Mugabe’s AU election sends wrong signals

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UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon spoke out against African leaders who overstayed in power at the just ended AU summit and how ironic it is that the person to lead the African body for the next year is Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe – the embodiment of Africa’s long term rulers.

The platitudes of Mugabe’s election to the African Union (AU) chairmanship will ring for a couple of weeks in Zimbabwe and for many of his supporters in Africa, but questions will remain on what his tenure brings for Africa.

For the past one and a half decades or so Mugabe has been an exclusionary ruler, with Zimbabwe becoming very isolationist, and hopefully, he does not bring this trait into the AU.

While Mugabe’s anti-western rhetoric has won him admirers across the continent, the truth is that the AU is becoming more inclusionary and can ill afford Mugabe’s exclusionary antics.

More than ever Africa is moving towards integration and that will mean supping with both the east and the west, meaning Mugabe may have to sup with the “white devil” even if it means using a long spoon.

The new AU chairman has already said he does not care what the west will do or say about his election, but sadly the truth is that Africa cares about the west’s reaction.

Knowing how skint the AU is, it has had to depend on donations from both the west and the east for its survival, and there is no way he can say he doesn’t care with a straight face.

While it is far fetched that the west will cut or reduce its ties with the AU, the African body must be prepared for more confrontations with the west like the one where Mugabe’s wife was denied a visa to attend the EU–Africa summit and in retaliation, the Zimbabwean leader refused to attend.

Another such confrontation was when America refused to allow Mugabe to attend a US Africa summit last year.
Besides all the rhetoric and posturing, Africa, with Mugabe at the helm, needs the west and has to find a way of making the Zimbabwean president less antagonistic with Europe and the US.

So the AU has its work cut out in trying to convince the west, which it needs, to accommodate Mugabe, while the Zimbabwean leader, for the sake of the continent, will have to tone down his anti-western rhetoric. Both seem unlikely.

While others may argue that the AU chairmanship is nothing more than a ceremonial post, Mugabe’s election surely poses questions for the type of leaders Africa is willing to elect and sends the wrong signals.

More worryingly for me, is that Mugabe at 91, represents the old Africa and I am quite curious to know what new ideas he has for the continent.

It was quite disconcerting then to hear Mugabe say, ahead of the summit, that women cannot be at par with men, as such thinking surely belongs to the past.

What is reassuring though is that Mugabe will only be the AU chairman for a year and hopefully Africa’s relations with the rest of the world will not be badly damaged, come 2016, when new elections for the AU post are held.

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