The African Union summit is being held this weekend. For residents of Addis Ababa, the time normally entailed the mood for hospitality, surging sales, diplomatic motorcades shooting past and road blockades. However, none of those things are going to be there this weekend as the assembly will be held virtually.
One of the major agendas of the assembly is the election of leaders of the AU Commission (AUC). The African Union Assembly elects the leadership of the AU Commission every four years. The Commission has the primary responsibility of conducting and coordinating the strategic and operational activities of the Union. The election of the Chairperson, Deputy Chairperson and six Commissioners will be the main agenda item of the AU Assembly this weekend.
This year’s election will be conducted in line with the decision of the AU Assembly of November 2018 on the AU institutional reform. The decision made back then reduced the number of Commissioners from eight to six by merging the Political Affairs and the Peace and Security Departments and the Economic Affairs and the Trade and Industry Departments. The decision also stressed the need to implement the principle of gender parity to the posts of Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson. It further ruled that the six Commissioner posts should also be equally distributed by gender and across the three regions that are not represented at Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson levels.
Ninety-eight candidates were reportedly nominated for the positions of AUC Chairperson, Deputy Chairperson and six Commissioners. The incumbent AUC Chairperson, Moussa Faki Mahamat, is a sole candidate for the Chairmanship of the Commission. There are six candidates for the position of the Deputy chairperson, including four senior female officials from Djibouti, Gambia, Rwanda, Uganda, and Ghana. The AU Panel of Eminent Persons that was established to review the candidates for the six Commissioner posts has shortlisted twenty-five nominees among 89 candidates submitted by member States.
According to the Rules, Mahamat needs to secure a two-thirds majority vote of the member states. Should he fail to attain the required number of votes, the elections for all other positions would be postponed until the next Summit. The Reporter’s diplomatic source who spoke on condition of anonymity pointed out that while many recognize the gains made under the leadership of the incumbent to operationalize key continental initiatives such as the African Continental Free Trade Area as well as the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, many others criticize his timid approach in responding to governance related crises throughout the continent. The source also noted that some perceive him to be too close to France and subject to extra-African influence.
Candidates from Nigeria, South Africa, Burkina Faso and Tanzania are short listed for the very powerful portfolio of the newly established political, peace and security Commissioner. Three Algerian diplomats, Said Djinnit, Ramtane Lamamra and Smail Chergui, held this position for over two decades since the late 1990s. The former Ambassador of Nigeria to Ethiopia and the AU, Bankole Adeoye, is considered to be the leading candidate for the position.
The Ethiopian Government has presented Prof. Hirut Woldemariam for the post of the AU Commissioner of Education, Science, Technology and Innovation. AU has also decided to back Arkebe Oqubay (PhD), Special Advisor to the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, in his bid to become Director-General of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).
The Reporter’s source also stated that many commentators are not sure about the viability and integrity of the electronic election methods that the AU is planning to use for the first time during this election. Others are also questioning whether all positions could be filled in line with the required gender and regional balance.
The new leadership of the Commission will be expected to implement the major flagship projects of the Union, such as Agenda 2063, Silencing the Guns by 2030, as well as the African Continental Free Trade Area. The Commission is also expected to coordinate the continent’s post-COVID-19 recovery and ensure that the necessary amount of vaccine is allocated to the continent. Above all, making the Union a “peoples’ Union”, rather than the “club of leaders” is a daunting task that requires more attention than ever. Popular participation is essential for the achievement of AU’s vision for “an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in [the] global arena”.