Professor Abdoulaye Bathily of Senegal, one of five aspirants for the post of AU Commission chairperson which falls vacant in January.

Africa must unite to overcome problems of joblessness and poverty, says Senegal’s candidate for AU commission chairperson.

With the race hotting up to replace Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma as AU chairwoman next month, one of the five hopeful candidates - Professor Abdoulaye Bathily of Senegal - has criss-crossed the continent passing through Morocco, Madagascar and Mozambique before landing in South Africa.

His message is simple: “Africa must unite to overcome perennial problems of joblessness and poverty.”

The professor obviously knows what he's talking about - he has taught African history at universities for four decades and has been a UN diplomat, foreign minister, MP and leader of a leftist political party in his country.

Speaking to the African News Agency in Joburg, Bathily, who comes across as unassuming, boldly stated: “I am African first before being a Senegalese.”

He had just arrived in South Africa from Mozambique, where he met President Filipe Nyusi.

He is lobbying for support across the imaginary divide between Anglophone and Francophone countries on the continent.

He dismissed the divide as an outdated concept created in the 1800s during the invasion, occupation and colonisation of the continent. He is confident Africa can and will unite to take its rightful place in the world, where there is full citizen participation.

Bathily attended the recent UN climate change conference - COP22 - in Morocco, where he was impressed with developments. He, however, would like Africa to have greener energy and participate more in the blue economy.

At the ripe age of 69, somehow Bathily’s punishing travel and engagements schedule does not seem to affect him. In Maputo he made it a point to visit an old friend. “I also met former president Joaquim Chissano,” said the former UN diplomat, whose experience, knowledge of the continent and academic qualifications place him head and shoulders above the rest of the candidates.

Not fazed by mingling with politicians and leaders he casually mentions that he “met President Jacob Zuma” and had a chat with him. He was not wearing a tie, but his grey suit more than marks him out as a distinguished individual. The professor is travelling with a delegation that includes his country’s foreign minister, Mankeur Ndiaye, helping him to lobby for support for the AU Commission chairperson position, which is voted for by member states.

Bathily said he spoke to Zuma about his candidature for the coveted position that will be contested for in January in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. “I also met former president Thabo Mbeki,” said Bathily. “I know Chissano and Mbeki from the Struggle days.”

Asked about his vision for Africa, the professor said public and private economic actors needed to “pull together” to build an “African social base” for development to take place. “Africa is lacking a vigorous private sector.

“There must be free movement of people and goods in Africa.”

His vision is in line with the shared AU vision 2063 which seeks to steer the continent towards higher social, political, economic and cultural levels.

Bathily says Africa needs transcoporations to “put the capital together” to fund infrastructure projects on the continent. He said about 70 percent of the AU bills were paid for from donor funds from abroad. “This time Africa cannot continue to depend on foreign donors.” He said as many as 63 percent of Africa’s young educated people could not get jobs because there was slow development and limited industrialisation.

“We also need to develop our human capacity to be able to use money properly and for the purpose it has been budgeted for.”

Noting that noble ideas have been hamstrung in the past by limited funding and poor handling of funds, Bathily says there is hope. He is aware Rwanda President Paul Kagame is leading an AU finance reform team, which has come up with a plan to finance the august body. As much as $1.2 billion can be raised through a 0.2 percent tax on imports from outside the continent, if Kagame’s reform plan is put into practice. If he wins the coveted position of AU Commission leader, Bathily says he will “see that this programme is implemented”.

He also has a passion for women’s issues which he says are important.

“Dlamini Zuma has done a lot; I would want to keep the momentum”.

The professor, who in October quit his post as Special Representative of the UN secretary-general for Central Africa to contest the AU position, has fond memories of meetings with Nelson Mandela.

Apart from Bathily, the coveted post has attracted four other candidates - Botswana’s Dr Pelonomi Moitoi, Kenyan Foreign Affairs cabinet secretary Amina Mohamed, former Ugandan vice-president Specioza Wandira Kazibwe and Equatorial Guinea Foreign Minister Agapito Mba Mokuy.

Dlamini Zuma was supposed to hand over the baton in July, but those who had lined up to take over never made the grade in elections held in Kigali, Rwanda on July 17 and 18.

Kazibwe, Moitoi and Mba Mokuy failed to garner the required two-thirds majority vote and Dlamini Zuma, who declined a second term, was asked to continue in the role until January .

All three have again put their names in the hat. If the criteria for the most powerful position in the AU is voted for on experience, track records of excellence and academic qualification, Bathily leads the way.

African News Agency