South Africa’s attempt to flex its foreign policy muscle by capturing the AU’s top post may be thwarted by nations resentful of its already dominant role on the continent.
South Africa initially failed to back the 54-nation body’s demand last year that Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo cede power to Alassane Ouattara after a disputed election. It also clashed with Gabon, Nigeria and Ethiopia, which recognised Libya’s National Transitional Council even as President Jacob Zuma was persuading the AU to delay recognition.
“South Africa’s handling of the Libya fallout has hurt it badly on the continent,” University of Johannesburg politics professor Chris Landsberg said last week.
Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma sought to depose incumbent AU Commission chairman Jean Ping of Gabon at this weekend’s summit in Addis Ababa. Ping had the support of west Africa and north Africa, said an Ethiopian Foreign Affairs Ministry official. Gabon and Kenya also indicated they supported Ping.
International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said South Africa wanted the post to ensure the union played a more forceful role in world politics and was run more effectively.
She said heads of state from the 15-nation Southern African Development Community had declared their support for Dlamini Zuma. Still, Malawi, a member of the group, said it had not taken a position.
Voting for the position was due to take place in a secret ballot this morning.
The AU has refused to confront the leaders of member states accused of flouting democracy and human rights violations, including Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Last year it elected as its ceremonial head Equatorial Guinea leader Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who has been in power since 1972 and whom Human Rights Watch accuses of plundering his nation’s oil riches.
AU mediation efforts during last year’s Arab Spring uprisings that toppled governments in Tunisia and Egypt came too late to have any effect, while its attempts to restore calm in Libya were overtaken by the Nato bombings that helped topple Gaddafi.
On March 10 last year, the AU’s Peace and Security Council said it rejected any foreign military intervention and urged the international community to support its negotiating team. A week later, South Africa backed UN Security Council resolution 1973, which authorised the use of “all necessary measures” to protect civilians. Zuma later said the bombing campaign constituted an abuse of the UN resolution.
Dlamini Zuma would be the first woman to head the AU since it was founded as the Organisation of African Unity in 1963.
Her nomination challenged a tradition that the top AU post go to a smaller state to offset the dominance of South Africa, Nigeria, Algeria, Libya and Egypt, Institute for Global Dialogue director Siphamandla Zondi said. “South Africa could cause resentment and feelings that it is throwing its weight around and looking after its own interests.”
The commission runs the AU’s day-to-day affairs, while a largely ceremonial chairmanship of the union rotates annually among the leaders of its members.
While Dlamini Zuma might be able to address the AU’s administrative difficulties, she would have little scope to deal with its other shortcomings, SA Institute for International Affairs analyst Nomfundo Ngwenya said. – Bloomberg