Magazine article New African

The Dlamini-Zuma Succession: Inside the Politics of a Messy Race

Magazine article New African

The Dlamini-Zuma Succession: Inside the Politics of a Messy Race

Article excerpt

The question of the departing chairperson's successor has been complicated by an unusual barrier: the candidates themselves. Parselelo Kantai reports from Addis Ababa.

Towards the end of a trip to Russia in April this year, AU Commission chair Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma (pictured left) held a meeting with African ambassadors accredited to Moscow. It had been a busy tour, her second to Russia, and she was keen to update the ambassadors on her recent meeting with Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, developments within the AU, conflict flashpoints on the continent, and above all, on the progress of Agenda 2063, the ambitious African Union roadmap, whose blueprint she is said to have taken personal charge of from its inception. But as she finished her address to the ambassadors, one of them rose from his seat and asked her why she was leaving.

As she had done often in the months leading up to the nomination deadline, she evaded the question, jokily remarking that her nominating body, the South African Development Community, had not submitted her nomination. The bigger question of why she would leave the AU with many of the reforms she had instituted still in their infancy, remained unanswered.

Word that Dlamini-Zuma was unlikely to contest for re-election had been doing the rounds for months before the 31 March deadline for prospective candidates to submit their nominations. She herself had done little to quell the talk that strongly hinted that she was preparing to go back to South Africa to contest the African National Congress presidential elections, scheduled for December 2017.

Hours after the 31 March submission deadline, her spokesman, Jacob Enoh Eben, released a statement saying that Madam Zuma would not be contesting her position.

Interestingly enough, as the summit in Kigali loomed and the lobbying for a new candidate intensified, Eben would still express more than a tinge of loss at Dlamini-Zuma's exit.

In South Africa, news that she was stepping down fed into the cauldron of Jacob Zuma's succession politics, his crisis-ridden presidency, with speculation that "JayZee" would strongly back her candidature as a way to protect himself post-exit, from potential corruption charges. Although they had been divorced since 1998 and were in different ANC party factions, they were said to be close.

"Dlamini-Zuma is a party person, first and foremost, and always has been. She goes where the ANC tells her to go. She was not particularly keen on going to Addis in 2012 but Jacob Zuma wanted her there, because she posed a threat to him politically. Now he needs her back for the exact opposite reason--to protect himself. But he is the party president and that is who she takes her instructions from. So she is coming home," explains a South African journalist.

In Addis, a member of her staff broke down in tears during a staff meeting. "Why are you leaving after giving us so much hope?" she asked the chairperson.

"She is ready to depart. She says she was hired for four years and she has served out her four years. What happens in Kigali will determine what happens next," says her spokesman, Jacob Enoh Eben, hinting of the drama likely to accompany the election for a new chairperson.

In 2012, Dlamini-Zuma's bid for the African Union Commission chair had generated tensions on several levels. It was felt that in nominating a South African, SADC had broken one of the AU's longstanding unwritten conventions that discouraged the Union's "Big Five"--Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Nigeria and South Africa--from vying for the chair. …

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