Controversial Mugabe to become African Union Chairperson

JANUARY 29, 2015

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, 90 years old, is expected to be elected the new Chairperson of the African Union (AU) when the heads of state Summit of the African Union gets underway on Friday.

Mugabe, one of the founding fathers of the AU, takes the job at a time when the organisation is facing a host of challenges – especially in health (Ebola) and peace and security (the increasing threat of Islamic Jihadists such as Nigeria’s Boko Haram).

For his age, Mugabe, who is also the current Southern African Development Community (SADC) chair, arguably looked fit at the recent inauguration of new Zambian President, Edgar Lungu.

The AU chair is rotated annually and this time the lot fell on Southern Africa.

Controversy

However, Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe for nearly 35 years, has over the years been accused by human rights organisations and the western media of gross human rights violations. Critics also accuse him of using state instruments to stifle the opposition and the media.

His government is blamed for creating high unemployment and driving millions into exile when Zimbabwe’s economy collapsed following the country’s controversial land reform programme.

Yves Niyiragira, from Fehamu, a pan-African umbrella organization for movements that focus on social justice, said electing Mugabe to the AU leadership post sends the wrong message to Africa’s citizens.

 “We call up on the assembly of the heads of states and government to elect a president who represents the principals of good governance, respect for human rights, the rule of law and democracy, as articulated in the constitutive act of the African Union,” said Niyiragira.

But Mugabe is not alone in the African Union, which has been often been called a 'dictators club'.  Fehamu says Africa's 14 longest-serving heads of state have been in power for a combined 323 years. Angola's Jose Eduardo dos Santos and Equatorial Guinea's Teodoro Obiang Nguema have been in office longer than Mugabe.

Political analyst, Takura Zhangazha told the SABC that; “Zimbabwe is coming in from the cold, that gives him (Mugabe) a lot of credibility within the African context, and it’s almost an 'I told you so' to western countries who have opposed his policies."

“He will most likely be able to come across as a Pan Africanist in his statements but the AU is run by the AU commission. He will have to follow their lead on policies determined prior to his chairmanship and also during his tenure."

President Mugabe has prioritised regional integration as SADC Chair.

It remains to be seen whether the AU under his watch will come out with a clear programme of action to address the challenges facing the continent.