New African Union Commission leaders will be elected for the next four years at the African Union’s 27th Heads of State Assembly, underway in Kigali July 17-18. Judging by the fierce battle for the chairperson position in 2012, A.U. Commission leadership is an important matter, bringing prestige and recognition to the winning candidate’s region. The A.U. has increasingly been called on to take more responsibility for issues affecting Africa from Ebola to civil wars in Libya, Central African Republic, and South Sudan.
From Brookings. Story by John Mukum Mbaku, a nonresident senior fellow with the Africa Growth Initiative and an economics professor at Weber State University, a public university in Ogden, Utah, U.S.A.
The upcoming elections are not symbolic. They are about choosing trusted and competent leaders to guide the continent in good times and bad.
The African Union was established in 2002 to replace the Organization of African Unity. Its highest decision-making body is the Assembly of the African Union, which consists of all the heads of state and government of the member states of the A.U. The chairperson of the assembly is the ceremonial head of the A.U. and is elected by the Assembly of Heads of State to serve a one-year term. The current chairman is President Idriss Déby of Chad.
The A.U.’s secretariat is called the African Union Commission and is based in Addis Ababa. The chairperson of the A.U. Commission acts as CEO, legal representative, and accounting officer of the commission. The chairperson is directly responsible to the A.U.’s Executive Council. The current chairwoman of the A.U. Commission is Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma of South Africa.
Zuma has decided not to seek a second term in office.
In April 2016, the Southern African Development Community chose Botswana’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi as its candidate. Botswana has not always supported the A.U. on critical issues such as the International Criminal Court, and experts believe it does not have the good will necessary to garner support for its candidate.
Venson-Moitoi is expected to face two other candidates — Specioza Naigaga Wandira Kazibwe of Uganda representing East Africa and Agapito Mba Mokuy, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Equatorial Guinea representing Central Africa.
Although Mokuy is relatively unknown, his candidacy could be buoyed by the argument that a Spanish-speaking national has never held the A.U. chairperson position. Equatorial Guinea and its President Teodoro Obiang Nguema have given significant assistance to the A.U. over the years. Many financial and in-kind contributions to the A.U. could endear his country and its candidate to the A.U.
During his long tenure as president of Equatorial Guinea, Obiang Nguema has attended all assemblies. Equatorial Guinea hosted A.U. summits in 2011 and 2014. Obiang Nguema served as A.U. chairman in 2011. A Mokuy candidacy could find favor among those who believe it would give voice to small and marginalized countries, as well as members of the continent’s Spanish-speaking community.
South Africa’s A.U. opinions appear closer to Equatorial Guinea’s than Botswana’s on several issues, from the political situation in Burundi to the International Criminal Court and its relations with Africa.
Both Venson-Moitoi and Kazibwe are seasoned civil servants with international and administrative experience and have the potential to function as effective chairpeople. However, the need to give voice within the A.U. to the continent’s historically marginalized regions could push Mokuy’s candidacy to the top.
Supporters of a Mokuy candidacy may worry that accusations of corruption and repression in Equatorial Guinea by the international community could negatively affect how their candidate is perceived by voters.
Also important to voters is their relationship with former colonial powers. In the last election, one argument that helped defeat then-Chairman Jean Ping was that he and his Gabonese government were too pro-France. This issue may not be a factor in the 2016 elections. Equatorial Guinea, Uganda, and Botswana are not considered extremely close to their former colonizers.
Gender and regional representation should be important considerations for voters. Both Venson-Moitoi and Kazibwe are women, and their election would continue to support diversity in African leadership. Then again, Mokuy’s election would enhance regional and small-state representation.
No matter who wins, the African Union faces an uphill battle.
The A.U. faces many challenges including its dependence on foreign aid for its financing. The A.U. budget for 2016 is $416 million, of which 40 percent is assessed on member states. The main foreign donors are the U.S., Canada, China, and the European Union.
In Africa, South Africa, Angola, Nigeria, and Algeria are the best-paying rich countries. Other countries are struggling to pay, including Egypt, Libya, Sudan, and Cameroon.
Read more at Brookings.
Sign up for the Moguldom newsletter — the most compelling business news you need to know about reversing inequality in tech, delivered straight to your inbox.