body regards self-funding to be one of its priorities in finding African solutions to African problems in conflicts. Many member states believe that western interventions are aimed at protecting their own interests, rather than that of Africa.
Kaberuka was also praised for being quick off the hook when it came to visiting Ebola-affected countries during the outbreak of the epidemic two years ago, while critics of Dlamini-Zuma perceive her as having been slow off the mark.
It is unclear as yet whether the candidates who stood for the recent AU elections would venture another try.
Botswana foreign minister, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, was the most popular candidate during the Kigali summit, but at most only mustered 23 out of the 54 head of states’ votes. The voting process is secret, but it was speculated that the Southern African Development Community countries all voted for her in solidarity.
Botswana’s vice-president Ponatshego Kedikilwe has reportedly indicated that Botswana would support Venson-Moitoi should she want to run again in January, but the “rooftop diplomacy” of President Ian Khama could again be her undoing.
Khama has previously called the AU a talk shop and he does not attend the summits. His open criticism of fellow leaders has also not endeared him to leaders on the continent.
Foreign affairs minister of Equatorial Guinea, Agapito Mba Mokuy, and Uganda’s former vice-president, Speciosa Kazibwe, trailed far behind Venson-Moitoi in terms of votes, and it is unlikely that they would stand again.
The fact that both of them come from repressive states has counted against them.
Much can still change before the close of nominations three months from now, as regional balance, also in the other positions up for election in the AU Commission, is important in the continental body.
Despite a provision in Rule 42 of the Assembly of the African Union that the AU Commission deputy chairperson, Erastus Mwencha, should steer the ship until the next elections, a political decision was taken to allow Dlamini-Zuma to stay on.
She would be required to stay until the handover to a new chairperson is completed at the end of March.
Debilitating for the AU
The Institute for Security Studies’ Peace and Security Council report warned in its July issue ahead of the summit that a nine-month interregnum could be “debilitating for the work of the organisation”, but with Dlamini-Zuma staying on, these negative effects might be minimised.
Oxfam liaison office to the AU, Désiré Assogbavi, are calling for reforms to AU elections procedure. “I am in favour of a non-renewable longer term for the AUC leadership, as well as necessary structural reforms”.
He said the two-thirds rule could also lead to “another deadlock if falling regions want to revenge. I would be in favour of a simple majority,” he said.
Rwandan president Paul Kagame has been tasked with proposing reforms to streamline AU, but it’s as yet unclear whether this issue is on his to-do list.
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