The elections of the 10-member African Union Commission (AUC) have dominated the discourse around the 27th African Union Summit holding from July 10 to 18, 2016 in Rwanda. Analyses, speculations, commentaries and gossip within diplomatic circles have mainly focused on the selection of the replacement of Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who is not seeking re-election. The emphasis placed on the election of a new Chairperson has however obscured the equally important contest to replace the Deputy Chairperson Mr. Erastus Mwencha, who has served the maximum of two terms and cannot stand again.
The absence of meaningful discussion about the election of a new Deputy Chairperson is unfortunate given that s/he will manage the day-to-day administration and finances of the AUC and its approximately 1,400 international civil servants. The winner of the July elections may indeed end up acting as the Chairperson if African leaders fail to select a substantive Chairperson. Electing the wrong and/or unqualified Deputy Chairperson could have adverse effects on the AU.
This piece presents the Deputy Chairperson’s contestants to a wider audience and assesses their suitability for the role. The candidates include Mr. Yacin Elmi Bouh from Djibouti, Mr. Ibrahim Ali Hussein from Somalia, Dr. Victor Emmanuel Djomatchoua-Toko from Cameroon, and Mr. Thomas Kwesi Quartey from Ghana.
A careful analysis of candidates’ credentials and experiences as well as speculations in diplomatic circles places Dr. Djomatchoua-Toko, and Mr. Quartey ahead in the race. Mr. Bouh and Mr. Hussein are perceived as lacking the requisite international bureaucratic experience and the political clout needed to manage a complex bureaucracy such as the AUC. Moreover, governments sponsoring Mr. Bouh and Mr. Hussein seem to lack the financial or political muscle to promote their candidacy and support the office they are seeking. The governments of Somalia and Djibouti have struggled in the last ten years to pay their annual dues even though their assessed contributions are among the lowest in the AU system. African leaders know that the AUC is in a precarious financial situation and are unlikely to throw their weight behind a candidate who is incapable of mobilising resources and cannot guarantee backing by a government that can foot some of the AUC’s bills. In contrast, Dr. Djomatchoua-Toko, and Mr. Quartey are sponsored by relatively well-resourced governments and have the support of their respective countries’ regional organizations which is key as regional imperatives tend to drive AUC elections.
Mr. Quartey, a lawyer and a career diplomat, is widely seen in diplomatic circles as the front runner. A former Ghanaian Ambassador to the United Nations, African Union, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, Ethiopia and a former member of AU’s Permanent Representative Committee (2008 – 2012), Mr. Quartey is familiar with the inner workings of the AU. As a senior government minister and a hard-core continentalist in orientation, Mr. Quartey’s candidacy enjoys the strong backing of a country whose commitment to Pan-Africanism is greatly admired. Mr. Quartey’s experience, the strong support of the Ghanaian government and ECOWAS is complemented by support by some governments in South, East, and of course West Africa.
Some critics are of the view that Mr. Quartey tends to operate as “Mr. Nice” who does not like to rock the boat, and wonder if he has the will to carry out the much needed shake-up of the AUC system and to motivate the Commission staff to provide the very best of service for Africa. Others are unsure if he is assertive enough to fight against the tendency by AUC Chairpersons to turn the position of the Deputy Chairperson into a glorified assistant contrary to the Statutes of the AUC which provided for the Deputy Chairperson to co-manage the AUC with the Chairperson.
The other strong candidate, Dr. Djomatchoua-Toko is a fine economist and diplomat who seems more suitable for the role of the Commissioner for Economic Affairs. He is a former head of OAU’s Economic Cooperation and Development Division (1980-1987) and served as its Ambassador to the United Nations (1997-2000), and the African Caribbean Pacific (ACP) states (2000-2004). Although he has a solid academic background and considerable diplomatic experience, some critics feel he belongs to the “old guard” and is likely to maintain the status quo rather than pursue a comprehensive reform and transformational agenda. He is also perceived as being rather too close to President Biya who now barely attends AU summits, and whose contributions to the AU are considered to be rather poor and may not have the best relationship with many of his peers. Cynics in the African diplomatic circles are of the view that Cameroon is using the candidacy of Dr. Djomatchoua-Toko as a bargaining chip for a lower profile position within the AUC. Whatever the case, the race for the Deputy Chairperson is an intriguing contest, and barring any last minute surprises and regional realignment of forces, one of the two strong candidates will clinch the post.