Africa's political executives yesterday opened up the African Union Commission (AUC) chairperson race to new entrants after abstention by 16 West Africa states under their umbrella group, ECOWAS, deprived the three contenders of an outright win.
A winner, according to the rules, should garner at least two-thirds of the votes by the 53 members, excluding Morocco which is just making a comeback to the continental body.
Uganda's candidate Dr Speciosa Wandira Kazibwe, a former Vice President, whose bid the government supported with Shs1 billion, was knocked out in the first round after she tailed with 11 votes. Her rivals Pelomi Venson-Moitoi of Botswana and Equatorial Guinea's Agapito Mba Mokuy garnered 16 and 12 votes, respectively.
The voting was moved from Sunday to yesterday morning as the first agenda for the day after a last-minute attempt by the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) to defer the elections was thwarted.
Insiders told this newspaper that the eventual lead candidate, Botswana's Dr Pelomi Venson-Moitoi, during the fourth and last round, polled 23 votes, which, although the highest, still fell below the 35-vote threshold to bag the job currently held by South Africa's Dlamini Zuma.
Ms Zuma is expected to remain in-charge for the next six months, but could throw her hat back in the ring if yesterday's failure to find a suitable replacement buoys her to change her mind and seek re-election.
Mr Jacob Enoh Eben, the spokesperson of the AUC chairperson, tweeted that: "'Black smoke billows' from the 27th AU summit as no winner emerges," referencing a popular Vatican phrase when voting by cardinals in a conclave for a new Pope is inconclusive.
"Elections were suspended as abstention by Ecowas group [meant] no candidate could get two-thirds majority required," Uganda's Foreign Affairs ministry Permanent Secretary James Mugume told this newspaper from Rwanda, host of the 27th ordinary AU summit.
Mr Mugume, however, said it was premature to count Dr Kazibwe out and defeated because, according to him, "the first vote only reflects group strengths". "It is possible," the PS noted, "to start third and win when the groups become more flexible. All candidates remain in the race, including Dr Wandira."
A senior diplomat told this newspaper that whereas the law allows Uganda to re-nominate Dr Kazibwe for the voting rescheduled for January 2017 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; doing so after yesterday's poor show, would diminish the country's chances and complicate galvanising regional endorsement for her candidature. A more pragmatic option, the source suggested, would be for Kampala to front another more accomplished contestant.
We were unable to speak directly to Dr Kazibwe, who remained holed up in a nearby hotel room after losing in early voting that the heads of State conducted through secret ballot at the new imposing Kigali Convention Centre.
Ms Sarah Kagingo, the campaign spokesperson, however, said the ex-vice president was "upbeat". "She has always said this was not [a case of] 'us against them' because we are all Africans," Ms Kagingo said.
Uganda government officials had been optimistic Dr Kazibwe would perform better than it turned out after Kampala made available to her substantial resources, enabling her to criss-cross the continent to court heads of states and governments in meetings followed by photo opportunities.
Prior to the start of the AU Heads of State Summit in Kigali, ECOWAS reportedly filed a motion of request to have the elections deferred on grounds that the regional bloc intended to present a candidate. The request, a source said, was brought forward for debate but AU chairman and Chadian President Idriss Deby, overruled it.
The summit consulted the AU legal counsel, Prof Vincent Nmehielle, who advised that the nominations were conducted in line with the AU's Constitutive Act, with candidates presented and vetted by independent experts before endorsement by the Council of Foreign Affairs ministers.
Ecowas, alleged to be behind a campaign that the final three candidates were not of the right pedigree to lead the continental bloc, was faulted for choosing to ambush the summit with last-minute demands spearheaded by Senegal President Mackay Sall, including for postponement of the vote.
Ivory Coast and Senegal led the Ecowas campaign to postpone the election and when they failed, Senegal presented its former Foreign Affairs minister. He could, however, not be accepted because nominations were already closed. Chairman Deby allowed the voting to proceed.
Shortly after the inconclusive vote, Uganda Foreign Affairs minister Sam Kutesa in a statement issued in Kigali, noted: "The candidates who competed in this election are eligible to run, but the competition will also be opened to other candidates who might be interested and have necessary qualifications."
The struggle for the AUC job
The candidates. Dr Kazibwe, 60, the choice for eastern Africa, was competing with Agapito Mba Mokuy, 51, the Foreign Affairs minister of Equatorial Guinea, also the choice of Central Africa and Southern African Development Community (SADC)'s Dr Pelomi Venson-Moitoi, 65, the Foreign Affairs minister of Botswana.
The voting. First round: Dr Kazibwe =11; Mokuy = 12 Moitoi =16, Abstained= 15. Second round: Dr Kazibwe = 10, Moitoi = 16.
Lobbing. Sources at the summit told Daily Monitor that senior government authorities on Sunday evening continued the lobbying, "fighting hard the stalemate" caused by Ecowas and what was presumed to be the next move of rallying all member countries in the bloc to abstain during the vote. Some Ecowas countries, including Nigeria, had already slackly indicated they will support Uganda's candidate.
The strong resentment of the candidates from both Uganda and Equatorial Guinea, some observers said, is related to what is perceived to be the "repressive regimes" in both countries. Algerian Foreign Affairs Minister Ramtane Lamamra and former Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete were said to be among the people considered for the job.
Source: The Monitor