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Africa: AU Elections – Contemplating Second-Generation Gender Bias

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Tuesday, August 16th, 2016
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The African Union Commission re-opened the nomination process for its next chairperson, deputy chairperson, and eight commissioners earlier this week.

The hope is for a refreshing change of guard to turn things around. But, in the main, it is who the next chairperson will be that will draw the most attention as the nomination process unfolds.

African Union

The picture of the sprightly, confident and younger looking Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, when she was assuming the AU chair in 2012, contrasts sharply with Dlamini-Zuma of today.

She clearly looks circumspect, perhaps more concerned with what the future may hold for her. She’s also probably pensive about her unfinished work, bearing, as she does, the weight of the continent’s intractable problems she is leaving behind. Dlamini-Zuma would be out by now, had it not been that the three candidates vying for her seat during the 27th AU Summit in Kigali were deemed not to possess adequate leadership experience.

The candidates, who to my mind were uncharitably described as lacking in “pedigree” and not being of “high calibre”, were Botswana’s foreign affairs minister Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, (representing Southern Africa), Equatorial Guinean foreign minister Agapito Mba Mokuy (Central Africa region), and former Ugandan vice president Specioza Naigaga Wandira Kazibwe, who represented Eastern Africa.

I agreed with my fellow Eastern Africans, who were unanimous in their support for Dr Kazibwe. But neither she, nor the other candidates could muster the minimum two-thirds majority, leading to the postponement of the election to January 2017.

All the three or some or one of them may still present their candidature to be considered for a second time, even as it appears unlikely any of them would win the race given the unflattering aspersions cast regarding their leadership abilities.

Meanwhile, new names of some potential candidates – all of them distinguished personalities with notable achievements in their résumé – have been suggested. Well, it might be pointless to mention them now until they officially announce their bid.

Rather, it would be more useful to wonder whether it is a coincidence that the proposed prospective candidates are all men. Or, to put it more bluntly, as some wags have wondered, whether the race does not boil down to a “gender thing” – paying lip service to AU’s famed quest for gender parity.

Though she has been credited with being the mid-wife for AU’s ambitious Agenda 2063, Dlamini-Zuma’s reign has not exactly been stellar, with some opining that the conflict situation only became worse under her watch. But it is not necessarily because she is a woman it is so.

Is it possible that another woman successively at the AU helm would have been one too many? Two of the three failed candidates, Venson-Moitoi and Dr Kazibwe, are women.

I have never been for affirmative action. I live with, and am surrounded by, strong enough women to know that they probably require no special favours to move ahead in life on their own.

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