Five Zuma clones vying to replace Nkosazana at AU? Sad but true
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Five Zuma clones vying to replace Nkosazana at AU? Sad but true

Posted TEE NGUGI

on  Monday, January 30   2017 at  14:36

We must demand nothing but the very best from ourselves and our leadership. Not to please anyone, but for ourselves. Then the world will begin to take notice.

Five candidates are in the running to be Chairperson of the AU Commission. Four of them, including Kenya’s Amina Mohamed, are foreign ministers of their respective countries. The fifth is a former UN special envoy to Central Africa.

Therefore, there is no doubt that all five have the requisite intellectual attributes and experience to hold that position. However, none of them has the ideological frame of mind that would transform the AU, and, by force of their personality and conviction, inspire a reinvention of Africa.

No matter who takes the chair, they will be more or less like the departing Chair, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

Zuma was lacklustre, uninspiring, and she seemed more concerned with small ideas, like getting impunity for African heads of state from the ICC.

A paradigm shift

But perhaps most damning was her unwillingness to bring about, or at least propose, a paradigm shift in the way we think of Africa. Her ideological perspective remained firmly grounded in the nationalist ideology of the pre- and post-colonial period.

This ideology has many shades, from Negritude to so-called African Personality. But the common denominator in all its various expressions is what can be called a conspiracy element, a belief that the Western world is out to keep Africa down for exploitative and racist reasons.

As such, most who believe in this theory, implicitly or explicitly view international organisations such as the ICC, Amnesty International, Transparency International, and even sometimes the UN, as agents of this colonial conspiracy.

So they scream that African problems must be solved by Africans, they squirm at criticism of African presidents, and feel a great deal of discomfort at being told that Africa is corrupt and inefficient.

They lash out with self-righteous indignation at suggestions that Africa’s economic and political woes are caused by Africans themselves. They repeat the same nationalist mantra of colonialism and neo-colonialism to explain all problems on the continent, from economic collapse to state failure to human-rights abuses.

Conspiracy theory

Blinded by this conspiracy theory, they fail to see the wanton destruction in human and material terms being wreaked by African leaders on their own countries and peoples.

In a lecture at Ibadan University in the early 1980s, African scholar Abiola Irele talked of this nationalist fixation and its consequences.

He warned that as we became mesmerised, for instance, by Mobutu’s so-called philosophy of authenticism, which purported to be a movement back to our African-ness, represented by reclaiming our African names and wearing Kaunda shirts and leopard skin hats, the real business of stealing our wealth orchestrated by Mobutu was going on.

Similarly, as African minds are engaged with arguments about a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, the Mugabes, Musevenis and Obiangs of this world press their boots more firmly on the necks of their citizens.

Crucial and urgent

Some, like Teodoro Obiang, continue to siphon unbelievable amounts of money out of their countries.

But this nationalist view that distracts us from what is really crucial and urgent is increasingly coming under criticism. One prominent voice has been advocating a paradigm shift in the way we do things – former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

A few years ago in an address to the AU in Addis Ababa, he bravely made that point, and criticised African leadership for the sorry state of human rights on the continent.

But a person like Kofi Annan would never be elected chair of the AU Commission, precisely because he would pose a danger to the ideology that has protected African leadership over the past 50 years.

The AU chair is designed to play by the rules set by the African presidents.

Scream for a seat

So neither Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, Moussa Faki Mahamat, Agapito Mba Mokuy, Amina Mohamed nor Abdoulaye Bathily will change anything.

As foreign ministers, there is nothing in their records to show, for instance, that human rights are factored into their diplomacy. As for the UN envoy, he has failed to lead a discourse that would put the blame for state failure, such as in the Central African Republic, squarely on African leadership.

Africa will get respect when it puts its house in order. To scream for a seat on the Security Council while we have presidents slipping into exile with sacks of state money Jammeh style, or presidents making their sons vice president Teodoro Obiang style, or starving millions, is a futile exercise.

We must demand nothing but the very best from ourselves and our leadership. Not to please anyone, but for ourselves. Then the world will begin to take notice.

Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political and social commentator. E-mail: teengugi@gmail.com