Dlamini-Zuma’s Leadership of the AU Commission: Critical Challenges and Prospects

When Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, then South Africa’s minister of foreign affairs, facilitated the family thinking-discussion session in her office at the Union Building in Tshwane, involving actor and social activist, Harry Belafonte, musicians, Caiphus Semenya and Letta Mbulu, and myself to chart a framework for linking Africa’s youth with the African-American youth, I found myself thinking that after that historic moment I would ask her to grant me permission to write her biography.

You can imagine my excitement when she consented!

I am ashamed that following the sociopolitical turbulence after the Polokwane tsunamic tremors, the atmosphere was not ideal to follow up and execute this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I hope it is not too late.

(I will take the liberty to call Dr Dlamini-Zuma MaAfrica)

MaAfrica’s historic election as chairperson of the African Union (AU) followed a fierce contestation among the 54 AU member states. Many reasons were punted for this contestation, among them the presumed linguistic war between the so-called Anglophone and Francophone African countries. In other words, Africa is divided along neo-colonial paradigms. This characterisation ignored African countries that have Portuguese as the official national language (Lusophone) and the others with Swahili, Spanish and Arabic.

The other explanation was the AU tradition that the larger countries with greater political and economic power, and which fund the AU above their assessed contributions, ought not to be at the helm at the AU’s secretariat because they may attempt to dictate how the organisation is run.

This thinking does not take into account that the supreme decision making structure of the AU is the Assembly of the Union (heads of state and government), which adopts negotiated draft agreements prepared and presented by the executive council - ministers of foreign affairs or other designated ministers or authorities. This is what former president Thabo Mbeki was emphasising in the interview published in The Sunday Independent on 7 October 2012 in which he warned against raising high expectations.

A commentator on the contested election failed to point out that some countries opposed Dr Dlamini-Zuma’s candidacy because South Africa was wrongly or rightly said to be using the Muammar Gaddafi ‘diplomacy’- that is, bribing corruptible leaders of some countries.

Many countries also regarded her candidacy as an attempt to extend the Zuma family empire, and by extension the presidency of the Republic of South Africa. This group either refused to disclose that she had divorced President Jacob Zuma many years before he became president or they simply reasoned that formal divorces do not necessarily end personal relations.

There are also countries that did not support her candidacy because South Africa had let them down by deferring at the last minute the Africa Diaspora Summit scheduled for 2008 (the government’s and AU’s Notes Verbale dated 24 September 2008). This was because then president Mbeki was ingloriously coerced to resign. Another reason was the Afrophobic criminal violence in the country, which enjoys impunity.

Given that she won a fiercely contested election, MaAfrica’s first challenge will be to heal the wounds of those whose preferred candidate did not win. This requires treating all member states fairly and equally.

The local national politics is getting heated up as leaders in the majority party, the African National Congress (ANC), are tussling for positions that would give them the opportunity to amass wealth and enjoy privileges. MaAfrica needs to declare publicly and unambiguously that she has been elected by Africa to provide leadership of the commission and is not available for nomination for the ANC elections in December 2012. Her name has been bandied around and she is therefore obliged to put it on record that she will serve the full term at the AU. This is her second challenge.

The third challenge is rooting out pockets of mediocrity among the professional staff and ‘experts’ at the commission. This is a disease that is prevalent in the other organs of the AU. There are some deadwoods that member states and the regional economic communities throw to the AU because of the regional representation model. Countries and regions must be persuaded to understand that they fail Africa by not ‘deploying’ the most knowledgeable, talented and hardworking women and men to the AU. Capacity building to achieve what is captured in the African Charter on Values and Principles of Public Service and Administration (2011) is not only necessary at the country levels, it is needed at Africa’s central regional governing organisation. The challenge needs to be turned into an opportunity to add value by strengthening leadership, management, administration and delivery of services.

Fourthly, and this is very critical and urgent, MaAfrica needs to appoint capable emissaries that would actively lobby members of the permanent representatives committee - member states’ ambassadors to the AU and Ethiopia - and the executive council to push for speedy ratification of treaties and establishment of the judicial arm of the AU, the Court of Justice and Human and People’s Rights. At present only the court is functional.

Effective governance of the AU is weakened by the fact that it has the executive structures and the Pan African Parliament, whose limited legislative role needs to be activated soon, but it has no court that can authoritatively and independently interpret the laws and resolve disputes between member states. The AU needs to promote legality and the rule of law in its governance, the same way as it promotes these principles, norms and standards at national level in the member states through the African Peer Review Mechanism of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (2007).

Fifthly, please leave a legacy by working hard and wisely to ensure the African Central Bank, African Monetary Fund and African Investment Bank are up and running during your tenure in this high office.

Sixthly, drive the women agenda vigorously.

- Shadrack Gutto is Professor of African Renaissance Studies at the University of South Africa. Gutto is a public scholar and social activist in the fields of law, human and people’s rights, justice and political economy. This article first appeared in the Business Day

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