Grave foreign policy gaffe
If the president did bludgeon Dlamini Zuma’s path to Addis Ababa for his own political ends back home, he abused SA’s highest priority, writes Peter Fabricius.
When Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma lost the first round in the elections for the chair of the AU Commission (AUC) at the AU summit in January 2012, she cheered and said “Now I can go home!” Or so one of her top officials at the time attests.
But it was not to be.
President Jacob Zuma insisted she kept fighting and eventually she was elected to Africa’s top job at the next AU summit in July that year after several more bruising rounds of voting.
Whatever one might think of her performance in Addis Ababa - and there are sharply conflicting opinions on this - it was shabby of President Zuma to insist on forcing her into that post in the first place.
That assessment, which attracted fierce criticism and charges of unpatriotism from Zuma’s people at the time, has surely been vindicated by the official confirmation that she is coming home this year and will not seek a second term in the AUC chair at the next AU summit in Kigali in June.
Her election cost South Africa dearly in goodwill at the AU. She ran against the incumbent, Gabon’s Jean Ping, who had considerable support from the Francophone countries and other big players on the continent like Nigeria, Ethiopia and Kenya, who believed South Africa was violating the golden - though unwritten - AU rule that major continental powers should not occupy the top job.
You could argue, plausibly, that both the Francophones and the big powers , especially Nigeria, were just jealously - and enviously - guarding their own interests. And it’s true that the AU Commission needed a shake-up.
But were South Africa and Dlamini Zuma the ones to do it? And if they were, should they not have demonstrated their commitment and sincerity by staying for a second term? Because four years is certainly not enough time to make much difference in the commission. As in so much of his foreign policy, Zuma’s motives were murky here. He and his officials developed a campaign platform that Ping had kowtowed to the French and perhaps other external powers and so Dlamini Zuma - as a tough “freedom fighter” - would assert Africa’s independence.
This narrative referred mainly to Zuma’s accusation that Ping had allowed France especially to push the AU around during the Libyan and Ivorian civil conflicts.
But Dlamini Zuma could do no better than Ping because there was nothing better to be done.
Very soon she and the AU had to accept further French military interventions in Mali and in Central African Republic because they were incapable of intervening themselves.
On her watch the AU did accept Zuma’s proposal for a rapid-response force of South Africa and other volunteer countries - called Acirc - to be established, to enable Africa itself to intervene in African crises instead of having to rely on France and Co.
But Acirc never fired a gun in anger - or protection - and probably never will.
What was needed in Addis Ababa was not someone to shake an empty fist at Paris and Washington, but someone to pre-empt crises by preventing African leaders from abusing their people and so provoking crises. Like violently manipulating their countries’ constitutions to cling to power.
In that the AU Commission on her watch has failed - look at Burundi, The Republic of Congo, Rwanda, etc - even though she herself was ahead of her organisation in condemning such blatantly undemocratic behaviour, as when she stated bluntly that Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza should not run for a third term last year.
She has been widely criticised in Addis Ababa for neglecting peace and security issues. Maybe. But the real blame lies with Zuma for sending her on a mission impossible, burning bridges across the continent to get her into the hot seat to keep nasty foreign powers at bay. When the enemy, unfortunately, was always within.
She must be credited, though, with several other achievements, such as raising the profile of women, improving the administrative efficiency of the commission and launching two major projects: Agenda 2063, a highly-ambitious plan to lift Africa to middle-income status in 50 years and her plan to make the AU Commission (almost) self-sufficient in funding its activities. But all these initiatives require sustained effort and certainly at least another four years of her guidance, to stand any hope of success.
One could argue that she is coming home simply because she has realised she will lose the election against whoever opposes her in June. But that too would be a kind of admission of defeat of the whole project.
There were strong suspicions when Zuma sent Dlamini Zuma to Addis Ababa in 2012 that that was really all about domestic politics; that perhaps he feared she would somehow frustrate his ambitions at the Mangaung ANC elective conference later that year.
If she is now returning to be his anointed successor, as widely suspected, that would corroborate this cynical interpretation.
If Zuma indeed bludgeoned her path to Addis Ababa just for his own political ends back home, he has sorely abused Africa, theoretically the highest priority of South Africa’s foreign policy obligations.