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Rwanda’s Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo acknowledges readily that her boss, President Paul Kagame, did not vote for Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma to become chairwoman of the African Union Commission last year.
But now that Dlamini Zuma is in the job, Mushikiwabo supports her fully.
“We’ve made it clear that we think she’s the best candidate Africa could get. She’s proving that,” she told South African journalists at this week’s AU summit in Addis Ababa.
She explained that Rwanda had opposed Dlamini Zuma’s candidature – and voted instead for her rival, the incumbent chairman, Jean Ping of Gabon, not because of any concerns about her personal qualities but only on the principle that Africa’s big countries – she mentioned South Africa, Nigeria, Algeria and Kenya – should not hold the continent’s top job.
But this week she enthused over Dlamini Zuma’s performance in her first three months, especially the way she presided over the summit.
“One feels the change. She seems to me like a very serious person – and she’s punctual,” Mushikiwabo said, noting that the summit meetings had taken place on time for a change.
“We’ve been complaining about meetings going on until 3am. Who can think at 3am?
“People have noticed a much more practical, hands-on approach. There is a positive change and we feel it,” she said, adding that as a woman she also appreciated another woman being in charge of the AU Commission.
Rwanda prides itself on the efficiency of its government – seeing itself as an African Singapore – and Mushikiwabo said she hoped Dlamini Zuma would help to create the modern, forward-looking, business-like African Union that Rwanda wanted.
The AU needed to forge consensus among African governments and then to project a much stronger, united African voice to the outside world.
Mushikiwabo especially liked Dlamini Zuma’s remark in one of her speeches to the summit that the AU had to manage its strategic partnerships with donor countries in a better way.
“We’re here in Africa and yet we get everyone else coming here and taking a big chunk of our time to deal with their issues,” Mushikiwabo complained, about the donor governments and agencies.
Dlamini Zuma expressed her surprise shortly after arriving at her new post at how much of the AU’s activities were funded by foreign donors. She said the AU had to start finding the money to fund its own activities.
This attitude was evident throughout the summit as several leaders echoed that sentiment and decided that the AU had to explore domestic sources of funding.
The change was most evident when the summit leaders decided that the AU itself would contribute $50 million (about R450m) of its funds towards the estimated $460m cost of financing African troops to intervene in Mali to expel al-Qaeda-linked jihadists and Tuareg secessionists who seized the part of the country last year.
Veteran AU-watcher Jakkie Cilliers, director of the Institute for Security Studies, found this decision extraordinary and unprecedented, suggesting it might mark a turning point in the AU’s approach to financing, moving it towards greater independence.
He also noted that many participants in this week’s summit had found the meeting more business-like and efficient since Dlamini Zuma took over, with fewer and shorter speeches contributing towards greater punctuality. She had also told the AU’s Executive Council of ministers last week that the AU needed to prioritise its many projects, to do fewer better.
One delegate noted that in the past, the AU Commission used to wait for ministers or presidents to arrive before entering a meeting.
Dlamini Zuma instead was in her chair before time, waiting, impatiently, for the other participants to arrive.