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The succession issue was not on the formal agenda at the African Union (AU) summit in Addis Ababa at the end of January, but it dominated discussions between politicians, power brokers, diplomats and activists.
The smart money is on Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, chairwoman of the AU Commission, moving back to South Africa in July to take up a senior position in the governing African National Congress (ANC). She remains a front runner to win the party’s nomination to be its presidential candidate in the 2019 elections.
The ANC is old fashioned, I really feel sorry for Dlamini-Zuma. Look at what happened to Tokyo Sexwale when he announced his presidential ambitions!
But when she spoke of her plans to The Africa Report in Addis Ababa, Dlamini-Zuma kept her cards tightly against her chest: “No, I’ve not decided yet. I have time to decide,” she said with a laugh. But, in fact, she had until the end of March to make a formal statement, which is when the AU nominations must be submitted, and she announced that she will not run again.
Some South African diplomats chuckle knowingly when the subject comes up. They will not betray any confidences but simply allude to ANC procedures. The argument goes that Dlamini-Zuma was deployed to Addis Ababa by the ANC leadership. That leadership was largely controlled by South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma, her ex-husband and one of her strongest supporters.
This year, that same ANC leadership, albeit with a growing number of dissenters, will redeploy Dlamini-Zuma to South Africa and its tumultuous politics, or so goes that line of thought. But that logic will be tested at the next step. After quitting the AU, will Dlamini-Zuma be able to face down a widening array of rivals to win the ANC’s presidential nomination?
Opinion on the matter is divided in South Africa. Dlamini-Zuma’s links with President Zuma, whose star is falling rapidly after a succession of political errors, are now a mixed blessing, to say the least. The ANC Women’s League, still proudly loyal to Zuma, is pushing hard for Dlamini-Zuma to be the face of the campaign to have the country’s first female president. But ANC heavyweights such as deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa and secretary general Gwede Mantashe will not lay out the welcome mat for her. They have other women candidates in mind for top ANC posts.
A senior South African diplomat explains: “She [Dlamini-Zuma] would commit political suicide if she announces that she has come back and wants to stand.” Officially, the ANC disavows personal ambitions, so she could not return and make a grand announcement, he adds. “The ANC is old fashioned, I really feel sorry for Dlamini-Zuma. Look at what happened to Tokyo Sexwale when he announced his presidential ambitions!”
Such scenarios, debated in detail in the corridors of the AU Commission as well as the ANC headquarters at Luthuli House in Johannesburg, raise more than a scintilla of doubt about Dlamini-Zuma’s intentions. Whatever she has decided – or is yet to decide – will be based on clear political calculation, according to a senior ANC official. No one who knows her doubts Dlamini-Zuma’s determination when she makes up mind, argues the official: “When she planned on divorcing President Zuma [in 1998] no black lawyer was willing to take on the case. She didn’t feel intimidated and simply found a white lawyer in Johannesburg to deal with the case. That is Ma Dlamini-Zuma!”
Should Dlamini-Zuma stand and fight at the AU, she may face a formidable rival for the top job in the form of Ramtane Lamamra, Algeria’s foreign minister. He expertly chaired the AU’s Peace and Security Council from 2008 to 2013.
Already, Algiers has been taking some not so discreet soundings about support for its candidate. It is likely to get strong backing from its neighbours because a North African has never headed the continental organisation. Francophone states, frustrated by their loss of influence in the AU, see veteran diplomat Lamamra as a powerful ally. At the same time, South Africa and Algeria have been close allies for decades – Nelson Mandela trained with the Front de Libération Nationale in the early 1960s – so there might just be scope for a backroom deal.
Almost certainly, Nigeria, whose citizens currently run the African Development Bank and the African Export-Import Bank, would surely join any such discussions. However, the spectacle of three of Africa’s biggest states sharing out the leadership of its organisations would likely go down badly with many of the smaller states. For many years, the unwritten rule was that Africa’s biggest countries would not compete for the leadership of pan-African organisations. That has been unceremoniously dumped.
At the heart of the matter is the direction of the continental organisation at a time of growing threats to regional security and a deepening economic downturn. Everyone agrees that African states have to work more closely and ef- fectively with each other. The AU should be central to that, but there has been a weakening of continental leadership since the glory days of the organisa- tion’s foundation in South Africa in 2002.
Dlamini-Zuma’s supporters in 2012 hoped she would inject new life into the continental body. Dlamini-Zuma had broken the mould: she was a forceful politician willing to take on entrenched male chauvinism; she was the candidate of South Africa, then the biggest economy on the continent; and she was running against Jean Ping, one of the most experienced diplomats in Africa.
Some praise Dlamini-Zuma for launching initiatives, like opening up the AU to a wider public and cutting bureaucracy. She used the 50th anniversary of the founding of the AU’s precursor, the Organisation of African Unity, to set out a bold vision for Africa in Agenda 2063 – a blueprint for Africa’s development crafted together with the Economic Commission for Africa and the African Development Bank. But of the three pan-African organisations, the AU is still seen as the weakest link – under-funded and prone to internecine battles and turf wars.
Although Dlamini-Zuma repeatedly told journalists that she wanted to move the AU away from crisis management to focus on social and economic development, her tenure has been haunted by a rising tide of security emergencies: in Mali, Somalia, the DRC, Sudan, South Sudan, Central African Republic and now Burundi. For her critics, Dlamini-Zuma’s opening address to the summit in January confirmed her distance from AU realities: she did not refer to any of the pressing matters on the summit agenda, instead she chose to celebrate the positive contribution that artists have made to Africa’s development. ●
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