Posted on Wednesday, 01 August 2012 16:08

South Africa in charge

Patrick Smith

Historians with a taste for dramatic detail may cite 15 July 2012 as the day when South Africa finally consolidated its leadership of the continent. It was then that Southern Africa’s candidate, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, confounded both sceptics and outright opponents to be elected as the new chairperson of the African Union Commission.

 After the votes were announced at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, an elated President Jacob Zuma, Dlamini-Zuma’s ex-husband, told The Africa Report: “Southern Africa is happy but the whole of Africa is happy.” Her victory would empower women, he insisted. It will also empower Zuma’s own campaign for re-election as president of South Africa’s African National Congress in December.

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni joined in the celebrations, telling us that Dlamini-Zuma would be an effective advocate for Africa, referring to her background as a militant in the liberation struggle: “We are used to diplomats and bureaucrats … having a freedom fighter is value-addition.”

With a taste for vivid West African boubous and pan-African poets, together with a decade as her country’s foreign minister, Dlamini-Zuma is well placed to convince other states of her continental credentials. But she will have to produce results on the ground. That means ending South Africa’s reticence to offer troops and logistics for peacekeeping operations.

Currently, foreign (mainly Western) states and organisations provide over 55% of the AU’s funding. As concerns grow about the independence and sustainability of the AU’s finances, South Africa and other big economies such as Nigeria, Angola and Egypt will have to boost their contributions. That will be wholly good. Higher financial contributions will mean states will take a greater interest in how the organisation is run.

South Africa’s leadership of the AU Commission will also raise ideological and philosophical questions about the pan-Africanist project. Dlamini-Zuma’s ally, former South African President Thabo Mbeki, fought determinedly against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s grandiose plans for quick continental unity. How fast will Dlamini-Zuma push the continental project?

The July summit in Addis agreed to establish a continental free trade area by 2017. Without strong backing from the Commission and Africa’s bigger economies, that won’t happen.
Regional organisations are asserting their authority in relation to the AU. The Inter-Governmental Authority on Development wants to lead on Somalia, and the Economic Community of West African States wants to lead on Mali – just as the Southern African Development Community wants to lead in the crises in Zimbabwe and Madagascar. Managing competing interests will test Dlamini-Zuma’s diplomatic acumen. Getting it wrong will risk failure as the AU seeks to boost its authority on peace and security in relation to the UN.
In its first ten years, the AU’s pioneering officials worked hard to promote political pluralism, sanctions against putschists and ‘non-indifference’ towards oppression and human rights violations. Much needs to be done to monitor and evaluate these efforts. Insiders want to see much more rigour in the African peer review mechanism.

Many are campaigning for the Pan-African Parliament, based in South Africa, to be given legislative power. Its election-monitoring efforts in states such as Zimbabwe have already earned more credibility than the AU or SADC’s own missions. And the prospects, it seems, have improved for a constructive relationship between the AU and the ICC now that Gambia’s Fatou Bensouda has taken over as prosecutor.
As preparations start in Addis Ababa for the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Organisation of African Unity, other big states such as Algeria, Egypt and Nigeria will ponder the new configuration of power in Africa. Certainly Egypt and Nigeria, caught in their respective national political crises, were in no position to challenge South Africa for continental leadership. But Nigerian diplomats will take heart from that slogan commonly emblazoned on the bright yellow buses in Lagos: “No condition is permanent.”

Last Updated on Monday, 06 August 2012 17:08

Patrick Smith

Patrick Smith

Patrick Smith is Editor-in-Chief of The Africa Report. He has edited the political and economic insider newsletter Africa Confidential since 1992 and was associate producer on a documentary about the 2004 coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea commissioned by Britain's Channel 4 television.


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