01 Dec 2014

AU chairwoman Dlamini-Zuma failing to lead

Written by  Adekeye Adebajo

No. 319: AU chairwoman Dlamini-Zuma failing to lead / Adekeye Adebajo / Business Day
1 December 2014

When SA's 65-year-old former minister of foreign and home affairs, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, was elected chairwoman of the African Union (AU) Commission in July 2012, it sparked much controversy.

The first round ended in a stalemate, and although 37 of the 54 members eventually voted for Dlamini-Zuma, 17 countries had voted against her in the acrimonious contest. So she needed urgently to heal serious political divisions with Nigeria, Ethiopia, central Africa and many Francophone countries.

She also needed to have a clear strategy to reform the treacherous AU bureaucracy. Despite often glowing praise from several South African analysts — often based more on fiction than fact — it is important to assess five recurring criticisms of Dlamini-Zuma's tenure halfway through her first four-year term in office.

First, Dlamini-Zuma, who had entered office touting her reformist zeal and administrative skills, has been criticised for lacking a clear strategic vision for the organisation. Though AU summits are now better run, many have struggled to get a sense of where she wants to take the organisation, and there has been talk of a triumph of symbolism over substance. Dlamini-Zuma's "Vision 2063" for the AU envisages a borderless, prosperous, peaceful Africa that promotes people-driven inclusive development, democratic governance and a common cultural heritage. The problem with a 50-year vision, however, is that its proponents will not be alive to be held accountable for its potential failure.

Second, Dlamini-Zuma has not been able to enact many of the admittedly difficult institutional reforms she had promised. She has been accused of seeking to micromanage the organisation, slowing decision-making and alienating some of her fellow commissioners. The failure to reform the AU's finances has been particularly singled out.

Two years after she pledged to reform the AU, more than 95% of its peace and security budget and half of its annual $278m budget are still funded by external donors. A high-level panel to raise alternative sources of funding from tourism and other levies has failed so far to win the support of the AU's leaders. Dlamini-Zuma has also been accused of running the AU through a "kitchen cabinet" dominated by South Africans. Her response has been rather politically inept, noting that SA was paying for these staff members. This is scarcely a riposte one would expect from United Nations (UN) secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, if he was accused of filling his office with South Koreans.

Third, the critical security relationship between the AU and the UN has been rocky, and the personal relationship between Dlamini-Zuma and Ki-moon is one that diplomats have described as tinged with hostility. The AU had asked the UN for a peace-enforcement mandate in Mali as well as a logistical and financial package for African peacekeepers to be deployed there. Both requests were declined. The UN also refused the AU's request to appoint former Burundian military leader Pierre Buyoya as its special representative in Mali.

There was further tension between the two organisations over the peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic (CAR). Dlamini-Zuma had come into office calling for a reduction in French influence in Africa. The Gallic nation has, however, continued to dominate military interventions in Côte d'Ivoire, Mali and the CAR, even as the AU has struggled to establish a promised rapid reaction force.

Fourth, there has been criticism of Dlamini-Zuma's failure to build viable personal relationships with key actors. The AU's powerful permanent representatives' committee of ambassadors in Addis Ababa had frustrated Malian AU commission chair Alpha Konaré between 2003 and 2008. Dlamini-Zuma's relationship with the plenipotentiaries has similarly been difficult amid complaints that she has denied them access to her office. Foreign donors in Addis Ababa have voiced similar complaints, and Dlamini-Zuma's absence from the Partner's Forum meetings with the AU's donors has been frowned upon.

The final complaint often heard about Dlamini-Zuma's leadership of the AU is that she is frequently travelling to SA to attend African National Congress (ANC) national executive committee meetings. Jeune Afrique, the leading francophone African journal, caused a stir last year by calling for Dlamini-Zuma not to seek a second term in office in 2016 due to what it perceives as preponderant South African dominance of AU decision-making.

There is a widespread belief that the ambitious Dlamini-Zuma is eyeing the ANC presidency in 2017. The question that her harshest critics are asking, however, is that, if she cannot run a multinational bureaucracy of 700 staff, how will she run a complex country of 50-million citizens?

Adebajo is executive director of the Centre for Conflict Resolution visiting professor at the University of Johannesburg.

This article is part of a series of fortnightly columns written by Adekeye Adebajo for Business Day every other Monday. It was also published in the Guardian of Nigeria under the headline "Dlamini-Zuma at the AU" on Monday 1 December 2014.

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