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African Union summit: disunity on display

With the leadership of the African Union in question, old powers like France and new powers like China are vying for influence. Will peacekeeping missions and conflict resolution efforts suffer?

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With China, everything is simple," Ping is quoted by African Confidential as saying. "She gives us debt forgiveness or long-term loans without interest or conditions.”

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But Ping’s capabilities as a diplomat were not quite up to the exacting standards of South Africa.

During last year’s Libyan crisis, when South African President Jacob Zuma was attempting to broker a peace deal between Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi and Libyan rebels, Ping was seen as inadequately standing up for the interests of the AU. Ping failed last March to broker a peace deal in Ivory Coast, after disputed elections turned into a brief civil war. Many South Africans fretted that his failure gave an opportunity for France to throw in its troops to oust former President Laurent Gbagbo, who refused to accept election results showing he had lost.

So when Ping’s job came up again for renewal, South Africa mounted a campaign to replace him. AU members did not accept South Africa’s alternative, the formidable former foreign minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, but they did prevent Ping from getting the two-thirds majority vote required for another term. When the final votes were counted, and the AU was left without a leader, witnesses told the Monitor that South Africa’s delegation was dancing in the hall.

Ms. Dlamini Zuma, meanwhile, says that she will try again for the chairmanship, when Ping’s extended six month tenure ends.

One thing that most African diplomats can agree on these days is that Africans need to protect their interests against the power of former colonial powers, such as France, Britain, Germany, Italy, Portugal, and their perceived supporters, such as the United States. Another thing many Africans can agree with is that they still need outside foreign assistance, as long as that assistance comes with few strings attached. That’s why China, and to a lesser extent, India are welcomed in Africa.

At the AU summit, a senior Chinese diplomat, Jia Qinglin, chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, said all the right things.


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