17.07.2012 Feature Article

When the African Integration Revolution is Televised (1)

When the African Integration Revolution is Televised 1
17.07.2012 LISTEN

“The Accidental Ecowas & AU Citizen”:
By E.K.Bensah Jr
Not for the first time, the African Union is in the news for the wrong reasons.

The fact that South Africa's Dlamini-Zuma, ex-wife of incumbent South African president Jacob Zuma, has won the candidacy for the post of AU Chairman is no longer news. What has instead made headlines is the fact that she is the first woman to head the AU in its ten years of existence.

In my view, what we should have been discussing in greater depth is why there was no other candidate from a “small' country to try and take leadership of the AU after Gabon's Jean Ping. The fact that South Africa—home to the AU's NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency as well as the Pan-African Parliament—was allowed to break internal and unwritten rules of a big country taking over speaks volumes more of the country's arrogance to assert itself using the vehicle of the increasingly-powerful African Union than anything else.

AU Commission Chairmen have traditionally been voted for two terms of four years, so the expectation might be for Zuma's ex-wife to enjoy same priviledges. While it is true that four years will come very quickly, I think for the fact that South Africa broke the rules, with tacit consent of all AU member states, must disqualify South Africa to stand for a second term, especially at time when both Nigeria and South Africa are vying for permanent positions at the UN's Security Council if and when the UN gets its act together on the much-awaited reforms of the Council. The P5 (Britain; Russia; China; the US; France) are a collective and antiquated constellation whose power and complacency must be disturbed at all costs to reflect the increasingly global regional governance that is emerging.

On the specific case of the African Union, I want to touch on three important points we must not lose sight of as we proceed in the admiration of a woman taking over the AU chairmanship

First, although South Africa succeeded in sending up Nigeria and simultaneously exposing its duplicity over Libya in 2011, the fear of South Africa having undue advantage over many African states cannot be sneezed at. South Africa is already a member of the BRICs (comprising Brazil; Russia; India; China; and South Africa). IBSA—over-shadowed by BRICs—comprises India; Brazil and South Africa. For all of Nigeria's putative duplicity vis-à-vis Africa, the most populous country in West Africa ought to have been given a look-in—if not for the fact that it a major oil-producing country. Whoever coined IBSA and BRICS might have forgotten deliberately that Nigeria looms large over Africa!

Second, the fact that Dlamini-Zuma did not make the post of AU Chairman the first time ought to be a reminder that she was never going to be popular. No surprises when we start reading of uphill struggles during her four-year tenure, for the knives are well and truly out! The smaller countries might have been too timorous to protest, but certainly not sufficiently so to start drawing Machiavellian plans on how to disrupt the new Au Chairman's work. The proverbial David/Goliath battles are a narrative running through history. This new election might have set the stage for another interesting narrative.

Third, the fact that Dzalimi-Zuma is a woman at a traditionally-male-dominated job is far from exhilarating. The quality of the person occupying a post like the AU Chairman will always be about how Pan-Africanist the person is. Ping certainly had his opponents and detractors—and with good reason. But I can never shake off the image of that interview with BBC World News' Stephen Sackur, on the “HardTalk” programme, when Ping robustly defended the AU, explaining that the AU was “totally ignored” over Libya, and its many attempts to find a solution to the political permafrost over Libya. A moment that might re-deem Ping's image is when he asked Sackur whether France and the UK did not also receive money from Libya!

Finally, the AU is ten years this July, yet attention was deflected—wittingly or otherwise—by much of the African media itself to the elections, as if to say that elections over the top-job of the AU is what will make or break Africa. On the flip-side, the fact that there was talk of elections at all speaks volumes of how far the AU might have come in charting the future of the continent.

Despite all these ruminations, three developments last week conspired to remind me about the dynamic of African integration.

The first was an email-invite sent me by an official at the Economic Commission for Africa to join the UNECA's new knowledge management forum called the “Africa Knowledge & Development Networks” ( This is one of the innovations of the UNECA as they launch the fifth edition of “Assessing Regional Integration in Africa”, under the theme of Continental Free Trade Area. The second is the July edition of “New Africa”, which is a 30-page special on 10 years of the African Union. The third is a documentary film on intra-African trade which was apparently shown at the AU summit. Reports from some of those involved are that the video will be available very soon on the ECA's YouTube channel.

If you ever thought the African integration revolution has yet to be televised, this must go to prove the contrary! Africa, arise!

In 2009, in his capacity as a “Do More Talk Less Ambassador” of the 42nd Generation—an NGO that promotes and discusses Pan-Africanism--Emmanuel gave a series of lectures on the role of ECOWAS and the AU in facilitating a Pan-African identity. Emmanuel owns "Critiquing Regionalism" ( Established in 2004 as an initiative to respond to the dearth of knowledge on global regional integration initiatives worldwide, this non-profit blog features regional integration initiatives on MERCOSUR/EU/Africa/Asia and many others. You can reach him on [email protected] / Mobile: 0268.687.653.