(David Osiany)–As the assembly of African Union heads of States opens in Addis Ababa this weekend, African leaders will be required to select a chairperson of the Union for 2010. Up to the very last moment, lobbying will take place.
This year, it is widely expected that with the support of the Southern Africa states under SADC, Malawi will be nominated to represent the Union. Yet, Muammar al-Gaddaffi, the previous chairperson, is not ready to handover. A memo by Tunisia calling for an extension of his one-year tenure is currently circulating within diplomatic circles in Addis and the capitals of Africa.
According to the recently Oxfam and AFRIMAP published ‘Strengthening Popular Participation in the African Union: Guide to AU Structures and Processes’, the role of the chairperson is to chair bi-annual assemblies, represent AU in Africa and internationally. In international global policy negotiations on trade, financing for development and climate change, it is the chairperson’s face that is seen.
As heads of States sit to nominate a new chairperson, it is clear that previous chairpersons have left different legacies. Seven chairpersons have occupied this seat since 2002. They have been Thabo Mbeki (2002), Joaquim Chissano (2003), Olusegun Obasanjo (2004-5), Denis Nguesso (2006), John Kuffuor (2007), Jakaya Kikwete (2008) and Muammar al-Gaddaffi (2009).
Mbeki, Obasanjo and Kikwete terms can be associated with economic progress. It was under Mbeki that the neo-liberal New Partnership for Africa’s Development NEPAD was formed to deal with problems of escalating poverty levels, underdevelopment and the continued marginalisation of Africa. Obasanjo can be linked to the so-called Year of Africa, in which pressure by civil society organisations supported by willingness in Africa and the G8 led to debt cancellation and heightened ambitions for aid to Africa. It was during Kikwete term that Africa was widely recognised as having consistently grown on average by 5.8 per cent.
Apart from economic issues, the AU chairpersons have often had to personally intervene to resolve the continent’s conflicts. Obasanjo’s 18-month tenure was marked by active diplomacy and trouble-shooting shuttles to ensure that Darfur did not spill over to Chad and the Central African Republic and the reversal of the coup of Sao Tome and Principe. Kuffuor is renowned for having turned a ‘cup of tea’ into a national peace accord between Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga of Kenya following a crisis over the 2007 general elections. The disagreement between the two party leaders and their parties had led to the deaths of over a thousand and displacement of 250,000 men, women and children. Although it was Kikwete that presided over the signing of the Accord, it was Kuffour who had brought in the wise and respected mediation of H.E Kofi Annan. During his term of office Kikwete also dealt with delicate situations in Zimbabwe, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Comoros and Burundi peace processes.
There have also been missed opportunities and set backs for which the chairpersons can also take responsibility. In 2006 heads of States approved a policy that they would not undermine Africa’s negotiating policy by meeting with individual states in future. This assembly was overturned within a year and under Nguesso, Kuffour, Kikwete and al-Gaddaffi, heads of States have lined up to meet the presidents and premiers of China, Japan and even the modestly influentially Turkey.
Successes abroad have not translated into victories at home. Kikwete for example, has still not found a formula to resolve the political impasse in Zanzibar or enthuse Tanzanians to support even the East Africa Federation. Most policy declarations, rights instruments and protocols have yet to be relevant for transforming economic production, job creation and securing basic rights to education and health in Africa.
In 2006, a protracted two-day disagreement on whether Sudanese President Omar al Bashir could take up the Presidency while embroiled in civil strife in Darfur led to the compromise candidate President Nguesso being selected. Nguesso’s term left no distinguishable impact. He did make the US and European press for irresponsible misspending in hotels during the UN General Assembly over September 2006. It was reported that Nguesso comfortably spent more in a week while he and his entourage were in New York than the £106,000 granted by Britain the Republic of Congo in humanitarian aid.
As the tenure of Gaddafi comes to an end (or is extended), he will be remembered as having publicly contradicted the AU’s own position on the importance of multi-party democracy, championed the Unites States of Africa and installed himself as the ‘King of Kings’, thus completing his decline from coup leader to a monarch. His spirited and crude attempts to force Africa’s leaders to adopt the United States of Africa has left the majority of countries cold to the idea.
With this precedence, what could the next chairperson leave as their legacy? 2010 will see a number of national elections in several countries most notably difficult ones in Cote d’Ivoire and Sudan. African governments lag behind in ratifying and implementing key AU decisions, most notably, The Charter on Democracy, Good Governance and Elections. There is yet no breakthrough on the transformation of the African Union and Africa needs to negotiate effectively during the upcoming international conferences on the Beijing Platform for Action, UN General Assembly and the UN Forum on Climate Change.
Should Bingu wa Mutharika be the next African President, he could translate national successes in Malawian agriculture to challenge other governments to invest more in agriculture and to focus on women farmers. As the AU declares 2010 a year of peace and security, he must turn his attention to resolving the impending risks of succession in Sudan, the silent misery in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and West African political crises such as Guinea Bissau.
His first challenge however, will be whether Africa’s leaders will disregard the principle of rotating the presidency through Africa’s regions every year and extend Gaddaffi’s term. Given the preoccupation of some African leaders to extend their terms infinitely and Gaddaffi inability to step down in Libya after decades of single party rule, perhaps Gaddaffi may get a second and third t
erm? I hope not.
* David Osiany is a Pan Africanist policy analyst working in Kenya.