Guest Columnist By Issa Aremu
The 19th Ordinary Session of the African Union (AU) held between July 15 and 16 at its headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The session witnessed the dramatic emergence of the South African Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as the first female chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC). Days after, Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Olugbenga Ashiru, had been hard put to rationalise the abysmal collapse of Nigeria’s diplomacy in the face of South Africa’s dramatic diplomatic renaissance.
In one breath, he claimed that Nigeria was never in contest with South Africa for the Chair of the AUC. He had said: “You will recall that President Goodluck Jonathan said it many times that this is not a contest between Nigeria and South Africa and that Nigeria is actually not campaigning for anybody. That is the truth. We did not mount any campaign for any country.” But in another breath, he accepted as much that Nigeria did “stand by ECOWAS’ endorsement of the candidature of (the failed) Dr. Jean Ping, the Gabonese Foreign Minister… and that was it. We just took a position which was principled along with our ECOWAS members and we stood by it. But as usual, people can insinuate that once Nigeria was not in the camp of South Africa, it means that Nigeria is against South Africa. We are not against South Africa”.
Somebody once observed rather sarcastically that “Diplomats make it their business to conceal the facts”. Even at that, it could not have added up for Ambassador Ashiru, to so casually obliterate obvious facts. Certainly only the minister and President Jonathan would disbelieve one clear fact that by endorsing ECOWAS’ candidate. Nigeria was truly in a contest it miserably lost.
In any case, Ashiru accepted as much an active promoter of a sub-regional candidate (Gabonese Foreign Minister, Ping) that Nigeria indeed run a miserable campaign compared to the robust campaign of South Africa's Dlamini-Zuma. He reportedly remarked: “We must admit that South Africa ran a better campaign. You can imagine that South Africa was able to dispatch envoys once or twice to all 51 African states, you can imagine the outcome. If they have worked hard which we must accept, then the result was not a surprise to some of us.”
I think it is simply honourable to accept that South Africa’s victory was well deserved. Conversely, we must abandon diplomatic subterfuge and accept that Nigeria, a leading member of ECOWAS, ran a mediocre campaign. The recent diplomatic double talk, incoherence and wholesale setback for Nigeria in AU underscores the free fall of Nigeria’s diplomacy in general from the hitherto globally acknowledged rise from independence even up to the formation of the AU in 2001.
Both history and bagful of deserved diplomatic achievements in favour of Africa and Africans spanning five decades qualify Nigeria as an unbeatable African leading nation in AU. The body emerged out of the Organisation of Africa Unity (OAU) formed by founding nations that included Nigeria, Ghana, Ethiopia, Liberia, Egypt and other nations in May 25, 1963. South Africa was then not a liberated country.
Indeed the land of Madiba was under the heels of the hated apartheid regime. In 1961, Nigeria's late Prime Minister Tafawa Balawa courageously spearheaded the expulsion of South Africa from the Commonwealth as part of Nigeria's selfless overall objective of ending colonialism and its apartheid surrogate suffocating the African majority in the apartheid enclave. In the 70s and 80s, Nigeria put its weight behind the liberation of Angola, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. And Namibia too. The bold recognition of the major liberation movement, People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) - the ruling party in Angola today - by Nigeria’s Murtala Muhammed regime contrasted with the despicable role of apartheid regime of South Africa which unconditionally backed the notorious National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) and National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA) that waged war of attritions against MPLA.
Up to the 80s, Nigeria was a frontline state that shared great historic ideals of African liberation with Zambia, Tanzania, Lesotho, Botswana and Angola. It is a diplomatic irony that in 2012, Angola allied with South Africa in a continental vote rather than with Nigeria. Nigeria's past diplomatic successes which conferred on it a great respect were products of good governance and leadership at home and commitment to great ideals of OAU/AU. The recent Nigeria’s authority meltdown in AU is a reflection of domestic bad governance and clear cut abandonment of pan African development agenda. On what basis was Nigeria’s support for the failed Gabonese Foreign Minister, Ping?
Are we to just throw weight behind a candidate because he ostensibly hails from our region or because he stands for greater ideals of the continent hunted by another spectre of foreign scramble? Was the so-called principled support for the failed Gabonese foreign minister not an extension of our domestic/regional tribalism which of late has degenerated into the new apartheid Franco/Anglophone divide? Yours sincerely remains a critic of the moribund Gadhafi regime. But if the AUC under the then leadership of Ping had offered leadership, undoubtedly we did not need North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) to democratise Libya. Both Nigeria and South Africa cannot afford the luxury of contestation if AU must move forward.
We can only wish Dlamini-Zuma a refreshing tenure from the recent collapse of leadership in AU. She has already started on a modest note. She was reported to have said: “South Africa is not going to come to Addis Ababa to run the AU. It is Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma who is going to come to make a contribution.” Most African leaders who are men are not known for such modesty.
It is time we reinvented Nigeria’s all inclusive diplomacy in AU in line with the previous pan African efforts of Nigeria’s founding fathers; namely Tafawa Balewa, Yakubu Gowon, Muhammed, Olusegun Obasanjo, Shehu Shagari (in that order of honesty of purpose and commitment) to African unity and development.
Aremu is the Vice-President, NLC