By Raymond M Brown, IJP Co-Founder
The African Union has elected its first woman chair, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma of South Africa. In an election laden with ICC implications and subtext she defeated the incumbent Jean Ping of Gabon. The AU was forced to conduct the election during its weekend summit in Addis Ababa because of a deadlock at its January 2012 meeting.
The incumbent Ping was consistently critical of the ICC for investigating situations in Africa. Ping also condemned the ICC warrant for Omar Al-Bashir of the Sudan. Dlaimini-Zuma criticized the Bashir warrant as “regrettable” because of its impact on peace negotations and the South African government has been inconsistent with respect to the enforcement of the warrant. However, Dlamini-Zuma and the South African regime are seen as generally more supportive of the ICC than Ping.
ICC concerns also complicated the AU election in subtle ways. Prior to the January vote Nigeria took the position that continental powerhouses like itself and South Africa should leave the position of AU Chair to smaller nations. Consequently, Dlamini-Zuma was formally advanced as a candidate of SADC, the Southern African Development Community. This strategy aggravated sub regional tensions surrounding the elections.
Prior to this weekend’s vote some observers felt that SADC’s sponsorship became a liability for Dlamini-Zuma when Joyce Banda, President of Malawi (a SADC member) forced the AU to move its summit to Addis Ababa. Banda had threatened to enforce the ICC warrant for Bashir had the Sudanese fugitive President attended the summit, then scheduled for her capital of Lilongwe.
Prior to last weekend’s AU vote Kenya opposed Dlamini-Zuma’s election partially because of subregional concerns. Kenya currently holds a Deputy Chair position in the AU and feared losing this post if the Chair was also Anglophone. Kenya also resisted enhanced power for its South African rival and for the southern sub region generally. However, many observers feel that Kenya’s opposition to Dlamini-Zuma’s bid was deeply affected by its belief that rallying AU opposition to the ICC and to the upcoming trials of 4 Kenyan nationals in the Hague would be easier with Ping as the AU Chair.
Dlaimini-Zuma has a long history in governmental and diplomatic affairs having served as her country’s Minister of Health, Foreign Minister, and finally, Interior Minister under her then former husband Jacob Zuma. Another issue that likely persuaded 37 AU countries to vote against Ping was the perception that he had not been strong in building consensus among AU members around coordinated responses to the armed conflicts in the Ivory Coast and Libya.
Photo Credit: Al Jazeera