While Ms Mohamed is considered to have a good chance, boosted by robust lobbying in recent weeks, there is consensus that national interest, experience and the credibility of candidates are factors likely to determine who takes over from Dr Dlamini-Zuma.
The candidature of Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed to chair the African Union Commission was initially seen as an afterthought in diplomatic circles. But the bid to replace outgoing chair, South Africa’s Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, is generating multiple narratives, according to wide-ranging interviews the Nation had with diplomats and experts.
“Winning an election depends on how much you have lobbied and who you have lobbied,” says Dr Ochieng’ Kamudhayi, who teaches at the Centre for Public Policy and Competitiveness, Strathmore Business School.
He says that the winner is likely to be the one who will protect the interests of a majority of countries.
Kenya launched its campaign after President Uhuru Kenyatta put in Ms Mohamed’s name early last month. The Foreign Affairs CS then travelled to Rwanda, Gabon and Uganda to make the initial lobbying. Uganda had withdrawn its candidate, former Vice-President Specioza Kazibwe, following the botched elections in July. Gabon last fielded Mr Jean Ping who failed to defend the seat in 2012 while Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame is set to take over from Chadian President Idriss Deby as next AU General Assembly chairman in January.
Ms Mohamed’s advantages, several Nairobi-based African diplomats say, include name recognition in the continent, having strong contacts, and coming from East Africa — which has not produced a commission chairperson (a Tanzanian served as secretary-general in the Organisation of African Unity). However, having Kenya’s Erastus Mwencha as AU deputy chair since 2008 could be used to argue that the country has had its fair share of top leadership even though he is ineligible to defend his position in January.
“The deputy chair is an administrative position. There is no written regulation to bar Kenya from competing for the AU chair. If she (Ms Mohamed) wins, Kenya will have a say in the direction of AU on matters such as the International Criminal Court, peacekeeping missions and other political standpoints like reforms within the UN,” said an ambassador in Nairobi, whose country is a member of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad) but who spoke in confidence.
However, Kenya must first continue to invest in shuttle diplomacy, which costs time and money. An itinerary provided to the Nation shows Kenya has so far sent emissaries — from President Kenyatta, Deputy President William Ruto and several Cabinet Secretaries — to 35 countries. Last week, President Kenyatta met with several leaders in Morocco on the sidelines of the Climate Change Conference. Next week, Ms Mohamed is expected to visit island nations of Cape Verde, Sao Tome and Principe, Mauritius, Comoros and Madagascar.
Kenya will also send representatives to lobby leaders at the conference on Africa-Arab relations in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, and during a francophone summit in Madagascar later this month.
“She is generally well regarded and President Kenyatta’s standing among African leaders is also high. Basically, our bloc (Igad) is behind Amina and some other regions have voiced their support. She needs to keep lobbying and selling her policies to the undecided countries,” the ambassador from the region said.
Multiple sources told the Nation that the strategy is for Ms Mohamed to go through round one of voting.
The CS is competing against Equatorial Guinea’s Foreign Minister Agapito Mba Mokuy, Chad’s Moussa Faki Mahamat, Senegal’s Abdoulaye Bathily (currently the UN representative in Central Africa Republic), and Botswana’s Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi .
Dr Elias Mokua, the Director of the Jesuit Hakimani Centre and lecturer at the School of Journalism at the University of Nairobi, said Ms Mohamed faces a strong field. Dr Mokua said the one who best articulates policies on Africa’s peace and security issues, and the political agenda, will carry the day.
“These are international relations where countries have certain interests. Peace and security is not just a continental issue but a global one. However, the way the world sees or reacts to conflict in Africa is also affected by our stability, which means it is more critical for the person who comes in to make this a priority,” Dr Mokua said.
Ms Mohamed’s manifesto talks of timely intervention in conflicts, boosting trade and regional integration through infrastructure connectivity, revising the bureaucracy at the AU secretariat to ensure efficiency, giving the continent a voice on the global stage, looking for local means to finance AU and wean it from dependency on donors and making the Union accessible to member states.
“The AU candidate must be one who will stand before the world on the same footing and articulate issues firmly to convince the world that indeed Africa has a voice. This is true especially at a time the West is looking inwards and trying to shove aside other continents,” said Mr George Mucee, an immigration consultant and Practice Leader at consultancy company Fragomen Kenya.
“Moderating extreme positions, having experience in lobbying, and being able to understand how international politics works is what Africa needs,” Mr Mucee said.
“Amina has all these qualities and I believe strongly that her handling of Kenya’s ICC matter set her apart as a person with the strength, will power and determination to advance Africa’s position anywhere and bring home positive results,” he said.
Kenya lobbied strongly for the AU to pass a resolution opposing the ICC from prosecuting sitting heads of state. At the time, President Kenyatta and his deputy were facing charges of crimes against humanity at the court in The Hague. The charges were subsequently dropped.
“The ICC is still a critical issue in Africa. The person who wins will have to be able to play around with the issue of the ICC for the benefit of these leaders,” said Dr Kamudhayi.
South Africa, the Gambia and Burundi have all formally started the procedure to pull out. But that is not the only factor behind the elections.
Ms Mohamed’s candidature makes her the only one from Eastern Africa, which has 14 countries.
However, sources say Burundi has been lukewarm in supporting Kenya’s candidature even as Defence Secretary Raychelle Omamo lobbied Bujumbura on Thursday. Sudan has pledged to support Kenya, but is yet to make a public commitment because Chad, its neighbour, is in the race. Kenya is said to have convinced Somalia not to nominate its former Foreign Minister Fowsiyo Yusuf Haji Adan as a candidate to avoid splitting the region’s vote.
There are 53 countries with eligible votes. Kenya has already given up on five: Botswana, Equatorial Guinea, Chad, Senegal and Tunisia. All these, except Tunisia which is competing for the deputy AU chair, are eying the same seat.
As it is, 24 countries have expressed positive indication of voting for Kenya and some scattered support from south, north, central and West Africa. A candidate needs 34 votes to win the post outright. In the last failed elections, Botswana’s Ms Venson-Moitoi won 27. She still remains a strong contender.
“Traditionally, Africa has voted along regional blocs. It is give-and-take. In SADC, we have a consensus to give Botswana our vote. But in round two, each country will make its own decision. That is where Amina stands to benefit,” a diplomat from the Southern African Development Community said, referring to the region’s 15-member bloc headquartered in Gaborone, Botswana.
In that case, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Comoros, Seychelles, Namibia and Malawi could support Kenya in the second round.
SADC had supported Botswana even before the July elections which were largely boycotted by the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), whose members complained that their candidate from Senegal had been unable to hand in his bid and that the three candidates at the time were not appealing.
Senegal’s Prof Bathily was endorsed as the consensus candidate by Ecowas. But Kenya and Botswana have taken advantage of the split in the West African bloc between the Anglophone and Francophone to lobby for its candidate.