Prioritise conflict resolution
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THE CUSTODIAN of the AU is a critical post but the campaign for the next chair has been underreported if not ignored, the vote for which takes place in 10 days. This is in contrast to 2012 which saw a vociferous campaign when South Africa went all out to lobby for Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma.
The AU failed to agree on her replacement at the last summit in Kigali, Rwanda, and another vote with three additional candidates will take place on January 30 and 31. South Africa has backed the Southern African Development Community’s (SADC) choice of candidate – Botswana’s Foreign Minister since 2014 Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi. The primary consideration has likely been that it remains SADC’s turn to have one of its representatives fill the position of chair given that it has only held the position once since 1963, compared to east Africa which held it twice, central Africa which held it three times, and west Africa which held it seven times.
Venson-Moitoi has not proved to be a dynamic candidate, however. She has minimal online presence and is not well known on the continent. She is also considered to have limited international experience. Venson-Moitoi’s campaign last time around was not convincing, and she failed to get two-thirds of the votes in the AU to secure a win. Thirty African states had abstained from the 7th round of voting as they were unhappy with the list of candidates.
While Venson-Moitoi will probably prioritise education, women’s empowerment and dialogue, she has no real experience in conflict prevention or resolution, or combating the scourge of terrorism. She would not be an advocate of withdrawing from the International Criminal Court (ICC) – an issue Botswana is at odds with South Africa about. It seems unlikely that she will secure the position of chairperson.
One of the keys to success is strong and active regional backing, and in the case of west Africa, the Economic Community of West African States has said Abdoulaye Bathily of Senegal is its candidate. Bathily is a former minister and former special representative of the UN secretary-general for central Africa. The active lobbying of Ghana and Nigeria for Senegal would be important. A complicating factor is that if Senegal were to win, it could scupper Ghana and Nigeria’s bid to win deputy chair of the AU and commissioner for
With dissension being among the AU’s greatest challenges, its new chair must be a veteran at finding a solution to such issues
peace and security.
What also makes Bathily a contentious choice despite his extensive knowledge of the continent, is the fact that he seems more in tune with the views of Western countries, particularly France, and would support Morocco’s joining the AU. This is a position not shared by many on the continent given their solidarity with the Sahrawis for liberation from Morocco’s occupation. South Africa, Nigeria, and Ethiopia have been vocal about supporting the Sahrawi cause. This will make it difficult for him to secure the chairpersonship. Bathily is also against the AU’s withdrawal from the ICC.
Possibly the least favoured candidate is Equatorial Guinea’s Foreign Minister Agapito Mba Mokuy. During voting in Kigali he received the lowest score, possibly owing to his low visibility and prestige and limited international experience. The government has ensured he has a well-funded campaign, but this is unlikely to succeed in ensuring his success.
Kenya has launched a strong campaign to support the candidacy of its foreign minister, Amina Mohamed, who is a Kenyan Somali lawyer who chaired the International Organisation on Migration. She has been endorsed as Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa’s candidate, and she is fervently backed by Rwanda. Mohamed will drive the campaign to get the AU to pull out of the ICC, which is not a position that all African states agree with.
Mohamed’s weakest link is the fact that a petition against her was filed in Kenya’s national assembly last month, alleging massive financial impropriety, demanding a probe. One of the allegations against her is that since 2013 her Ministry of Foreign Affairs hired private jets at exaggerated prices from 748 Air Services – a firm owned by her brother Rashid Jibril.
It is also alleged that serious corruption and uncontrolled irregular expenditure marred the two international conferences she presided over – the World Trade Organisation in December 2015, and UN Conference on Trade and Development in June 2014. She has also been accused of taking Somalia’s side in its maritime row with Kenya during negotiations. Somalia was claiming nearly half of Kenya’s maritime waters.
It may seem risky to members of the AU to elect a candidate who will start having to defend herself against major corruption allegations, despite the fact that the government is pushing her candidacy hard across the continent, with Kenyan ministers punting her.
That leaves the fifth and final candidate – Chad’s Foreign Minister Moussa Faki Mahamat. He has served as prime minister, and as foreign minister for the past nine years. Mahamat’s greatest asset is his wealth of experience on continental matters, particularly in conflict resolution and the battle against terrorism. Given the challenges the continent faces, it may be just this type of candidate Africa sorely needs.
Chad resolved its political unrest after conflict between armed groups in the country, and did so without outside interference. Mahamat has played a major role in fighting terrorism in Mali, Nigeria and the Central African Republic, and speaks English, Arabic and French.
He was instrumental in the establishment of a multilateral force to combat Boko Haram in the Lake Chad basin. When Chad presided over the UN Security Council in December 2015, Mahamat focused on the threats to international peace and security as being terrorism and cross-border crime.
He was a negotiator of the Doha peace agreement in Darfur since 2009, and was also part of the the Intergovernmental Authority on Development Plus group which worked towards the return of peace to South Sudan. He participated in negotiations on the Central African Republic, and was part of peace talks in Mali.
With conflict continuing to present one of the greatest challenges to the AU, it would be prudent for AU members to elect a candidate who is a veteran at conflict resolution. Mahamat has the right profile and has prioritised the need to make the AU self-reliant. This is critical if Africa is to truly start realising African solutions to African problems.
UNCONVINCING: Botswana’s Foreign Minister Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi isn’t a particularly dynamic candidate for the position of AU chairperson, says the writer.