Thursday, January 26, 2012



JENNY VAUGHAN | AFP Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Jean Ping listens during a meeting of African economic blocs on January 25, 2012, at the African Union summit in Addis Ababa.
JENNY VAUGHAN | AFP Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Jean Ping listens during a meeting of African economic blocs on January 25, 2012, at the African Union summit in Addis Ababa.  
Posted  Thursday, January 26  2012 at  19:00
The African Union is preparing for its first summit since the death of one of its founders Muammar Gaddafi amid a drive by southern nations to wrest influence from the late Libyan’s West African allies.
Many AU summits have been dominated by talks on the continent’s conflict hot spots and contests for the bloc’s rotating chairmanship, held for a year by a president from one of its five regions.
However, the election for the post of chairman of the AU commission — the 54-member body’s main executive arm — is likely to take centre stage after South Africa’s Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma mounted a challenge to the incumbent from Gabon, Jean Ping.
Sources close to Mr Ping say he is confident of re-election, counting on support from French-speaking West and Central Africa countries.
But Ms Dlamini-Zuma, the ex-wife of South African President Jacob Zuma, has launched a tough campaign and has the backing of the 15-member Southern African Development Community.
South Africa has been lobbying hard across the continent to drum up support to win the two thirds of the vote needed, cast in a secret ballot.
For the AU, “one of the most anticipated moments” at this year’s meeting will be those elections for the top AU positions, officials said.
The January 29-30 summit’s official theme is “Boosting Intra-African Trade,” with hopes to promote economic links between African countries, who traditionally have had their strongest trade ties with former colonial powers.AU spokesman Noureddine Mezni said: “The focus is on the election,” which will be held on January 30.
Leaders will also focus on the long-running conflict in Somalia, where the AU has a 10,000-strong force protecting the country’s fragile Western-backed government from the Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab militia.
Mr Mezni said that the summit will also discuss insecurity in the Sahel region, where Al-Qaeda linked fighters also operate in several countries.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will attend the summit alongside Jia Qinglin, chairman of China’s political advisory body — the People’s Political Consultative Conference.
In a demonstration of strengthening ties between Africa and China, Jia will attend the inauguration of the new Chinese-built AU headquarters, a high-tech building that cost $200 million.
With Gaddafi gone, Libya — which used to provide around 15 per cent of the AU’s budget — will be represented by Prime Minister Abdel Rahim al-Kib.
Credited with the founding the AU in Libyan town of Sirte in 1999, the late Libyan leader was famous for hours-long speeches, flamboyant garbs and political clout as a key AU financier.
Meanwhile, Ms Dlamini-Zuma, who is vying to unseat Mr Ping, is one of South Africa’s most powerful women, known for her competent management and stern personality.
A veteran of the fight against apartheid, Ms Dlamini-Zuma, 62, has served in the cabinet of every South African president since Nelson Mandela, who named her health minister after taking office as the country’s first black leader in 1994.
A doctor by training, she served as foreign minister for a decade under Mandela’s successors Thabo Mbeki and Kgalema Motlanthe, earning praise for her shuttle diplomacy to end the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo but raising eyebrows with her unsmiling demeanour and indifference to the media.
Her ex-husband, current President Jacob Zuma, found her indispensable enough to name her home affairs minister — the post she now holds.
Some saw the appointment as a demotion, but she has won plaudits for turning around a ministry that was mired in mismanagement to achieve a clean audit for the first time in 16 years in 2011.
“She takes her work very seriously. She has the rare quality of putting up very good administrators. She insists on professional and talented administrators, which is why she earned a very good reputation,” said Prince Mashele, a political analyst at the Centre for Politics and Research, who worked with Dlamini-Zuma’s ministry when she was foreign minister.
“I thought she could do better if she was a little more affable, but that’s not her personality. She prefers to project a serious face almost all the time,” he told AFP.
No woman has held the post of chair of the Commission of the African Union. The AU’s 54 heads of state and government will hold a secret ballot at a summit in Addis Ababa on January 28-29 to decide whether Ping, who has held the post since 2008, gets a new term.
Born January 27, 1949, in what is now the eastern province of KwaZulu-Natal, Ms Dlamini-Zuma took up student politics in high school and went on to join the anti-apartheid African National Congress (ANC).
In the 1970s, as her activism drew increasing attention from the white regime’s security forces, she went into exile, continuing her studies at the universities of Bristol and Liverpool in Britain while helping organise the anti-apartheid movement overseas.
Working as a paediatrician and moving up the ranks of the ANC, she bounced between the party’s branches in Britain and southern Africa.
She met Zuma while working at a public hospital in Swaziland in the early 1980s and became the polygamist exile’s third wife in 1982.
When the ANC’s ban was lifted in 1990, Dlamini-Zuma returned to South Africa. She won a spot on the party’s national executive committee and after the first democratic elections was tapped by Mandela to transform the country’s segregated health system.
She is remembered for introducing legislation that overhauled the highly unequal system and gave poor people access to free basic care.
But Dlamini-Zuma has also been criticised for championing a controversial anti-AIDS drug that was later proved ineffective, and for commissioning an AIDS education play called “Sarafina II” that became the butt of jokes for its huge budget and small audiences.
She and Zuma divorced in 1998.
When her ex-husband fell out with Mbeki and moved to oust him as ANC leader in 2007, she ran against the Zuma ticket in party elections, standing as Mbeki’s candidate for deputy ANC president.
Zuma won the vote and went on to become president, but kept his ex-wife in his cabinet — one of the only Mbeki allies to avoid the boot.
“She is an astute politician, a veteran, the experience she acquired as foreign minister puts her in good stead to take over this role” at the AU, said Keith Gottschalk from the University of the Western Cape.
“Her hands on approach makes her a politician of high calibre,” he added.
“We are pleased to receive the prime minister of Libya,” said Maxwell Mkwezalamba, the AU Commissioner for Economic Affairs.
A new Libyan permanent representative will also be appointed, replacing the previous envoy under Gaddafi.“He will be given the opportunity to address the assembly and to testify their commitment to (being) a member state.”
The organisation only recognised Libya’s new leaders last September, after having failed to assert itself as a mediator in the conflict.
Leaders will also choose a new chairman for the pan-African body, an annual secret ballot held every January.
The next chairman will come from the west African region to replace the current one, Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema, whose election was condemned by rights group over his poor rights record at home.
Gambian President Yahya Jammeh or Benin’s leader Boni Yayi are Obiang’s likely successors, according to diplomatic sources.