Addis Ababa - South Africa’s Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma has hit the ground running as new chairwoman of the AU Commission at her first summit in Addis Ababa.
Analysts praised her “business-like” performance in chairing her first meet of the AU executive council of ministers this week to prepare for the summit starting on Sunday.
But they also expressed some doubt that she would succeed in her effort to keep the summit focused on its official developmental aims and not get distracted by current African crises, especially Mali.
With a new war raging in Mali against Islamic jihadists linked to al-Qaeda, and older rebellions still bubbling away in the Central African Republic (CAR) and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), as well as an international war between Sudan and the breakaway state of South Sudan, the summit is likely to be preoccupied with conflict.
President Jacob Zuma arrived in Addis Ababa yesterday to participate in meetings on the margins of the summit which is taking place at the AU’s imposing new headquarters – a gift from China.
These included a summit of the heads of state and government of Nepad – the New Partnership for Africa’s Development – the continent’s over-arching development initiative.
Zuma is in charge of Nepad’s infrastructure development programme and reported back on his efforts to boost investment in infrastructure, including through the Brics forum of emerging nations.
Jakkie Cilliers, director of the Institute for Security Studies who is attending the summit, said Dlamini Zuma had given an impressive performance in chairing the executive council this week.
“She has hit the ground running,” he said about her grasp of the new job that she only took up in October. Cilliers liked her “business-like” approach, including the fact that the public opening of the council meeting comprised only three short speeches, and not the usual interminable orations from ministers and officials.
Cilliers said it was clear from the speeches that Dlamini Zuma had already begun co-ordinating the many institutions responsible for Africa’s development.
He noted that in his speech to the council, the new executive secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa, Carlos Lopes, had vowed to direct his organisation’s research towards goals set by the AU Commission.
This included creating a reliable statistical basis for Africa.
Cilliers also praised Dlamini Zuma for demanding that the AU take a hard look at its proliferating programmes and prioritise a few that it could actually finance itself.
She told South African business leaders last year that she was appalled at how much the AU relied on foreigners for its funding.
Cilliers said he believed she had healed the divisions across the continent that South Africa’s aggressive campaign for her election to Africa’s top job had caused.
Cilliers said Dlamini Zuma’s low-key style, and her lack of engagement with people, did cause problems for some.
But most appreciated her low-key but efficient performance behind the scenes.
Yet Cilliers said that despite her best efforts, the summit would probably be dominated by Mali and other conflicts, such as Sudan, CAR and the DRC.
But even there he said Dlamini Zuma was trying to move the focus from military action by improving the co-ordination between the AU’s peace and security commission and its political affairs commission, which has so far been poor with the political affairs commission mostly taking the back seat.
On Mali, Dlamini Zuma – who has been sharply critical of past French military intervention – thanked France for stopping the insurgents capturing the capital Bamako.
“This timely intervention in Mali helped arrest the southward advance of armed groups and is still weakening their capabilities,” she told a meeting of the AU Peace and Security Council on Friday.
She also thanked the UN and the EU for their help, referring to logistical support for the French action.
But Cilliers said the AU summit would now focus on trying to get African troops in place as soon as possible to take over the military responsibility from France.
However, he said, the mechanics and timing of the operation could prove controversial.
France had stated its intention to leave only after it had restored Mali’s territorial integrity by getting rid of the insurgents who had occupied the north of the country. That made sense but some African leaders might want France to leave before that.
Although many analysts have expressed doubts about Africa’s capabilities to do that, Cilliers said that the financing should not be a problem.
A pledging conference has been scheduled for Tuesday, the day after the summit ends, to try to persuade foreign governments to come up with the money to finance an African military intervention, estimated at over $400 million (R3.6bn).
Cilliers said he was confident the AU would get the money, from the US especially, because the Mali conflict was being seen in the West as the opening of a new front in the war on terror, especially because of the bloody Algerian gas refinery hostage crisis.