Tough at top of AU table
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma will step down from her position as chairperson of the AU Commission in Addis Ababa when her term ends in July. In this extract from a new book by the author argues that the way in which DlaminiZuma was elected in 2012 tarnished her
KwaZulu-Natal is dealing with a tsunami of teenage pregnancies, which, according to the government, are rife because, “clearly, the blessers are running amok in the area”.
If you are unfamiliar with what a “blesser” is, it’s someone who gives you a lot of money for favours or, as they call them in Gauteng, Guptas.
And when blessers run amok, I can tell you, nobody is safe. It is ironic that the ANC can spot blessers running amok in KwaZulu-Natal, but when a president miraculously ends up with a R246 million home extension in the province, they don’t realise what’s going on.
Oddly enough, the Inkatha Freedom Party, in spite of this wave of KwaZulu-Natal blessers, is into virginity testing. I don’t have firm evidence, but I’m pretty sure they don’t expect the blessers to also get tested.
I watched President Jacob Zuma’s Q&A in Parliament this week, and there was not one mention of blessers. I suspect he thinks “blesser” is a code name for Ray McCauley (Rhema Church founder), which is ironic considering that the man – Zuma not McCauley, or maybe both – has singlehandedly made blessers a function of government.
Don’t get me wrong, I am aware white capital wrangled itself into an awkwardly negotiated economic settlement by being blessers for many black people trying to get into business, otherwise known as Cyril Ramaphosa Syndrome.
Zuma speaks the language of politics. We aren’t “people”, we are “compatriots”, which makes us sound like a Mel Gibson movie. Mr Zuma doesn’t “admit guilt”, he “applies his mind”, which makes his head sound like glue stick. This week’s Q&A session in Parliament had Zuma at his most honest when he said: “If I am a joke, you must laugh.” But Mr President, we have been laughing.
The only point of clarity was when he admitted that the fire pool at his Nkandla home was a swimming pool, which is dangerous because Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema suggested people should burn down the ANC rather than schools, and right now the fire pool (that’s a swimming pool) is in the wrong place.
Of course the EFF was thrown out of Parliament again. We’ve seen more reruns of this old show than the SABC trying to air 90% local content. If all they have is show business, the EFF might as well sell itself to SABC chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng. He’ll say yes, because the SABC will need to up its artist development game if it is to ensure we get 54 minutes of amazing South African music and then just six minutes of Beyoncé an hour.
Local is lekker, but we are addicted to lemonade. South Africa in Africa: Superpower or Neocolonialist? by Liesl Louw-Vaudran Tafelberg 224 pages R210
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and her aides have their offices on the top floor of what some here call the headquarters of the ‘South African mafia’. One cannot go up there without a security badge, which I didn’t have because I got into the building solely on the back of my South Africanness. So I waited until I saw a group of friendly looking officials entering the lift and followed them.
The view from the top floor is astounding, and the offices are also brand new and squeaky clean – nothing at all like the African Union (AU) I had encountered during my first visit in the late 1990s to the former headquarters in a dilapidated building near the new Chinese-built headquarters. Then there were only grim corridors and dingy offices, most of them empty.
When Dlamini-Zuma took over from her predecessor at the AU in October 2012 after a bruising election battle, only 40% of positions in the AU had been filled. The organisation was also hugely underfunded.
‘She arrived and made a point to visit every single office in the building. Some of these people had worked at the AU all their lives and had never seen a commissioner, let alone the head of the commission, walk in,’ explained a Kenyan friend who worked at the AU Commission until 2014.
Nevertheless, Dlamini-Zuma’s first term at the AU can be characterised as problematic, to say the least. And one of the main problems is the way in which she was elected to the position in the first place.
The first round of the elections for a new chairperson of the AU Commission took place in January 2012. In the preceding months, there had been hardly any debate about the matter because it was assumed that Gabon’s former foreign minister, Jean Ping, would be re-elected to the position. Ping was likeable, communicated fairly well and had the support of a number of the heavyweight countries in the AU and international powers such as France.
