Saturday, January 31, 2015

Don't blame Bob

The appointment of President Robert Mugabe, affectionately referred to as "Bob" to some and mockingly to others, Chairman of the African Union was met by mixed reaction in Africa as well as outside the continent.

His elevation to the AU Chair lit up social media as well where his photo showing him dozing off was plastered everywhere as if the world needs reminding that Africa just appointed its oldest president at aged 90, going on 91 in few weeks time.

His age aside for now, Bob's politics has been the center of his controversial career dating to the Ian Smith's Rhodesia days when he moved across the border to Mozambique to wage a guerrilla war against the White minority regime.

Despite his disastrous land reform which became a bitter fight between Mugabe and the British government, he was and still is viewed by many in Africa as a anti-colonial hero.  He is still very popular in southern Africa. where he's serving as Chairman of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC).

His Pan-African credentials are unparalleled even in his parts of Africa where liberation wars were the order of the day, and were memories of ranging from the ANC to FRELIMO are still fresh, providing Bob with the political support he lacks in other parts of Africa and the world which brings us to what I think has been a contributing factor to his appointment.

You will recall during the election process that finally led to the election of former South African Home Minister Dr.. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to replace Jean Ping who served previously as Gabon's Foreign Minister, concerns were raised by us about the wisdom of doing away with unwritten rule of avoiding to elect candidates from 'big countries' like South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt and Algeria.  The same unwritten rule applies to the African Development Bank for reason that might have manifested itself in the appointment of Mugabe.

It is an open secret that South Africa is a close ally of Zimbabwe and President Zuma has an equally close personal relationship with Bob Mugabe.  Dr. Dlamini-Zuma may not have a direct hand in the appointment - I am giving her the benefit of the doubt - but it does get people thinking that Pretoria might have had a hand in getting the southern African countries lined up in support of President Mugabe that only a 'big country' can.

These big countries already enjoy a huge political and diplomatic advantage over small countries, an advantage they exert regularly to sway these continental and regional bodies.  To add to their huge advantage by electing them to head these organizations, especially the continental ones, spells trouble.  The acrimonious 2012 election that brought Dr. Dlamini-Zuma to Addis Ababa left deep divisions, especially within Francophone Africa, and many small states, that saw her victory as South Africa "bullying" its way to head the AU Commission.

The appointment of Mugabe, in our view, is going to further deepen the division that already exist within the AU Member States because not all African countries share the same reverence of "Bob" whom will not be welcomed in many Western capitals to raise much needed resources.  His politics aside, Mugabe's age should not have escaped the African Union.