AU Election Test of Africa's Unity and Commitment to Equality

Tuesday, May 29, 2012 - 14:40
In this article, the author argues that the possible election of Home Affairs Minister, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, to chair the African Union (AU) Commission at the upcoming AU Summit in Malawi, could be history in the making for gender equality in South Africa
Africa Day 2012 was celebrated under the theme ‘Towards the Realisation of a United and Integrated Africa and its Diaspora’. The theme is particularly significant as the election of the Africa Union (AU) chairperson draws closer with a strong female contender, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Minister of Home Affairs in South Africa.

The AU Summit will be held from 9-10 July 2012 in Malawi, which is still basking in the glory of having the first female President in Southern Africa.

The first election for the AU chairperson at the end of January, ended in a deadlock when the two contestants, Dlamini-Zuma and the current chairperson, Jean Ping, did not get the two-thirds majority of the votes.

Currently, Dlamini-Zuma has the support of Southern African Development Community (SADC) heads of state and government. The Pan African Business Forum, a body with a membership of 350 businesswomen, businessmen and business professionals; that aims to make the business climate in Africa conducive for investors has endorsed Dlamini-Zuma's candidature. The Forum's executive president, Prince Prosper Ladislas Agbesi, says Dlamini-Zuma's election ‘will be victory for gender equality and a fresh awakening to Pan African sentiments’.

Other prominent figures that are backing Dlamini-Zuma for AU chairpersonship include Nigerian vice-president, Mohammed Namadi Sambo and Zambia's Foreign Affairs Minister, Given Lubinda. But the election process has been fraught with controversy, with clear divides between the Anglophone and Francophone blocs. There is also a strong anti ‘big brother’ South African lobby within the AU.

Africa Day is a reminder that boundaries created by colonialism are superficial. Instead, Africa is a united continent with people who have a unity of purpose in economic and political development.

However, according to Professor Stephen Friedman, Johannesburg University's director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy, "Countries generally vote along geopolitical lines, including which countries they have a strong relationship with, not who is necessarily the ideal candidate."

The July Summit will thus be a litmus test for Africa's unity. Another stalemate will be a clear indication that the continent is indeed divided: not the message that the second fastest growing continent in the world would want to give out!

This election should illustrate that Africa values and practices democracy. Democracy in this case would mean that Ping, who has served the institution since 2008 will pass on the baton to the next person, Dlamini-Zuma, making her the first female chairperson of the AU.

Men have been at the helm of this post since the establishment of the AU. These are Alpha Ouma Konare from Mali and his deputy Patrick Kayumba Mazimhaka of Rwanda who led the African Union Commission from 2003. In the 2008 elections, Jean Ping of Gabon became chair of the commission and his deputy has been Erastus Mwencha of Kenya. They were all elected before the adoption of the AU Gender Policy in 2009.

The Gender Policy seeks among other things, "To ensure gender parity (50/ 50) as an institutional culture, promote values and work practices within the AU Commission, other AU organs, the Regional Economic Communities (RECs) and Member States." Thus the election of Dlamini-Zuma will demonstrate that the institution puts in place policies and makes them a lived reality by implementing them.

The implementation of the AU Gender Policy at this year’s elections is crucial to the achievements of the Union's mission and objectives. Not only does it offer an opportunity for the advancement and achievement of gender equality between women and men, but it can also facilitate the mainstreaming of gender issues in the African agenda especially during the African Women's Decade.

The same spirit that united Africans during the Africa Cup of Nations is the same spirit which should be exhibited during the July election. The Africa Cup of Nations brought women and men of Africa together. We all celebrated Zambia's championship in unity. The election of Dlamini-Zuma also has the potential to bring the continent together.

In the January election, there were three rounds of stiff competition between the two candidates vying for the AU chairperson post. In all the rounds, Jean Ping stayed ahead of Dlamini-Zuma. In the first round, Ping got 28 votes against 25; then 27 votes while Dlamini-Zuma got 26; and in the last round Ping obtained 29 votes while his competitor got 24 votes. In all the rounds, Ping did not get the absolute majority, being two-thirds of votes. The AU leadership postponed the election to July 2012.

One of my favourite columnists, Nikiwe Bikitsha, based in South Africa, wrote that Dlamini-Zuma's defeat in January is welcome because they need her home. I found that to be rather a defeatist approach to the gender equality agenda. Dlamini-Zuma represents the able women on the continent and for as long as we have the women's movement. We need to keep pushing for women to be recognised as an integral part of Africa's development and unity. I call on the women's movement in Africa to launch a campaign to encourage Dlamini-Zuma's election in July.

Let us all remember this May as we celebrate Africa's unity that Africa is a continent of so many possibilities. We did not know that Zambia would scoop the first prize at the Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon. Electing Dlamini-Zuma would be a pleasant surprise! Her election is possible. If soccer can unite us as one people, so can her election!

- Saeanna Chingamuka is the Editor at Gender Links. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service, bringing you fresh views on everyday news.
Author(s): 
Saeanna Chingamuka

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