SA treading carefully in bid for top AU position


South Africa is running into heavy diplomatic weather as its latest bid for expanded influence on the continent — the nomination of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma (pictured) to chair the African Union Commission — sets sail, the Mail & Guardian reports. Spokesman for the department of international relations and co-operation, Clayson Monyela, confirmed her candidacy last week.

But divisions among African countries and increasing resentment among core Western powers in the United Nations Security Council over the Zuma administration’s foreign policy seem to be shaping the race between the home affairs minister and the current chair, Jean Ping, whose term expires in January, the paper says.

An official in the department told the M&G that South Africa was pulling out all the stops as it canvassed support for Dlamini-Zuma among key powers on the continent. “It is not going to be easy, but she is the most suitable candidate who can advance South Africa’s firm resolve in strengthening effective partnership between the UN and the African Union in the maintenance of international peace and security, as well as the intensification of the work South Africa had already undertaken in conflict prevention, resolution, management and post-conflict reconstruction and peace-building in African countries such as Sudan, Ivory Coast, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and elsewhere.”

That may be understating the scale of the challenge. Nigeria is cited by South African diplomats as a major obstacle to the bid. Relations between the two countries have been dodgy for some time, but the rift deepened over South Africa’s backing for incumbent Laurent Gbagbo during the battle for control of Côte d’Ivoire. This may sway Nigeria against the bid, the official said.

Another departmental official said South Africa was treading carefully because it did not want to be seen as using its economic muscle to dictate the continent’s foreign policy. A third senior government official with insight into the process told the M&G “the unspoken rule has been that the big countries don’t go for these posts. We’re arguing that what you saw around Libya means that should change.” The influence that came with a powerful home base was increasingly important, he explained.

The official added that international lobbying for the position was intense, citing France and the United States as opponents of Dlamini-Zuma’s candidacy. This view was confirmed by others in the diplomatic community, who said South Africa’s stance on Libya and Côte d’Ivoire — and on sanctions against Syria in the security council — have increasingly alienated it from the West’s three permanent powers in the council: the US, France and the United Kingdom.

Earlier this month French Minister of Foreign and European Affairs Alain Juppe denied any such lobbying while visiting Pretoria. Juppe said France would want to leave Africans to decide their own leaders without interfering. He also distanced himself from suggestions that he had pledged support for South Africa’s candidate. “I am surprised to hear that I support this candidate and I do not support that one. It’s a mystery to me. I never said that. Not even a member of my delegation has said that. I trust them.”

The elections for the position of AU Commission chair will take place at the union’s summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in January.