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Botswana, Kenya in tough race for AU chair



Nigeria split between backing Kenya and Senegal

au, botswana, pelonomi venson-moitoi

By John Eche


Either of Botswana or Kenya appears to be in pole position to occupy the plum position of Chairperson of the Africa Union as the race hots up ahead of voting shortly, The Difference checks have unearthed.

Elections for the position which is being vacated by the South African and former wife of President Jacob Zuma, Ms. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma was stalemated at the historic AU session in August that had ratified the coming into force of the All-Africa Single Union passport.

Ahead of the rescheduled vote, the candidates have recently addressed the Union and proceeded on very intense lobbying rounds. In one such encounter, Kenya last week reached out to Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar, with the East African nation’s candidate for the position, Amina Mohamed being introduced to Boubacar by Kenya’s Deputy President, William Ruto.

Boubacar, who is from the very influential Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) region, which doubles as the largest bloc with 16 votes out of a total of 54, is being expected to help rally others from within the sub-region and most notably, the larger Francophone sub-bloc.

Indeed, pundits say that the Kenyan candidate must get support from West Africa to be assured of a win.

Although her supporters are confident that, with the East African Community, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) and several other individual countries already supporting her, she may already have secured at least half the votes, they yet recognise that the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), the largest bloc with 16 votes, remains her greatest hurdle.

At the time of going to press, Ms Mohamed had reportedly secured the support of five members of the EAC — Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda, as well as South Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia. She has also secured the support of 14 members of Comesa, and some Ecowas members like Nigeria and Togo had also reportedly promised to support her.

The campaign to get her elected has already taken her to Nigeria, Mozambique, Senegal, Angola, the Sahrawi Arab Republic and Chad.

However, Ms Mohamed is yet to get the support of Senegal, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali and Ivory Coast; all within West Africa, even as she only recently started reaching out to Portuguese-speaking Angola, Mozambique and Sao Tome.

Another possible challenge to her candidacy is what analysts say is the underlying competition between Francophone and Anglophone countries, which are equally matched at the AU. Then there is the resistance from the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which had presented the outgoing chair of the union and which is said to be strongly behind the aspirations of Mohamed’s closest rival, Botswana’s Foreign Affairs Minister Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi.

In their explanations, SADC members are saying that the outgoing chair Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma could have stayed on for a second four-year term, but since she had opted out prematurely  – apparently to pursue her other long-running interest to succeed ex-hubby, Jacob Zuma in the South African presidency and leadership of the ruling ANC – the bloc should be allowed to retain the seat. As things stand then, Venson-Moitoi clearly has the support of SADC countries, although Ms Mohammed has equally been reaching out to diverse states within the equally important Southern African bloc.

On their part, the core of ECOWAS is generally said to be behind the Senegalese candidate, 69-year-old veteran diplomat Abdoulaye Bathily. President Sall reportedly intervened on his behalf to delay the elections in July in Kigali so that Prof Bathily could participate. Should Nigeria ultimately go with standing with ECOWAS as a bloc, that would also be denying Ms Mohamed of one more critical vote.

Another contender, the Central African, Agapito Mba Mokuy of Equatorial Guinea, 51, has the full support of his president, Obiang Nguema, who is using the nation’s vast oil resources to lobby other African heads of state. To his credit also, Mr Mokuy can speak six international languages and has extensive experience on the diplomatic circuit.

Another Central African, Moussa Faki Mahamat, the foreign minister of Chad, is getting support from President Idriss Deby, the current AU chairperson.

Ultimately, the candidate who wins must garner support from two-thirds of the 55 member states, or 37 votes.

In the elections held in July in Kigali, Ms Venson-Moitoi, former Ugandan vice-president Specioza Kazibwe and Mr Mokuy failed to meet the two-thirds threshold. In a most revealing move then, ECOWAS members, led by Senegal, influenced 28 members to boycott the voting on grounds that none of them had the pedigree to lead the continental body.

Ms Moitoi and Mr Mokuy are still in the race. Diplomatic sources from Addis Ababa say that Ms Mohamed could win in the second round after rigorous lobbying. This is because, with all the candidates being considered to be fairly strong, there is not likely to be an outright winner in the first round.


Ms. Venson-Moitoi of Botswana

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