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*Will Jean Ping Retain AU's Top Post?
Between January 29 and 30, Heads of State from AU Member countries will converge on Addis Ababa for their biannual general Assembly.
The Assembly’s theme, according to the AU Secretariat in Addis Ababa, is ``Boosting Intra-African Trade''.
During the meeting, African leaders are expected to deliberate on how African countries can further boost trade among their people, as the scope of the trade for now is still insignificant and faced with obstacles and trade restrictions imposed by some governments.
Aside from the topical issue of trade relations on the continent, the leaders will also elect the Chairperson, Deputy Chairperson and some Commissioners for the AU Commission, whose responsibilities are to run the day–to-day affairs of the AU.
The elections will be the third since creation of the AU in 2002.
The AU, which succeeded the defunct Organisation of African Unity (OAU), is modeled after similar unions around the globe. It pilots the affairs of Africa, while uniting its peoples as envisaged by the founding fathers of the OAU in 1963.
Nigerian officials say that the country’s candidate will vie for one of the eight Commissioner slots.
The contest most likely to overshadow every other is that of the Chairperson of the AU Commission, which is currently occupied by Dr Jean Ping, a former Gabonese Foreign Minister.
Ping, who was first elected in 2008, is seeking re-election for a second term. His predecessor in office had been Alpha Omar Konare, the former President of Mali.
Ping’s hope for re-election, however, is not without challenge.
Madam Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, a former wife of President Jacob Zuma is challenging Ping for the coveted job. She is currently the South Africa's Minister of Home Affairs.
Foreign Affairs analysts say that Ping enjoys the support of many countries in West, Central and East Africa, while opponents to his bid are said to be coming from some countries of Southern Africa Development Cooperation (SADC).
The contest, the analysts add, will definitely look like a repeat of the election in 2008 where Ping finally defeated Zambia's Inonge Lewanta and Sierra Leone's Osman Conteh to become AU Commission Chairperson.
Some diplomats have expressed the viewpoint that the candidacy of Dlamini-Zuma negates what they term a gentleman’s agreement earlier reached by the main financiers of the AU, not to field any candidate for the post.
These major financiers are counter Nigeria, South Africa, Libya, Algeria and Egypt.
Nevertheless, supporters of Ping remain optimistic that his achievements in the last four years will see him through the election. These, they note, include strides at eracting structures that have been essential for the efficiency of the AU.
In particular, they pointed out his efforts at getting China to build a new office complex and conference centre for the AU which is due for inauguration during the forthcoming Summit. The edifice costs the Chinese government US200 million dollars.
Moreover, Ping is largely credited with establishing closer cooperation with other continental and regional bodies as the EU and the Arab League, besides fostering AU partnerships with many countries and organizations around the world.
Such partnerships include the Africa-India Forum, Africa-Russia Forum, Africa-South America Forum, Africa-EU Partnership, Africa-China Forum, Africa-OIC Forum, Africa-Turkey among others.
Foreign Affairs analysts insist that through these associations, Africa has been able to get better deals on global issues and trade.
Ping’s supporters also point to the AU’s role in the continent’s conflict zones, citing its laudable efforts in Darfur (UNAMID) and the establishment the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).
The supporters have also alluded to the increased African voice in the current Climate Change negotiations, with a view to seeking better deals for the continent.
To buttress this, they say Africa’s position on this critical issue is being coordinated by no less a figure than Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.
Critics of Ping, however, point to what they see as failures; one of which is the perceived poor handling of some national and regional conflicts on the continent.
They cite the apparent indecision of the AU's during the recent crises in Libya and Cote d'Ivoire, insisting that the AU did not provide the required leadership to find quick solutions to the crises, thus allowing for outside interference.
Ping's supporters, on their part, are quick to counter such arguments, insisting that the situations in the two cases were complicated by the lack of cooperation of some African leaders, who took sides with the warring parties.
They recall that some of the African leaders did not only frustrate the Commission's effort for a quick and amicable resolution of the crises but secretly connived with powers outside the continent to push their hidden agenda.
In a broad assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the two rivals, however, observers believed that Ping is more likely to get re-elected for a second term.
Dr Hussaini Tukur, a lecturer at Nasarawa State University, Keffi, Nigeria, says that the contest for the AU Commission Chairperson could go either way because of the personal standing of the two candidates involved.
While Ping will most likely have the support of Central, West, East, some parts of the North Africa and Francophone countries, Dlamini-Zuma is sure to garner the support of fellow members of SADC and some parts of North Africa.
The University Don points another factor which can also determine the direction of the vote.
He alludes to the silent agreement in the AU to rotate the posts in order to cement unity within the continent.
He, however, concedes that though the Southern African bloc could feel that it is now its turn to produce the Commission’s Chairperson, Ping still has the right to seek a second term in office as there is no term limit attached to the position.
Tukur further argues that all the AU Chairpersons before Ping has been re-elected to a second term.
The diplomatic community seems to be optimistic that Ping will capitalize on the gentleman’s agreement of the ``Big Five’’ who are the major financiers of the AU, to actualize their dream of re-electing Ping for a second term.
Head or tail, many watchers insist that Ping’s re-election will bring unity and continuity to the Continent and the Commission as he has evolved some workable and effective strategies to face the challenges of a fast –changing world and take Africa into greater global prominence. END.
Photo Above: Mr. Jean Ping, Chairperson of the African Union (AU) Commission
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