Finally Madam Dlamini Zuma has won the coveted seat at the African Union headquarters. This position makes her the automatic continental spokeswoman in virtually every international forum. Without a doubt, the former South African Foreign Minister is now one of the most powerful women in the world.
This development comes hot on the heels of the Malawian Iron Lady, President Josephine Banda who has hardly been the Head of State for four months.
One may remember that soon after Josephine Banda was sworn in; she ran into high winds with the AU Secretariat when she warned that if Sudan’s president Omar El Bashir attended the AU Summit that was scheduled to take place in Lilongwe, she would order his arrest and hand him over to The Hague where the fugitive belongs.
Following this threat, the AU buckled and threatened to switch the Summit from Malawi to another country. This threat did not move the Iron Lady. And indeed when Jean Ping announced that the Summit would indeed be moved from Malawi to Addis Ababa, Madam President welcomed the move and went ahead to skip the Addis Ababa Summit. Instead she sent her foreign minister to the summit.
In AU politics, it is common knowledge that the more progressive democracies in Southern Africa are uncomfortable with their counterparts elsewhere in Africa who have made it their pastime bashing the International Criminal Court in The Hague as a colonial court. Specifically, South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique, Malawi and Zambia are considered pro ICC. They have taken this common stand; notwithstanding the violent opposition from the Zimbabwean president, Bob Mugabe, who may be a potential ICC candidate in another life.
The campaign against the ICC in Africa has indeed been championed by Jean Ping of Gabon who, until last weekend was the AU Commission chairman.
In this mission, he found tacit support from Kenya under Kibaki, Libya under the late Muamar Gaddafi, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and a host of benign dictators and not so democratic rulers of the continent.
As the crisis raged about Bashir’s attending the summit in Malawi, Kenya brought another twist to the growing controversy. Suddenly the East African Legislative Assembly hurriedly passed a bill to transform the East African Court of Justice into an International Criminal Court with the approval of the bill at the EAC summit coming in quick succession. And before the AU summit was held, the item was quickly pushed through by Jean Ping as part of the 19th Summit’s agenda.
Because of these undercurrents, the politics at the AU became rather nasty in the last six months. It was the reason the election of the AU Commission chairman ended in a stalemate in January 2012. The anti-ICC forces wanted Jean Ping their man to continue with the mission for the next five years. In that time they would have done away with the ICC after setting up the African ICC.
Now that Dlamini Zuma, the woman who has no special empathy for an African Criminal Court is in the seat of power, will she succumb to the pressures of the AU heads of state opposed to the ICC or will she do them a Josephine Banda by rebuffing their attempts to exist from the ICC?
If Dlamini chooses not to push the anti-ICC agenda, chances are that she may simply ignore the agenda and concentrate more on issues that really affect the continent like solving conflicts in the DR Congo, Somalia, Sudan and Mali. More importantly, Dlamini may want to concentrate on food production to rid the continent of perennial hunger, famine and shame.
Looking at the AU summit composition; it is true it is still very gender imbalanced. As it is we have only two women heads of state and now the AU Commission chairperson. That means that in the next ten or so summits, we shall surely have three women voices in the plenary. The question is; can presidents Sirleaf Johnson of Liberia and Josephine Banda of Malawi join hands with Madam Dlamini to change the way business is conducted in Africa for the good of the continent?
Whatever the direction Dlamini steers the AU, one thing is clear. A few issues and individuals will be the casualties. First, Kenya’s hope of a regional criminal court to try Kenyans bound for The Hague may be dashed.
Omar El Bashir may suffer more setbacks in the near future with more and more AU member states shunning him. If they do, Bashir’s movements will be more restricted than ever before. Furthermore, if he realizes that the present AU chairman is less charming with him than the former CEO, chances are that Bashir will attend and less AU summits for fear of being arrested and handed over to The Hague.
However, it is too early to ascertain which direction Dlamini will go or what policy changes she may want to bring to the table. All we can do is to patiently wait for the next six months.