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African Union Election Draws Fire for Unopposed Candidate at Top

FILE: African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat speaks during the African Union summit in Niamey, Niger July 7, 2019. REUTERS/Tagaza Djibo NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE - RC18799E6210
FILE: African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat speaks during the African Union summit in Niamey, Niger July 7, 2019. REUTERS/Tagaza Djibo NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE - RC18799E6210

As the world’s attention focuses on the coming American election, another important vote for a key position is generating controversy in Africa.

Chadian politician Moussa Faki Mahamat is running unopposed for reelection as chairman of the African Union Commission. Critics say his run is undemocratic and are seeking an extension of the nomination deadline to November.

The uncontested race has provoked outrage from observers of the 55-member African Union, who say the AU is failing to represent the needs of the continent’s 1.3 billion people.

Critics of the Ethiopia-based organization are lobbying for the vote to be postponed for at least six months to let more candidates come forward. Moussa Faki Mahamat, the former foreign minister of Chad, has held the post since 2017.

Sarfo Abebrese, author of a petition by the Coalition of Supporters Unions of Africa, says the AU postponed the vote four years ago when there were only three candidates for that seat. At the time, the AU said that wasn’t enough.

“How come, that four years down the line, at this same time, we are having only one candidate, and people are telling us that that is representative enough? If three wasn’t representative enough, how can one be representative enough? How can we go this way when we are preaching democracy throughout all the 55 African countries? When we are telling the people of Africa that we want to go the democratic way?”

Analyst Liesl Louw-Vaudran of the Institute for Security Studies says this vote — cast by African heads of state, not by the general population — is important.

“It’s a very important position. The AU commission chairperson also has to represent the continent on the world stage, basically, when it comes to Africa’s relations with the European Union, with China, with the U.S., with the UN. And he has quite a lot of leeway, I would say, although the African Union is an intergovernmental organization, which means it’s not the EU, where the organization can actually tell member states what to do.”

That’s why, says pan-African activist Daniel Mwambonu, it’s critical to get a leader who truly represents the continent. Mwambonu says he supports the petition to delay the vote. He spoke to VOA from Nairobi, via Google Hangouts.

“He has displayed a lot of incompetency in the organization and running of the African Union organization. At the same time, he has been unable to address issues that are facing people of African descent across the world. And there have been allegations of massive fraud at the African Union — corruption, nepotism — which governs the appointment of people to different positions. Over the years, we have seen that the African Union has failed to attain the objectives it was founded on.”

So, if not Mahamat, then who? Critics say one candidate, the AU’s former ambassador to the U.S. — a Zimbabwean national — has been sidelined after she was removed from that position last year.

Both critics also alleged the AU has been heavily influenced by former colonial leader, France. Since 2002, four of the five commission chairpersons have come from Francophone nations. Again, Abebrese:

“Just by the uproar that came around after the purported sack of Madam Arikana Chihombori-Quao, I would say, and my organization says, that Faki Mahamat is a failure. He is not somebody that should lead Africa for another four years. And we want a change. Now, come to think of it, Madam Arikana Chihombori-Quao herself has filed an application for a nomination to become a runner for that same position. And we have a situation where her nomination has gotten lost at the AU headquarters. And that is very, very strange.”

AU members have not been able to meet in person in recent months because of the global coronavirus pandemic. Abebrese says the petition to delay the election has garnered 16,000 signatures. If granted, the vote would be moved to early 2021.