, ADDIS ABABA, Jan 30 – African Union leaders vote Monday for the head of the bloc’s most influential post in a tight race between the incumbent Jean Ping and the ex-wife of South Africa’s president, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
The continent’s powerhouse South Africa has lobbied hard to see Dlamini-Zuma, currently the country’s home affairs minister, unseat the Gabonese career diplomat who has been in the job since 2008.
African leaders are voting behind closed doors to choose the chairman of the AU Commission on the second and final day of their summit in the Ethiopian capital.
“If elected… I pledge to spare no effort in building on the work of those African women and men who want to see an African Union that is a formidable force striving for a united, free, truly independent, better Africa,” Dlamini-Zuma said in a pamphlet distributed at the summit.
South Africa said at the weekend that it was optimistic that the 62-year-old Dlamini-Zuma, who was married to President Jacob Zuma until 1998, can defeat Ping.
But sources close to Ping, 69, say he is confident of re-election, counting on support from French-speaking West and Central Africa countries.
“The race is much closer than I anticipated before arriving in Addis,” Jakkie Cilliers, executive director of the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies told AFP at the weekend.
“The chair of the AU needs two thirds of members to be accepted. Voting is done by secret ballot by heads of state or their representatives,” normally their ministers of foreign affairs, he said.
On Sunday, the 54-member African Union elected Benin’s President Thomas Boni Yayi as their new chairman, a rotating post held for one year.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned Sunday that tensions between Sudan and South Sudan — among the crises the leaders are tackling at their 18th ordinary summit — threatened regional security.
Ban said both Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and his South Sudan counterpart Salva Kiir lacked the “political will” to tackle border and oil disputes since the South seceded last July.
“The situation in Sudan and South Sudan has reached a critical point, it has become a major threat to peace and security across the region,” Ban told reporters on the sidelines of the summit.
Khartoum and Juba are at loggerheads over pipeline transit fees to transport the South’s oil to port in the rump state of Sudan, while on Monday the South accused its former foes of arming gunmen who killed over 40 people in a cattle raid.
Tensions have also risen over the two countries’ still undemarcated border — cutting through oil fields — as well as allegations by each side that the other backs proxy rebel forces against the other.
“The international community needs to act, and it needs to act now,” Ban added. “As long as these issues remain unresolved, tensions will only grow.”
The summit is also expected to conclude a deal on bolstering trade between African nations, which currently trade more with the West and China that with themselves.