Published on Baobab*, by D.G., January 31, 2012.
THE façade of African unity has been blown asunder and South Africa’s hopes of leading the continent dashed after elections on January 30th for the head of the 54-member African Union ended in a stalemate. Neither Jean Ping, the incumbent from francophone Gabon, nor his challenger, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, ex-wife of the South African president, Jacob Zuma, managed to garner the two-thirds majority required. Fresh elections will be held at the AU’s next summit in Malawi in June.
The outcome of the poll, held in the AU’s new Chinese-built headquarters in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, will entrench divisions already apparent in the organisation as it has struggled—and failed—to present a united front on such matters as the UN’s bombing of Libya, the disputed elections in Côte d’Ivoire and the International Criminal Court’s indictment of African rulers like Libya’s late leader, Colonel Muammar Qaddafi, and Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir.
Chuffed by its recent inclusion in the BRICS, the elite club of emerging-world giants—Brazil, Russia, India and China—and its election to a second two-year term on the UN Security Council, South Africa had announced to all and sundry ahead of the poll its confidence that it would win. But Africa’s largest economy underestimated the resistance to its hegemonic tendencies on the continent, particularly from other African heavyweights, such as Egypt and Nigeria, as well as among the smaller francophone countries to whom Mr Zuma has never bothered to endear himself … //
… Different numbers have been provided by anonymous sources for the outcome of the secret ballot. But all agree that the vote in the first three rounds was extremely close, with Mr Ping edging into a narrow lead only in the third. This obliged Ms Dlamini-Zuma, a former South African foreign minister and now minister for home affairs, to withdraw, allowing Mr Ping, Gabon’s former foreign minister, to go into the fourth round unchallenged. But even then he failed to win the two-thirds support necessary. His deputy, Erastus Mwencha, will take his place as acting chairman of the AU Commission until new elections can be held.
Update: The AU has now decided that Mr Ping should remain at the head of the organisation until fresh elections are held. (full text).
*Baobab, the African Blog of The Economist.