The Botswana and Southern African Development Community (SADC) candidate for the position of African Union Commission (AUC) chairwoman, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, is counting on the support of member countries which previously abstained from voting, to win the election, which is scheduled for early next year. The elections are to be held during the 28th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government at AU Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on January 30 and 31. Candidatures should be submitted to the AUC on September 30. The poll will be held six months after an elective summit in Kigali, Rwanda, where none of the three candidates vying to succeed South Africa’s Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma got a two-thirds majority. Venson-Moitoi led with 16 votes, ahead of Agapito Mba Mokuy of Equatorial Guinea (representing central Africa), who got 12 votes. Specioza Naigaga Wandira Kazibwe of Uganda (representing east Africa) secured 11 votes. The 15-member Economic Commission of West African States, which could not field a candidate, absconded from voting.
Meanwhile, there were reservations about Kazibwe’s nomination as she was probed for abuse of state funds during her tenure as her country’s vice-president. Some also questioned the suitability of Mokuy because Equatorial Guinea is seen as a repressive state under President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo. There was some scepticism about Botswana's candidate, with President Ian Khama seldom attending AU summits and holding views contrary to those of many member states.
Venson-Moitoi, Botswana's Foreign Minister, was confident she would win the poll outright, pinning her hopes on votes from countries which had abstained from voting in Rwanda. The SADC candidate said increased support from other regional blocs of the continent, such as west and north African member states, had boosted her selection as a replacement for Dlamini-Zuma. She said support for her candidature had increased “tremendously”. “I believe the wave of support we had leading up to Kigali has only become bigger and deeper,” said the 65-year-old veteran politician. “I am humbled by (the support) and further encouraged by it. “I would not be re-offering myself, if I felt I did not stand a chance to win or that I could not match the task if I won.”
Apart from the support which has been promised by other regional blocs, Venson-Moitoi is counting on her decades-long stint in Botswana’s cabinet and the private sector to make her an attractive candidate for the position. “I believe my 40 years of public and private service experience across a very broad spectrum provides me with a very unique set of skills that will serve the AU well. I want to do my part as an African to give back to a continent that has given me what I have,” Venson-Moitoi said. “My view is that the AU, in the person of their chief executive officer, needs less politics and more administration. “We have to start making meaningful progress if we are to truly see Africa take its rightful position as an economic and political player in the world.” She said her campaign was premised on continuity. There was a strong belief the SADC deserved the position of AUC chair as Dlamini-Zuma was entitled to two terms but only served one.
The South African, who has been the AU chairperson since 2012, did not apply for a second term.
Nonetheless, she will occupy the position until January, when a successor is elected. Venson-Moitoi said the SADC region “brought to the table a strong value proposition for the AU and for Africa as a whole”. “I will not be changing my song,” she said. “I will just make it louder! “Africa deserves better and I believe I can bring better – better professionalism, better governance and better commitment to action the desires of the member states.” She laughed off the possibility that perceptions of Botswana as “anti-Africa”, after it clashed with fellow African countries on human rights issues, would affect her chances. “Botswana has a very well-documented history of being key to the development of its people, its region and Africa as a whole,” argued Venson-Moitoi. “What may be unpalatable to a few, might be that Botswana is prepared to take stands based on principle. This has, on occasion, set Botswana at a slight tangent to other states. But to suggest that having a varied view is ‘anti-Africa’ is being simplistic.” She said the southern African country’s commitment to the continent was well known.
A few years after attaining independence from Britain in 1966, Botswana began to play a more significant role in international politics, putting itself forward as a non-racial, liberal, democratic alternative to apartheid South Africa. From 1974, Botswana, together with Zambia and Tanzania, and joined by Mozambique and Angola, was one of the “front line states” seeking to bring majority rule to Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. “Botswana is a landlocked country in the heart of the continent; a country that had its own role during the years of white minority oppression in the region; a country whose commitment to African issues since it joined the AU is recorded; a member whose forces have been deployed across the continent in peacekeeping missions,” said Venson-Moitoi. “I could go on. It is not many African countries who may hold that view (of Botswana as anti-African). What you are referring to is a recent misconception held by a very few.
“I would like to add, however, that although I am nominated by Botswana, I am a SADC candidate. I believe I should be judged as a southern African female candidate, with the right credentials, who wants only the very best for Africa,” Venson-Moitoi said. She said if elected, her first tasks would be to enhance professionalism, improve governance and advance commitment to action.
Asked what value she would add to the AU, Venson-Moitoi highlighted the need to reorganise and rebuild the identity of the AU. “I will deliver on the desires of the member states. We are not short of ideas at the AU. Where we have work to do is converting those ideas into tangible action that benefits Africa.” Amid criticism of the UN's perceived lackadaisical approach to African crises, she said under her presidency, the AU would push for dialogue. “As I am a big believer in dialogue, my response is therefore: ‘We cannot fix anything if we do not talk about issues.’ “There is a Tswana saying ‘ntwa kgolo ke ya molomo’, which literally means the biggest battle one can have is a battle of words. It is easy to get violent and often much harder to sit down and talk. “That is what I believe is key to addressing a lot of African issues. It is also key in having our position heard and understood in all the various memberships that the AU finds itself in.
I will not shut the door on dialogue as the AU chair; quite the opposite, I will open the doors to dialogue.” Venson-Moitoi believes the AU could benefit from Botswana’s decades-long profile as one of Africa’s most stable countries and the continent’s longest continuous multi-party democracy. It is relatively free of corruption and has a credible human rights record. “I come from a country that has seen 50 years of uninterrupted democracy and has only known peace,” Venson-Moitoi said. “All this has allowed my home country to develop and provide services to its citizens for 50 years. “I would like to share this background and understanding of what is possible when strong administration and governance are injected into an organisation. I want to make Africa a better place, starting January 2017, starting with the Africa’s main office of governance.” – CAJ News