AU fights to justify firing envoy to Washington

Wednesday November 20 2019

A general view of a plenary session at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on November 17, 2018. The AU denies ever reprimanding Dr Arikana Chihombori-Quao for her public comments. PHOTO | MICHAEL TEWELDE | AFP


The African Union now says it fired its envoy to the US for spending money on non-AU projects as well as appointing diplomats irregularly.

But the claims of abuse of office came to the fore on Monday night as it emerged the bloc audited Dr Arikana Chihombori-Quao’s work weeks after she was shown the door on October 7.

Ms Ebba Kalondo, Spokesperson of African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat, says the audit team found a series of activities that indicated Dr Chihombori-Quao abused her powers by registering entities, raising funds and endorsing diplomatic status of officials not working for the AU.

“The team found evidence, corroborated by Dr Quao, that she initiated and implemented, with AU funds, activities of the following entities that have no AUC formal approval or legal link to the African Union, nor any of its organs,” she said.


The team was deployed on October 16 to 26 ostensibly for supervisory audit of her officer activities and to “facilitate the separation and handover".


It reportedly found 12 projects had been initiated under Dr Quao's tenure, without knowledge or approval of the AU Commission Chairperson.

These included a project on diaspora health, a beauty pageant, a trading company, a diaspora global fund as well as a diaspora youth summit and a women’s association.

Though the audit found the anomalies, Dr Quao had already been notified on October 7 that her contract would be terminated on November 1.

At the time, Ms Kalondo said it had been the prerogative of the AU Commission chairperson to cut short or prolong the tenure of an appointed envoy.

“This is normal diplomatic practice for political appointees everywhere,” she said shortly before the audit team was deployed.


So, did the African Union audit Dr Quao just to substantiate the dismissal?

On Tuesday, Ms Kalondo refuted the suggestion, telling the Nation that her statement on Monday “suggests nothing of the sort.”

“The statement of yesterday and the (one) on October 16 are very clear,” she said.

The AU says the fired envoy violated rules and regulations by making unilateral diplomatic appointments to several people “unknown to the African Union.” The bloc forced her to revoke the appointments before she left her post.

She was also found to have collected funds in the name of the bloc from donors but neither remitted the money to the accounts of the bloc nor spent it on approved projects. It accuses her of receiving a donation of $10,000 from US oil giant Chevron.

“A private entity headed by a certain Melvin Foote, confirmed that they utilised the funds for unknown activities unrelated to the African Union or its Mission in Washington, DC.,” the AU Spokesperson said.

“In this regard, the African Union Commission has written confirmation from Dr Quao that the aforementioned initiatives/activities were her private engagements, initiated by herself, with no relationship to the African Union nor any of its organs.”


Appointed in 2016, Dr Quao, a Zimbabwean expatriate in the US, had served as AU’s Permanent Representative to the US for three years.

She was appointed under the tenure of then AU Commission Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who chose not to contest for a second term as she eyed South African presidency.

Despite the AU fighting to justify the termination, her departure coincided with public lectures she gave weeks before she was fired, in which she called for African unity and criticised the West for crafting policies that ensure the continent remains poor.

The AU denies ever reprimanding her for her public comments.

In one such talk on ‘African Civilisation’, Dr Quao talked of “known facts” of how the French Sustained African poverty in their former colonies, even after granting them independence.

“France forced the Francophone, and I hate that terminology, there is no such thing as francophone, Anglophone… they made it up; they said in order for you to get your independence, you must sign this document. The document was called the Pact for the Continuation of Colonisation (in a different format),” she told an audience in a video posted on YouTube.

The controversial document was tabled to a group of African countries seeking independence from France in the 1950s, by then French President Charles De Gaule.


Some of the stringent conditions included that for one to gain independence, they had to accept a French-controlled currency, Franc, and that they had to accept to deposit their currency reserves with the French central bank.

Recently, some eight African countries using the CFA indicated they will be pulling out, although there is little indication they were influenced by the envoy’s speeches.

The French also asked the colonies to subscribe to French military training, accept the French to set up military bases as well as accept the French to control natural resources discovered or yet to be discovered.

Leaders who resisted the conditions or wanted out of the arrangement were assassinated, the envoy told an audience.

“In 22 coups (in Africa), where leaders have been assassinated, France has had something to do with it. Every time an African leader tried to do something that is good for their people, they were assassinated. These are known facts,” Dr Quao argued.

In truth, there have been more coups in Francophone Africa than other countries colonised by other European powers.

According to MediaPart, an online portal on African history, 61 per cent of all coups happened in Francophone Africa; taking place in 16 former French colonies in the first 50 years of independence.