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Lobbying intensifies as race to elect new AU chair heats up

17 July 2016, 15:16Carien du Plessis

Rwanda - Hours before elections were due to kick off for a successor to African Union Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, lobbying was intensifying - and not just for the three candidates nominated to take her place.

There is widespread expectation that the elections on Sunday afternoon – during a closed session of the AU heads of state assembly in Kigali, Rwanda – will not yield a two-thirds majority for any of the three candidates, which would mean them being postponed until the January summit.

This would also mean that the nomination process would be open again, offering new candidates a bite of the cherry.

Abdoulaye Bathily, a former Senegalese minister and diplomat, is eyeing the position, a lobbyist for Bathily told News24. Bathily is a strong contender, as Senegal has been behind western African efforts to lobby for a postponement of the vote.

It is not clear yet which other new candidates will be stepping up should there be a second round.

Bathily originally stepped back after Algerian foreign minister Ramtane Lamamra was nominated.

Lamamra, who was AU commissioner for peace and security from 2008 to 2013, when he was appointed minister, was a strong contender and Senegal would have supported him.

But he withdrew on the day that nominations closed and there was not enough time to nominate Bathily.

The reasons for Lamamra's withdrawal are unclear, but some say he would have fallen foul of the two-term limit on AU commissioners, having preciously served one-and-a-half terms.

Lamamra went on this week to express his support for former Ugandan vice-president Speciosa Wandira Kazibwe during a lobbying breakfast in Kigali.

Botswana's foreign minister Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi is also in the running and South Africa is officially backing her as the Southern African Development Community nominee. Dlamini-Zuma only served one of the two terms that some claim each region is eligible for.

There has, however, not been much evidence that South Africa was actively lobbying for Venson-Moitoi, and Botswana's president Ian Khama did not attend the summit to back her bid.

Khama's customary absence from AU summits and his differences with some AU member states on issues like the International Criminal Court have been mentioned as possible reasons why Venson-Moitoi wasn't regarded as a heavyweight candidate.

The foreign minister of Equatorial Guinea, Agapito Mba Mokuy, is considered to have the strongest campaign behind him with the most money, and his election would put the first Spanish-speaking country in the chair.

Senegal has, however, expressed concern about the poor human rights record of President Theodore Obiang Nguema, saying a chairperson from this country would be a hard sell to the rest of the world.

The AU Commission chairperson is the most powerful position in the organisation, and involves the day-to-day running of the organisation and the implementation of its policies.

Dlamini-Zuma defeated incumbent Jean Ping in 2012 but has declined to make herself available for nomination for a second term. It is believed that she will be returning to South Africa to run for ANC president next year.

- News24


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