RIVALRY between Nigeria and South Africa, and a deep diplomatic cleavage in the African Union, may have led to the failure of the AU to elect a substantive chairperson for the AU Commission after four rounds of voting that ended without the emergence of a winner last Monday in Addis Ababa.
Informed Diplomatic sources considered the deadlocked election as a victory for Nigeria, which is opposed to emergence of South Africa’s candidate on the grounds that the top five members of the AU, as was in the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) should not be presenting candidates for the topmost office of the organisation.
While the incumbent AU Chairperson, Dr. Jean Ping, from Gabon is being supported by Nigeria, South Africa chose to sponsor an opponent and decided on its own Home Affairs Minister, Ms. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the former wife of President Jacob Zuma.
While the South Africans had raised questions about Ping’s handling of the Libyan and Ivory Coast crises, Nigeria had been more supportive of Ping’s management of the crises although Ping has not always been known to be pro-Nigeria.
Both Nigeria and South Africa have stayed on opposing sides on the crises in Libya and Ivory Coast both of which led to a change in regimes.
The depth of the division among AU leaders and countries on the matter is fairly profound. The first three rounds of the election saw Ping leading marginally but short of 36 votes needed for a 2/3 majority of AU members. By the fourth round, when the South African candidate had to step down, Ping standing alone could not even get the needed votes.
Also, days after the deadlocked voting in Addis Ababa, and after the AU summit decided to postpone the election for another six months until the next summit in Malawi, conflicting information is coming out regarding the status of the incumbent Chairperson, Jean Ping.
While the AU, in a statement on Tuesday, said Ping would continue to act in his capacity as AU Commission Chairperson until the next summit, the South African Ambassador to the United Nations said on the same day in New York that Ping’s deputy would take over instead of Ping staying for another six months.
The South African Permanent Representative to the UN, who was the President of the Security Council in January, Ambassador Baso Sangqu, was asked by the UN press on his country’s bid to be the next AU Commission Chairperson. According to him, the AU had made a decision to discuss the election of the Chairperson again in June and that a committee had been set up for that process.
But he added that, after the current Chair’s term ended, the Deputy Chair of the African Union Commission would take over until a successor was chosen.
However, the AU summit press release issued last Tuesday had actually indicated an extension of the term by another six months.
According to the statement, at the AU summit “the Heads of States adopted 25 Decisions, one resolution and two Declarations. Amongst the decisions is the suspension of the elections of the Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson of the AU Commission, alongside that of the eight Commissioners. This came after long debate as none of the candidates for the chairmanship could obtain the 2/3 votes as stipulated in the AU constitution.”
Furthermore, the AU “summit resolved that an ad-hoc committee be set up as soon as possible to look into the election matter ahead of the next AU summit scheduled for June 2012 in the Republic of Malawi. The ad-hoc committee is expected to meet in March 2012. To that effect, the mandate of the present Commission was extended until the next AU Summit.”
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a top Nigerian diplomat explained the Federal Government’s decision not to support South Africa.
Said the senior diplomat, ”it is a matter of principle. Just as the US or any of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council — called P5 — will not conceive canvassing for the United Nations Secretary-General’s post, so too, the African Union ‘P5’ members should not envisage replacing Jean Ping as the President of the AU commission.”
The AU P5 are Nigeria, Algeria, Egypt, South Africa and Libya.
But there are fears that President Jacob Zuma might insist on presenting the South African candidate again and go all the way to influence and “economically persuade smaller African states to their side.
Commenting on the deadlocked election, a leading South Africa-based Think Tank, Institute for Security Studies (ISS), after last Monday’s AU summit, noted that “one could argue that the bid by South Africa and Nigeria’s strong opposition to it (supported by a large Francophone block), was what caused the stalemate during the voting.”
According to the organisation formed during the hey days of apartheid South Africa, “if Dlamini-Zuma had won the vote,.. Nigeria would decide to oppose everything the chairperson does during her term simply because she is South African; that would be extremely harmful to the continent.”
According to the Constitutive Act of the African Union, the chairperson of the AU Commission, made up of 10 key members, are elected every four years to run the AU Commission.
Also, the chairperson, deputy chair and commissioners can serve a maximum of two four-year terms with the chair and deputy chair elected by the Assembly of Heads of State and Government during a secret ballot, as was held last Monday.
Since the AU was formed in 2002, its Commission has produced three chairpersons: former Ivorian Foreign Minister, Amara Essy, former Malian President, Alpha Omar Konaré, and Ping, elected in February 2008.