AU: Term of office of commission extended

Addis Ababa – The heads of state summit of the African Union (AU), unable to elect a new chairperson for the organisation’s executive body, the AU Commission, opted on Monday to extend by a further six months the terms of office of the existing Commission members – even though this seems a clear breach of the AU’s own rules.

The decision was taken during a marathon closed door session which began on Monday morning and did not end until 01.00 local time on Tuesday.

Mozambican Foreign Minister Oldemiro Baloi, who represented President Armando Guebuza in the closing stages of the meeting, told reporters that the alternative to prolonging the mandate of the current commission until the next summit, due to be held in Malawi in June or July, would have been to allow a vacuum, with all the implications that would have had for the continental body.

The dilemma arose because neither of the two candidates for chairperson of the AU Commission could obtain the necessary two thirds majority of the 53 AU member states entitled to vote. The incumbent, Jean Ping of Gabon, was facing a challenge from South African Home Affairs Minister, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who had the backing of the regional bloc, SADC (Southern African Development Community).

After three rounds of voting, Ping maintained a narrow advantage over Dlamini-Zuma, but was still well short of a two thirds majority. Under the rules, Dlamini-Zuma was obliged to withdraw after the third round, and on the fourth round the only name on the ballot paper was Ping’s.

Even so, he could not obtain the two thirds required. He only received 33 votes – which means that 20 countries refused to vote for him. A two thirds majority would have been 36 votes.

Under the AU statutes, the Deputy Chairperson should have been appointed interim chair until the next summit. But the deputy, Erastus Mwencha of Kenya, who was standing for a second term, also needed a two thirds majority. Worse still, in the eyes of the summit, was that pressing ahead with the election of the Deputy Chair and the other eight commissioners, in the absence of a chairperson, risked upsetting the delicate gender and regional balance on the Commission (each of the AU’s five regions – South, Central, East, West and North – is supposed to have two seats on the Commission).

So all the remaining elections were postponed, and all Commission members, whether they had intended to stand again or not, found their terms of office extended by six months. The summit also appointed a committee of 13 heads of state, charged with revising the AU’s electoral rules, so that no such embarrassment can happen in the future.

This Committee consists of two heads of state or government from each of the five regions (who have yet to be appointed), the presidents of South Africa and Gabon, Jacob Zuma and Ali Bongo Ondimba, as the countries that presented the two candidates, and AU chairperson Boni Yayi of Benin.

Baloi expected that the commission will hold its first meeting in March. Clearly there is some urgency in its work, if the rules are to be rewritten by the Malawi summit.

Baloi admitted that there is a risk that the unelected commission will face “a lack of authority”. This, however, seemed the lesser of two evils. “We don’t want the AU to come to a stop”, he stressed.

Baloi also attacked foreign interference in the election, and suggested this was why Ping failed to obtain a two thirds majority on the fourth round. Under normal circumstances, after the candidate with the fewest votes dropped out, the summit would have united around the remaining candidate.

This was not possible, Baloi said, “because we felt this was not just a discussion between Africans – and that is why Ping did not win on the fourth round”.

Baloi declined to say which country was interfering – but AIM was informed, by both Mozambican and South African sources, that the French ambassador to Ethiopia was actively lobbying for Jean Ping.

“I cannot mention the name of the country”, said Baloi, “but there was outside interference, not only in the election, but also in some of the dossiers under discussion, such as the question of Madagascar”.

Such interference was nothing new he added, and there was growing concern about it among African leaders.

Asked if SADC will present a candidate for chairperson of the Commission at the Malawi summit, Baloi said no decision has yet been taken. “We will have to ponder on whether to present a SADC candidate”, he said.

Post published in: Africa News

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