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South Africa ups diplomatic offensive for top AU post

By Manish Chand, IANS,

Addis Ababa : Africa is keeping its fingers crossed on the election for the the AU executive chief as South African President Jabob Zuma upped the diplomatic offensive for securing a majority for his candidate, Home Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who is pitted against the incumbent Jean Ping, who is embroiled in fresh accusations of misusing his position.

Zuma arrived Saturday in the Ethiopian capital with a high-profile delegation that included International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Ngqakula, Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies and Public Service and Administration Deputy Minister Ayanda Dlodlo.

“Don’t ask me which way it is going,” Zuma told IANS when asked whether his country was confident of its candidate, one of Zuma’s former wives, winning the coveted post of the executive head of the AU Commission – the 54-nation bloc’s chief decision-making body.

Zuma’s cryptic reply reflected jitteriness in the South African camp barely hours before the elections to the AU chair post, which is expected to take place either Sunday or Monday.

“It is in the best interests of the African people in general and the AU in particular that the matter be finalised at this summit,” said Zuma.

“We trust that the continent will rally behind the Southern African candidate (Dlamini-Zuma).”

Zuma and Ping shared a luncheon table at a function hosted by Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to promote the African decade of women in the new Chinese-built AU building here. But they didn’t speak a word to each other, betraying tensions around the polarised contest for the AU post.

The last-minute lobbying has intensified, with South Africa, the continent’s economic powerhouse and a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, pulling out all stops to get its candidate elected despite formidable opposition from around 30 French-speaking African countries rallying around Ping, a former Gabonese foreign minister.

Highly-placed sources disclosed that Pretoria has managed to wean away some Francophone countries like Benin and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but nobody is prepared to confirm or deny these reports in this high-stakes election that has the African continent polarised.

The 15-member Southern African Development Community (SADC) has backed the South African candidate for the position.

South Africa has raised its sales pitch amid media reports accusing sitting AU chief Ping of abusing AU resources in his electoral race.

Ping had dismissed these reports as “outright fallacy and fabrication”.

If no candidate is elected this time around, Ping, who has held the post since 2008, could be asked to continue as interim head until the next summit in January 2013.

Ping has his supporters, but if Dlamini-Zuma makes it, she will break a glass ceiling of sorts as she would become the first female president of the African Union which observes its 10th anniversary this year.

The last election in January ended in a deadlock as neither Ping nor Dlamini-Zuma could secure the requisite two-third majority to make it.

The deadlocked leadership tussle has spawned much frustration among the African political class which strongly feels that the burning issues confronting the continent are being sidetracked by what one former AU official told IANS is this “avoidable partisan game of one-upmanship”.

(Manish Chand can be contacted at [email protected])