Even though Ping didn’t do anything exceptional, he didn’t do too badly either, so there was no real reason to get rid of him. For many African leaders and funders of the AU, it was better to have a fairly mediocre chairperson who was easy to manipulate, so they could control what was happening from behind the scenes.
For many, the experience with the AU’s first chairperson, former Malian president Alpha Oumar Konaré, was a disaster not to be repeated. Several African leaders didn’t like having one of their own lead the commission, especially not a known democrat like Konaré. For his part, Konaré wasn’t going to let himself be dictated to by his former peers.
Konaré put his foot down on several occasions, including during the 2007 summit, when there was a debate over whether Sudan should host the next AU summit. It was at the height of the war in Darfur and the International Criminal Court had just started proceedings against Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir. How could the AU hold its biannual summit in Khartoum under these circumstances? Konaré insisted the summit be moved to another country, and it was held in Khartoum the following year.
So the die was cast as far as most observers were concerned.
Ping would stay on. ‘Mr Ping not only enjoys the benefits of incumbency, but remains the strongest candidate, as he is understood to enjoy the full support of the western, northern and eastern regions of Africa,’ AU expert Mehari Maru, then a senior researcher at the Addis office of the Institute for Security Studies, was quoted as saying.
Then, around mid-2011, it was announced that the Southern African Development Community was fielding its own candidate for the position – South Africa’s home affairs minister, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. There was surprise all round at the announcement.
‘Though Dlamini-Zuma might have good personal credentials, the fact that she represents South Africa, the largest African economy, counts against her,’ Maru said at the time.
‘Apart from perceived foreign policy fumblings of South Africa under President Jacob Zuma, the South African nomination also contradicts the unwritten agreement of excluding regional powers from vying for the post of chairperson of the AU Commission.’
The gentleman’s agreement that Maru refers to was an understanding that important positions in the AU should be held only by smaller countries. For this reason, the chair had gone to countries like Mali and Gabon in the past. The same convention holds in other international institutions such as the UN, where candidates from countries such as South Korea, Ghana and Egypt have held the position of secretary-general, but no one from the major powers such as the US, France or China have done so.
Francophone weekly Jeune Afrique commented that ‘South Africa wants to be seen as a superpower that doesn’t have to account to anyone’. In an analysis of the upcoming elections, the Paris-based magazine also claimed Dlamini-Zuma’s election would be used as a stepping stone for Zuma’s real prize, a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.
African leaders are ‘annoyed’ by this candidature and DlaminiZuma is seen as too ‘anti-Western’, commented Jeune Afrique.
Dlamini-Zuma’s detractors saw her as hostile to Western powers – in equal measure to former president Thabo Mbeki – she was his minister of foreign affairs for many years. Her critics feared she would drive away the AU’s main funders in Europe and elsewhere should she be elected. As it turns out, there has been some friction between Dlamini-Zuma and Western ambassadors in Addis Ababa these past few years.
Not all African leaders share the belief that Europe and the US are only out to drive their own agendas in Africa and exploit the continent, and this notion is a lot more prevalent in southern Africa.
This stance could be ascribed to the fact that liberation from colonialism – and apartheid, in South Africa’s case – happened only fairly recently, whereas most countries in other regions of Africa attained independence some 40 or 50 years ago. In these countries, there tends to be less of a culture of blaming Western powers for what goes wrong, and instead they seek to use any assistance offered to deal with problems and encourage development.
Another issue that irked Dlamini-Zuma’s detractors was the perception that she was ‘parachuted’ in from South Africa to occupy the highest position in the organisation. Other than Sivuyile Bam, the head of the AU Peace Support Operations Department, there were very few South Africans in senior positions in the AU at the time that she ran for the position of chairperson. A South African has not, for example, served as one of the eight AU commissioners.
In any event, major African role players, such as Nigeria and Ethiopia, made it very clear that they didn’t support Dlamini-Zuma.
HEADING OUT Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the chairperson of the AU Commission