Is Robert Mugabe the right person to chair the African Union?

Such is the irony of democracy in that sometimes even cantankerous oafs can be celebrated as valiant heroes.

A few days ago, I was dismayed to learn that Robert Mugabe had been chosen as chairperson of the African Union (also reported by Al Jazeera here). Reading the comments below the announcement, its interesting to note just how many supporters Mugabe has even in Malawi. Now, I  know he is considered a warrior-esque hero in most parts of Africa, and if you sat next to him at a party, you would no doubt find yourself amused by some of his jokes.

But in the 21st Century, an old man’s jokes are not good enough when inequality is growing; when young unemployed people are demanding more from their leaders; when security is worrying investors, after all the negative publicity Mugabe and the ZANU PF have received in recent years, was Mugabe really the best leader that the AU could have come up with from Southern Africa?

I know there is a process of rotation of chairmanship in the AU’s framework, but are we not shooting ourselves in the foot here? If after everything we are resigned to going with Mugabe as AU chair, isn’t that an indictment as to the lack of leadership across Africa? After all, will it not be the head of the AU representing the Pan-African bloc and be the face of Africa at international summits such as the G8 and G20?

I’m not convinced they’ve got it right this time around.

Ceremonial it may be but Robert Mugabe is not the right person to chair the AU. And for many reasons, not least that:-

Africa needs leaders who are going to move the continent forward

Forget his cosy relationship with China, a Mugabe chairmanship is bound to be one characterised by jests to the west and pronouncements of Pan-Africanism devoid of any real substance, in every speech. Yes, we agree that Zimbabwe has been unfairly punished by sanctions, and ordinary people have disproportionately suffered as a result. Yes we agree that tax evasion and illicit financial outflows have worsened the marginalisation created by colonisation. We all agree that Africans find it difficult to raise capital (partly because of bias and partly because most Africans do not have the assets to put forward as collateral) and that something must be done to re-balance the playing field; Yes we all want Africans to be economically independent, and poverty to be overcome – it’s an African mantra; We all desire a fair state of play where western countries are not forcing their economic policies on African countries, or virtually holding nooses around our economies; it is true that regime change must be the preserve of the people of a democratic country via elections, and not forced on them by donors, neighbouring countries or foreign powers.

But in practice how are you going to achieve all those aims?

How are you going to ensure that there is accountability in governance? That Africans have fairer access to capital to enable them to pursue entrepreneurship. That state spending on women, healthcare and education is prioritized over vain self-enrichment projects. What is the plan to defeat ‘economic enslavement’? For example what should Africa do to reduce Youth Unemployment and ensure that young people who come out of Universities can use their skills to advance the continent? How are you going to encourage manufacturing, or open up new markets for African goods? What are you actually going to do about it?

Sadly, I don’t think Mugabe has the answers, because if he did, his own country would have started recovering from the economic disorder it currently is in. Also, consider this: with all the controversy around Mugabe, and despite the lifting of some sanctions, how many moderate donors (those who do not strictly subscribe to the Anglo-American line of sanctions) in the developed world are going to want to associate with him? In the end you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

The African Union needs leaders who are going to inspire hope

How many young people today would name Mugabe as a leader who inspires hope? On what basis would they do so? What has Mugabe done for his people lately that is noticeable and  that is worthy of praise? To hit this point home, take Paul Kagame in Rwanda for example. He is a man who despite the criticism, is driving Rwanda forward with an admirable and achievable economic policy. The results are there for all to see. Rwanda has over 55% of its parliamentarians being women. Has a GDP per capita of around $1500 compared to Zimbabwe’s $500. And yet Rwanda is much smaller compared to Zimbabwe.

In the East you have Uhuru Kenyatta whose policies are opening up Kenya to investment (according to AFK insider Kenya Will Have Highest Number Of Initial Public Offerings In East Africa). Kenya is driving proposals for an African court of Justice and Human Rights a step designed to move away from the selective prosecutions of the ICC. Kenyatta is building infrastructure including plans to provide clean water to 30,000 low-income households, strengthening security and investing in young people using the National Youth Service. And this is just a tiny fraction to what Kenyatta is doing. Why didn’t they select him instead?

To the West, you have Angolan president José Eduardo dos Santos, who although equally controversial, hasn’t attracted the kind of bad publicity that has hounded Mugabe. Despite the fall in global oil prices, Angola’s economy is still growing with the country set to post a growth of 5.2% this year. And although unemployment is at 26%, there is foreign direct investment, one of the highest infrastructure development in Africa and effective poverty alleviation mechanism are in place. In other words, a man in charge of his own house.

Similarly, while it is true that he is stepping down as president of Namibia, but how about Hifikepunye Pohamba as AU chair? Why not elect him instead, and transition to the new Namibian leader in March?

The African Union needs leaders who will get to grips with the continent’s biggest challenges

And the 90-year-old Mugabe is not cut out for that.

How did the AU perform with regards to the recent Ebola crisis? Or more specifically, what did Zimbabwe do to contribute?

Further, until very recently, why haven’t the AU confronted Boko Haram head on? How have they reacted to the various episodes of unrest in several African countries in recent years? On South Sudan?

Why does it often appear as though the AU is always the last to the crime scene on African soil, behind the UN, the US and countries of the EU…? In the Central African Republic for example, when it was revealed that there was ample evidence of war crimes, what has the AU done since?

Can such an organisation really afford its leadership to a controversial old man who has burnt most of his bridges?

If the militants known as ISIS are finally driven out of their caliphatal enclaves in Northern Iraq and Syria, where will they seek shelter, seeing a considerable number of them will be unable to return to their home countries? Do you think they will leave all their weapons behind? Suddenly deciding to lead peaceful civilian lives? What if they decided to come to Africa? And its porous borders…

If African leaders do not strengthen their borders, an evil worse than Al Shabbab or Boko Haram combined could infiltrate the continent causing untold horror. And before long, car bombings, beheadings and suicide attacks of the kind we see every day in the middle east will bring to African soil a reign of terror that has never been seen previously.

The African Union in collaboration with western countries and others such as Russia, Japan and China must be at the forefront of anticipating these things, and preemptively act well in advance to bump up security to prevent such terror from ever gaining ground across Africa. In my view Robert Mugabe is not the man to front such an important agenda.

I’ll end with words from one Zimbabwean contact, who is also an activist:

ZIMBABWEANS we create our own problems.
Why are overzealous brainwashed Cadres calling for people to go and receive President Mugabe at Harare Airport coming from his holiday in Asia paid by tax payers? People will use ZUPCO Buses to the airport paid by TaxPayers but the Govt is struggling to pay civil servants;services delivery is down,poverty,poor healthcare,economy is down and families can’t afford to pay fees for their children.Is this happening in other countries? ……..AND you think you are PATRIOTIC!

Go on, throw your weight behind Mr Mugabe if you want.



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