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African Union Commission Chairman Jean Ping enlisted Gabon’s President Ali-Ben Bongo Ondimba to help spearhead his re-election campaign and fight South Africa for control of the top decision-making body.
South Africa, which is lobbying African nations to back its Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to replace Ping in July, has “total disregard” for an unwritten agreement that the AU’s five dominant members not hold the post, Ping said in an interview on June 13 in Libreville, Gabon.
“The best scenario is that the president of Gabon Ali-Ben Bongo Ondimba must personally, strongly and publicly spearhead the chairperson’s campaign for re-election,” said Ping, a former foreign minister from Gabon, who has been head of the AU Commission since 2008. Libya, Algeria, Nigeria, South Africa and Egypt have traditionally been excluded from holding the post at the 54-nation AU.
Neither Dlamini-Zuma, an ex-wife of South African President Jacob Zuma, or Ping secured enough votes to win an election on Jan. 30. Zuma has been visiting leaders in Southern Africa since then to rally support as South Africa, which has the continent’s largest economy, pushes for a bigger role for the AU in global politics.
A candidate from Southern Africa has never held the AU Commission’s top post, prompting the 15-nation Southern African Development Community to formally nominate Dlamini-Zuma to the position. South Africa is the only African member of the Group of 20 nations and is currently a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.
Dlamini-Zuma’s candidacy is opposed by West African nations, including Nigeria, Africa’s most-populous nation. The election is set to take place at a leaders’ summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, from July 9 to 16.
Ping said the AU is working “diligently” to solve a dispute between Sudan and South Sudan, which seceded from the north in July, gaining about 75 percent of oil output from the previously united country. The two nations have clashed over border territories and failed to agree on fees that South Sudan must pay for exporting oil through pipelines and processing facilities in Sudan. The AU is facilitating talks between the two nations.
In Mali, where Touareg rebels declared an independent state in the north of the country in April, the AU is calling for military intervention if necessary to help the government quell the uprising, Ping said.
The rebels took advantage of a lack of power in the capital, Bamako, after a military coup on March 22 that ousted President Amadou Toure. The U.S. and United Nations have warned that the flow of weapons, cash and foreign fighters from Libya since Muammar Qaddafi’s government was toppled last year may fuel instability in the Sahel region.
“The African Union must resolve the Mali crisis and we expressed support for all means necessary, including the use of force, to restore the territorial integrity of Mali,” Ping said.
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