Africa Watch

The AU embarrassed by chairman Mugabe

Robert Mugabe, AU embarrassment

While the 25th African Union (AU) summit was overshadowed by the Al-Bashir incident, the embarrassment caused by the AU chairman, President Robert Mugabe, went by almost unnoticed.

The 25th AU summit meeting that took place in Johannesburg recently will mostly be remembered for the drama that unfolded around President Al-Bashir of Sudan.

It is going to take some time for the dust to settle after the drama, some will call it a soap opera, which followed when the South African Government (SAG) ignored a court order to prevent the Sudanese president from leaving the country after a warrant for his arrest had been issued by the International Criminal Court.

President Al-Bashir left South Africa in great haste and secrecy under dubious circumstances.

There is general consensus that Al-Bashir’s departure happened with the full knowledge and assistance of the SAG.

It is a complicated issue, the effects of which will be felt for some time on a number of fronts.


However, with all the attention focused on the Al-Bashir saga, two highly controversial remarks made during the summit by AU chairperson, Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, went by almost unnoticed. 

Coming from someone notorious for making controversial and often bizarre remarks, it could easily be downplayed as yet another ploy by President Mugabe to catch the media’s attention which he apparently craves. However, made in his capacity as AU chairperson and reflecting on matters important to the rest of Africa, his remarks require some scrutiny. 

Africa’s permanent UN Security Council seat     

Demands for reform of the United Nations (UN), including an increase of permanent seats in its Security Council (UNSC), have been on the AU’s agenda for many years.   

Given that 70% of the issues dealt with at the UNSC concern Africa, the AU considers it imperative that the continent should be represented on a permanent basis.

In 2005 the AU adopted the so-called Ezulwini Consensus which demands that Africa should have two permanent and five non-permanent seats on the UNSC to make it globally more representative.

The Ezulwini Consensus also demands that the two permanent African seats should come with the same veto powers enjoyed by the five current permanent members.

Should the Ezulwini Consensus demands get approved at the UN, the AU will select the two permanent seats representing Africa. How the selection will occur, remains unclear. 

Selecting the five non-permanent African seats will be less problematic and will rotate – one for each of the five regions in Africa, north, east, west, central and south.

The persistent demand for an equal veto right had effectively thwarted Africa’s bid. It remains unlikely that the status quo will change soon, despite growing international pressure.

Confronted with this fait accompli, the so-called G4 group of nations – Germany, Japan, India and Brazil – all seeking permanent seats on the UNSC, in 2005 in a tactical manoeuvre to try and diminish resistance to their bid, dropped their demand for immediate veto rights.

Africa, however, refuses to compromise.

In an attempt to break this logjam, South Africa, in February 2014, initiated a reassessment of the Ezulwini Consensus, with President Zuma proclaiming: “Africa needs to compromise – not reiterate fixed positions as it has done for the past nine years.”

The Ezulwini Consensus also makes provision for the Committee of 10 – the 10 AU member states mandated to pursue UN reform on behalf of the AU.

According to the AU summit agenda the Committee of 10 was scheduled to meet to discuss plans on how to forge consensus in Africa on the matter of UNSC reform.

The meeting was, according to media reports, hijacked by the AU chairman.

Mugabe has always campaigned for Africa to have a permanent representation on the UNSC. This time he needlessly spoiled the proceedings by lambasting, although not mentioning them by name, South Africa and Nigeria, the two most obvious candidates, should two permanent seats be allocated to Africa.

He told the Committee of 10 that Africa “will never agree to South Africa and Nigeria getting permanent seats on the UNSC” because they had both, when sitting on the UNSC as non-permanent members in 2011, voted for UNSC Resolution 1973.

UNSC Resolution 1973 authorised military action against the regime of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

Mugabe is of the view that both South Africa and Nigeria “betrayed Africa and could never be trusted”.

He conveniently ignores the fact that the SAG justified its vote on the grounds that foreign military intervention was necessary to prevent Gaddafi from unleashing his troops on his opponents, and then later condemned the Nato-led military coalition for going beyond the UNSC mandate.

The AU has only itself to blame for the disrupting role Mugabe is playing.

At the beginning of this year he was elected, with much acclaim and fanfare, as AU chairman, and the AU has to take responsibility if Africa’s dream of reforming the UNSC is jeopardised by his antics.

Embarrassment and irony          

To those members and employees of the AU trying their utmost to nurture and promote democracy on the continent, it must have come as a huge embarrassment when Mugabe, in his address as AU chairman, condemned the growing demand for a two-term limit to be imposed on African leaders.

At the same time he ironically also warned against instability caused when leaders seek a longer stay in power. Serving his seventh term as president, he is the personification of what could happen to a country when its leader refuses to go.

Under Mugabe’s rule Zimbabwe has become a country very few envy. In the latest of a long and growing list of failures, Zimbabwe’s central bank has begun phasing out the local currency and is formalising a multi-currency system.

Zimbabweans can now exchange bank accounts of up to 175 quadrillion (175,000,000,000,000,000) Zimbabwean dollars for five US dollars.

Forgetting or conveniently ignoring his own bloody history and the unleashing of his own storm troopers to harass, intimidate, hurt and even murder opponents in retaliation for rejecting in a 2000 referendum a new constitution that would ensure an extension of his presidency, he spoke out against African leaders seeking retaliation as he did.

To top it all, Mugabe, during his opening address, advised his fellow African leaders to prevent conflicts forcing people to flee their countries! Meanwhile hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans fled to South Africa and other countries in southern Africa.

The AU has played its part in the general progress recorded in Africa in recent years, but it could and would have done better, if not for the mistake of electing people of the ilk of Robert Mugabe to leadership positions within the organisation.

by Garth Cilliers

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