The AU Chairperson – From the Present to the Future

The emergence of Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma as the first woman chairperson of the African Union Commission was contentious, even though it had the salutary effect of electing a woman to head the premier regional political organization, in Africa. Several reasons may account for the fierce competition between her and her predecessor, Dr. Jean Ping. Principal among them are the revival of the Anglophone-Francophone dichotomy and the subversion of the unwritten understanding that the big five AU members (Algeria, Angola, Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa) should not assume the helm of the commission, perhaps following a similar understanding in the United Nations where the nationals of the five permanent members (China, France, Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States) do not contest for the post of the Secretary-General.  Some also opposed her candidacy for fear of expanding the “Zuma Empire”. 

As Zuma’s mandate is about to end this year, speculations are rife as to whether she will seek a second term or not. Not least because her name is also mentioned as a possible successor to her ex-husband, whose has been experiencing serious political setbacks. The African National Congress (ANC) may invite her to come home and salvage the party. Her silence on the issue does not help matters, providing room for speculation about her successor. Meanwhile, one name that looms large as a prospective candidate is Ramtane Lamamra, current Foreign Minister of Algeria, who distinguished himself as an astute diplomat during his time as the Commissioner of Peace and Security at the AU Commission.  Given that the election of the new chairperson is set to take place in June at the summit in Kigali, Rwanda, the next few months could witness intense lobbying between the regional blocs and also by prospective candidates.

There are mixed reactions when it comes to assessing Dr. Zuma’s performance at the AU.  Some have accused her of failing to embark on her ambitious reform agenda for the organization because she lacked a clear plan to ‘clean’ the Commission of obsolete institutions and structures. She has also been accused of surrounding herself with a South African kitchen cabinet, which alienates her from her principal advisors – the commissioners. Also, her ambitious African leadership agenda is contrary to the serious dependence of the AU on donors for more than 95% of its peace and security budget. The failure of the UN to consider her requests for logistical package for AFISMA in Mali and for former President Buyoya to be appointed the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for MINUSCA also created tense moments in her relationship with the UN. In 2014, Jeune Afrique called on her not to seek a second term for what it said would perpetuate South Africa’s influence on AU decision-making process.

Under Zuma’s watch, the AU has developed and adopted one of the most far-reaching and ambitious programmes of action for the next 50 years – the Agenda 2063 [2]. It is a strategic framework for the socio-economic transformation of the continent over the next 50 years, and builds on, as well as seeks to accelerate the implementation of past and existing continental initiatives for growth and sustainable development. What makes this agenda unique is that it is: (a) based on a bottom-up approach involving extensive consultations with the citizenry; (b) results-oriented with clear goals and targets forming the basis for holding stakeholders accountable; (c) monitoring, evaluation, and accountability ensure planned activities are on track; (d) policy coherence on continental and regional initiatives have been harmonized and brought together under one umbrella for the first time; (e) financing partnerships involving an inward looking resource mobilization strategy; (f) clear communications strategy to enable the grassroots to drive and own the agenda indicating the Africa they want; and (g) local capacity development to build the capabilities required to meet agenda goals and targets.

The seven African Aspirations derived through a consultative process with the African Citizenry are encapsulated below (drawn from the Agenda 2063 –popular version):

  • A prosperous Africa, based on inclusive growth and sustainable development;
  • An integrated continent, politically united, based on the ideals of Pan Africanism and the vision of Africa’s Renaissance;
  • An Africa of good governance, democracy, respect for human rights, justice and the rule of law;
  • A peaceful and secure Africa;
  • Africa with a strong cultural identity, common heritage, values and ethics;
  • An Africa whose development is people driven, relying on the potential offered by people, especially its women and youth and caring for children;
  • An Africa as strong, united and influential global player and partner

While this represents a major milestone for the AU and its relationship with the rest of the continent, her critics say a 50-year agenda is too far in the future for a realistic assessment as most of its proponents will not be alive to see its dividends. In response, the AU Commission states that it is working on a First-Ten-Year Implementation Plan which would help: (a) Identify priority areas, set specific targets, define strategies and policy measures required to implement the first ten-year plan of Agenda 2063; (b) Bring to fruition the Fast Track programmes and initiatives outlined in the Malabo Decisions of the AU to provide the big push and breakthroughs for Africa’s economic and social transformation; (c) Provide information to all key stakeholders at the national, regional and continental levels regarding the expected results and outcomes for the first ten years of the plan and the roles; (d) Assign responsibilities to all stakeholders in the implementation, monitoring and evaluation; and (e) Outline the strategies required to ensure availability of resources and capacities together with citizen’s engagement in the implementation of the First Ten Year Plan.

Pursuant to Agenda 2063, achievements in 2015 include the declaration of the “Year of Women’s Empowerment for the realization of African Agenda 2063”, working together with the Regional Economic Communities (RECs) member states and relevant sectors, successful elections in a number of countries in line with the African Charter on Elections, Governance and Democracy, collective international efforts to defeat the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, and the finalization of the mission of the African Union Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan (AUCISS), the first of its kind on the continent, with recommendations on peacemaking, transitional justice, and sustainable development for the Republic of South Sudan. Unfortunately, blips of disappointment continue to punctuate the continent’s general sense of hope. There are serious concerns about the crises in Libya, Burundi, Libya, Central African Republic, South Sudan and Somalia, where the AU force, AMISOM, has recently suffered heavy losses from Al Shabaab insurgents.

While the next AU chairperson will face a challenging proposition given the ambitious Agenda 2063, the reality is that there will also continue to be distractions from the numerous crises on the continent. With these in mind, it makes sense to caution the Summit to elect a more pragmatic and a unifying Pan-Africanist for the post of AU Chairperson instead of getting bogged down with the politics of regional and linguistic affiliations.

[2] African Union Commission, Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want, 2015 (Accessed February 3, 2015)


About africapeacesupport

Former Representative of the United Nations SecretaryGeneral in Guinea-Bissau and Head of UNOGBIS.
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