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Floodgates open for the African Union Chair Commission Post

The failure by the three candidates vying for the AU Commission chairperson’s post to garner the required two-thirds majority votes has flung the door open for more candidates to enter the race in elections due next year. At the just ended 27th AU Summit in Kigali, Rwanda, the three candidates; Botswana’s Dr Pelonomi Venson-Moito, Uganda’s Dr Specioza Naigaga Wandira-Kazibwe and Equatorial Guinea’s Agapito Mba Mokuy failed to obtain the required votes prompting the AU to postpone the election to the next summit to be held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in January next year.

But why does the top continental body’s job matter? Writing for the Daily Maverick, Solomon A. Dersso, a legal scholar and a commissioner of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, says the AU Commission chair position bears substantive authority and the character, knowledge and dynamism of the incumbent strongly shapes not just the agenda but also the course of the decision of AU policy bodies, including the General Assembly. The General Assembly is the highest decision-making body made up of heads of state and government of AU member states.

Discounting the substantive nature of the AU Commission chair is therefore the same as arguing that the character of United Nations Secretary-General is inconsequential to the course of the international body. In his own words, Dersso advances the view that: “The AU Commission is more than just a secretary of the policy bodies of AU.

Apart from following up in the implementation of the decisions of the AU, as spelt out in the protocol establishing the Peace and Security Council, for example, the chairperson is vested with the power of taking steps to “prevent potential conflicts, resolve actual conflicts and promote peace-building and post-conflict reconstruction”.

It is therefore critical that the AU ensures that only the best candidate lands the position especially at this particular juncture where Africa needs strong democratic leadership to steer the continent to pragmatic economic integration.

More than just being the driver in shaping the continental economic trade, political and security agenda, the commission chairperson is also responsible for mobilising common African positions on matters of global governance and champions Africa’s voice in the global scale.

Africa faces a myriad of challenges that need only the best minds to dissect and find a remedy. A visionary leadership with a pan-African conviction is needed in whoever is aspiring for the top post.

The commission chair post is such a critical position that involves the mobilisation of member states to pursue the continental agenda.

The stalemate that emerged at Kigali is not new. It is part of the democratic process that has now become a culture within the African Union.

Dr Dlamini-Zuma, who was Sadc’s candidate, faced fierce contest from the then incumbent Dr Jean Ping in 2012. None of the candidates managed to garner the two-thirds majority and the vote was delayed until the next summit which she eventually won.

Unlike the Dlamini-Zuma-Jean Ping contest, this year’s run-up to the elections was not only lukewarm but failed to generate much public and media attention.

Of the three candidates, Botswana’s Dr Venson-Moitoi is the oldest at 65 years but probably the strongest of them all.

According to the website of Botswana’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation, which Dr Venson-Moitoi heads, the minister is a former journalist and holds a Diploma in Local Government from the Institute of Public Service in Connecticut, USA, and also holds a Master of Science in Administration from Central Michigan University.

She was awarded an honorary doctorate in Social Development based on a review of her work and writing on government and governance. Besides her public service, Dr Venson-Moitoi also worked as the chief executive officer of the Kalahari Conservation Society from 1993 to 1994.

She also headed the Institute for Local Government (INLOGOV) in Cape Town, South Africa, from 1994 to 1998 and also carried out private Consultancy work in Local Government.

During the same period she did short projects for UNDP in Zimbabwe and Gambia as well as GIZ in South Africa. Given her excellent professional background, Dr Venson-Moitoi seriously has an edge over her opponents.

Dr Venson-Moitoi’s minor setback seems to be no clear regional consensus over her candidature. Hope is, however, high that Dr Venson-Moitoi who had the highest votes of 23 will lend the post in the second round.

The hope is hinged on the international leveraging she will get from former Botswana President Festus Mogae who is a recipient of the Moi Ibrahim Foundation’s $5 million Leadership Awards in 2008 for democratic excellence.

The youngest and most inexperienced but well-funded candidate is Equatorial Guinea’s Mba Mokuy (51) who despite his lack of experience in his campaign, is old enough to romp him to victory come January next year.

Mba Mokuy is the Equatorial Guinea’s current Foreign Affairs Minister, International Co-operation and Francophone Affairs. According to the official web page of the Government of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea, Mba Mokuy is said to have visited several countries on the continent explaining his motivation for wanting to be the AU Commission chairperson.

He is said to have held talks with the presidents of Guinea (Conakry), Liberia, Benin and Ghana. If the issue is about experience and international exposure, then Uganda’s Dr Wandira Kazibwe Specioza has all the credentials.

Having been the first female Vice President of a country on the continent, Dr Specioza boasts of having been the UN special envoy on HIV/AIDS and serves on one of the components of the Africa Peace and Security Architecture, the AU panel of the wise.

According to her webpage, www.speciosawandira.com, Dr Wandira Kazibwe lists herself as the Eastern African candidate who advances a gender dimension to her campaign saying it was “desirable for women to take top political leadership positions in Africa’s governments”.

She says she has participated in strategic peace interventions including mediation in the Burundi conflict something that has helped her internalise Africa’s security and how to silence guns.

Before her appointment as Vice President of Uganda, Dr Wandira Kazibwe Specioza had served in various capacities as a cabinet minister.

A surgeon with a Harvard Doctorate in Global Health and Population from the Harvard School of Public Health, she says she is highly skilled with the capacity to “triangulate social, economic and biological data for policy, planning, and resource mobilisation.

She has led a team of planning experts and technocrats to mobilise Ugandans for the required health system changes for a healthier and productive Ugandan population.”

She is also the founder and sitting member of the Board of the Coalition for Dialogue on Africa (CODA), an independent Africa-owned think-tank that identifies and discusses issues of importance to Africa’s development, within a global context.

But despite the excellent resume’ of the three candidates, it seems delegates at the Kigali summit were not impressed resulting in none of the candidates being able to garner the required two-thirds majority votes.

The discord seems to have been initiated by the Senegalese President Mackay Sall who in April this year at a Tana High Level Forum on security in Africa held in Bar Dar, Ethiopia, emphasised “the need for the emergence of a good candidate for the chairmanship of the soon-to-be vacant African Union Commission in view of the decision of Mrs Dlamini-Zuma not to run for the second term.”

In total defiance of the April deadline for the submission of candidates’ names, Senegal announced that it was fielding Professor Abdoulaye Bathily as the AU Commission chairperson well after the expiry date. Prof Bathily is the current Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Central Africa and Head of UN Office to the region.

Senegal’s sentiments seem to be shared by ECOWAS which before the Kigali summit had called for the postponement of the elections.

Besides Prof Bathily, there is strong expectation in diplomatic circles that Algeria will also present its current Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ramtane Lamamra for the top job. Lamamra is a respected former AU peace and security chief.

So until the next election in January 2017 to be held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, it is envisaged there will be heightened interest from the public and the media in scrutinising the candidates so that the best is elected. The post is too critical to hand to a person of average capacity Zimpapers Syndication Service.


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