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South Africa’s Dlamini-Zuma’s awful African Union legacy
She would bring with her the same torpid inaction she brought to the AU. Her supporters say she has kept the AU ship steady, and this is true, but she has done nothing to reinvigorate the organisation to keep it dynamic and useful to a rapidly changing continent.
She succeeded Gabon’s Jean Ping after a bitter competition that took three electoral rounds. It was seen in 2012 as a South African power play and split the states of Africa along Anglophone and Francophone lines.
In a way, the AU is a concentrated microcosm of Africa and its ills
Ping, a Gabonese citizen of half-Chinese parentage, is an urbane and cultivated person of immaculate, elite French formation. Dlamini-Zuma is herself a highly educated person, having obtained her medical degrees from Bristol, but was a poor health minister under President Nelson Mandela. The public protector criticised her for weak financial controls and, more damningly, she was instrumental in the choice of Virodene as an anti-AIDS drug. It was cheaper than other drugs but the scientific community saw it almost unanimously as ineffective. Her qualities as a doctor, as well as a minister, were thus questioned.
After President Thabo Mbeki fired the then deputy president Jacob Zuma, she was offered her former husband’s position – which she declined. But she was by then foreign affairs minister and, later, served under Zuma as home affairs minister. Although the two divorced in 1998 and he has married many times, they have retained a cordial relationship and she is loyal enough to him for many to think her ascension to the presidency would guarantee protection for a man accused of vast corruption.
As chairperson of the AU, she may have played a role in ensuring the safe passage of Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir out of South Africa in 2016, when the International Criminal Court (ICC) had issued a warrant for his arrest. The South African High Court accused the government of “disgraceful conduct” in letting Bashir go.
Whether Dlamini-Zuma acted in any behind-the-scenes fashion or not, the AU under her charge has not come to any rapprochement or understanding with the ICC – nor issued any compelling statement as to why African leaders should be exempt from justice. The record of the ICC in indicting mainly African figures does not mean they are treated unjustly. It just means figures from other parts of the world are not pursued, and they should be.
Dlamini-Zuma has not sought major reforms of the AU bureaucracy. Maybe, like the United Nations (UN) and European Union (EU) bureaucracies, reform is impossible. But she ran on a ticket of reform and, once elected, did not even try. In particular, reform of the cumbersome financial problems of the organisation has not been undertaken. Her penchant for micromanagement has meant huge delays in decision-making. Delegation seems not to be her strength.
The AU is meant to be an African organisation for Africa. But, half way through her term, 95% of the peace and security budget, indeed half of the AU’s total annual budget of $278m, was funded by external donors. As for peacekeeping, she has had great problems establishing cooperation with the UN in the complex situations of insurrection and struggle in Mali and Central African Republic.
Dlamini-Zuma dislikes the French military presence in many Francophone jurisdictions, but the AU has struggled to develop its own rapid reaction force. The French entered Mali in early 2013 and rolled back the advancing Islamic forces only because the AU force would not have been ready for at least a further two months after what would have been a total victory for the insurrection.
Dlamini-Zuma has been accused of acting as an extension of her ex-husband’s and South African interests in, for example, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where President Joseph Kabila has sought a third term without the AU ensuring that the constitutional limits of two terms should be maintained and enforced. The same goes for Burundi. This, of course, is the crux of the matter.
The AU chairperson has considerable authority invested in her office, but there has been little pressure within Africa itself for her or the AU to live up to the pious declarations and principles that accompanied its foundation. In a way, the AU is a concentrated microcosm of Africa and its ills. However, unlike the wider continent, it is still only one organisation.
And one concentrated organisation is capable at least of an effort to reform itself and to do things like peacekeeping in a proper way. The estimate of two million deaths in the wars of eastern DRC are a heavy stain on an organisation that has not prevented them or negotiated even an uneasy stability in the region.
The danger is of an organisation cut off from its membership. The beautiful, or grandiose, new headquarters of the AU – built by the Chinese complete with golden statue of Nkrumah – is itself an example of isolation. The headquarters is not just a huge conference chamber and offices. It is an entire complex, complete with luxury hotel for African presidents arriving in Addis Ababa for summits.
From the airport to the headquarters and back again, one need never step outside a limousine or the walled compound of the AU; one need not speak to any ordinary Ethiopian; and one need not learn anything of a common person’s problems. If complaints of the privileged positions of Eurocrats are one of the factors leading the EU into crisis, the Afrocrats – from presidents to staff members – lead lives that are unrelated to Africa as a whole.
Dlamini-Zuma’s stepping down, probably to contest in the first instance the deputy presidency of the governing African National Congress party, has engendered a competition for her succession. There are a number of female candidates, so at least she has broken down the gender barrier at the highest African level.
However, the demand of Southern African Development Community countries that it should be another Southern African – on the grounds that they were entitled to two terms, not just one – while specious in itself has nevertheless epitomised the AU’s top job merely as a political prize.
Dlamini-Zuma was seen by many as a place-person: Jacob Zuma’s emissary to Addis. When she began, South Africa was the richest country in Africa. It is not now, having slipped to third, behind Nigeria and Egypt. South Africa may no longer have the clout to determine who comes after Dlamini-Zuma at a time when continental political and economic leadership is in high demand. ●