The New Year is upon us. The continent’s big event for January is the election of the new African Union Commission’s Chair.
The Kenyan media have been filled with excited (some clearly solicited) accounts of which states and which regional blocs are failing in behind the Kenyan candidate, Amina Mohamed, currently Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs.
Ignoring all this, let us simply assess her on the basis of her merit and her vision for the AU, as publicly articulated during the Mjadala Afrika December “debate” (presentation) between the five candidates.
True, she has a long service record within the Kenyan foreign ministry, as well as within the United Nations. True, she has spoken for and co-ordinated Africa’s negotiations, bringing Africa some important wins, particularly on the trade front.
But… her background is solely as a civil servant — national and international. That kind of bureaucratic approach came through in all her answers during the debate.
What also came through, then, was that she would be a throwback to the days when the then Organisation of African Unity was primarily staffed by ex-civil servants.
But she faltered primarily by her over-reliance on Kenyan examples — and positioning herself as the Kenyan candidate. Her answer on free movement was unconvincing.
Her answer on peace and security, while noting that prevention is important, had zero focus on the political contestations and non-adherence to democratic standards that fuel most intrastate conflicts in Africa.
Simply put… I wouldn’t vote for her.
Ditto the candidate from Chad, Moussa Faki Mahamat, for similar reasons. The candidate from Equatorial Guinea was more dynamic—but too focused on his age (the youngest candidate to date).
The two most promising candidates — although very different from each other — were those from Botswana and Senegal.
Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, Botswana’s Foreign Affairs Minister, answered all the questions with a clear statement of the problem and a clear articulation of what she personally, as AUC Chair, could bring to resolving it.
Anybody can expound on the problems of African women and youth, free movement, peace and security or over-reliance on external financing or on what should be done in general terms to address them. But it takes real thought and skill to succinctly demonstrate knowledge of where the AU is at on a given issue and what the Chair should bring to the table. I gave her full marks.
But my top-scorer was Senegal’s Professor Abdoulaye Bathily. He too displayed a deep knowledge of the historical evolution from the OAU to the AU. He also — this is where he sold me — evidenced his long commitment to pan-Africanism, and not solely as a civil servant or politician, however high-level. But with analysis that could only come from his past as a student leader, a trade unionist and a respected academic.
If the AUC Chair’s elections were decided on merit and vision, frankly, it’d come down to him and his Botswanan counterpart.
L. Muthoni Wanyeki is Amnesty International’s regional director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes