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South Africa Fails in AU Bid, Setting Back Africa Plan

South Africa failed in its bid to secure control of the African Union’s top decision-making body, setting back its plan for the continental organization to play a more forceful role in global politics.

South African Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma didn’t win enough support in yesterday’s election in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for head of the AU Commission. The incumbent, Jean Ping, who failed to secure two-thirds of the vote to win a second term, will remain in the position until the next AU summit in June, his spokesman, Noureddine Mezni, said in a mobile-phone text message today.

It’s “embarrassing for South Africa that it has not been able to carry a majority,” Daniel Silke, an independent political analyst who has advised Telkom South Africa Ltd. and Sanlam Ltd., said in a phone interview from Cape Town. “It clearly shows South Africa will have to do some targeted lobbying in the run-up to any future elections.”

Dlamini-Zuma, a former wife of South African President Jacob Zuma, had challenged Ping to push the AU to take a more forceful role in world politics and to ensure it’s run more effectively. South Africa generates a third of sub-Saharan Africa’s gross domestic product, is the only African member of Group of 20 industrialized nations and holds the rotating presidency of the United Nations Security Council.

‘Continent Wants Change’

Ping’s failure to gain a two-third majority sent a message that was “very very clear that leaders of this continent want change and they want it now,” South African International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said in an e-mailed statement yesterday from Addis Ababa, where the African Union is based.

The AU agreed to create a committee of seven heads of state, which will meet in March, to “address issues relating to the next elections of the members of the commission,” Mezni said. The committee will also decide whether Ping and Dlamini-Zuma can run again, he said.

Under Ping’s tenure, the African Union has been criticized by African leaders including Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga for declining to use force to help oust former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo after a disputed election. The AU delayed its recognition of the Libyan National Transitional Council until a month after the rebels deposed former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi.

Human Rights Violations

The AU also hasn’t confronted the leaders of several member states accused of flouting democracy and human rights violations, including Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and Libya’s Qaddafi. The group last year elected as its ceremonial head Equatorial Guinea leader Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who has been in power since 1979 and whom Human Rights Watch, the New York-based advocacy group, accuses of plundering his nation’s oil riches.

The failure to successfully elect a chairman comes as the commission faces managerial and financial challenges, including under-utilization of its budget last year, according to the Institute for Security Studies.

Of the $256 million the commission was allocated in 2011, it used less than 40 percent, Mehari Taddele Maru, head of the ISS’s conflict prevention program in Addis Ababa, said in an interview. While the commission has about 1,000 staff members, 328 posts have been vacant for the past eight years, he said.

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