PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe’s recent appointment as African Union (AU) chairman is largely ceremonial as the Zimbabwean strongman will not wield significant influence over countries with contradictory geo-political relations with his Western nemesis, analysts have said.
BY PHILLIP CHIDAVAENZI
Although wildly celebrated in Zanu PF political corridors as an endorsement of President Mugabe’s “colossal political stature” in Africa, analysts told The Standard that the appointment was largely ceremonial.
Zimbabwe Democracy Institute director Pedzisai Ruhanya said it was a misnomer to expect Mugabe to excel at continental level in areas that he has failed on a national scale.
He said Mugabe presided over a failed domestic economy and an unsuccessful foreign policy over the past decade.
“Given his domestic failures, we don’t expect him to excel. There is a myriad of problems that he is failing to resolve and over the past decade we have witnessed serious economic recession and a failure to attract direct foreign investment,” he said.
Ruhanya said Mugabe’s appointment — which his praise singers were claiming was based on merit — was merely ceremonial and he was unlikely to make a huge impact.
“He will not make any substantive decisions,” he said. “This is just a title. In any case, we are talking about a 91-year-old man.”
Ruhanya said since Mugabe has presided over a failed administration under whose watch the country has been reduced to a basket case, there was little expectation that there would be any radical turnaround for the African continent under his AU chairmanship.
Political analyst Takura Zhangazha said although Zanu PF supporters were celebrating the appointment, it was “no more than symbolic” for neutrals and a cause for disappointment for his adversaries.
“The reality of the matter is that the post is largely ceremonial. It is not since the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi unsuccessfully tried to not only extend his tenure, but also propose structural changes that were more akin to a federation that any leader has attempted to make it more than what it is,” Zhangazha said.
“And I do not think the Zimbabwean president would even harbour such unrealistic ambitions. He essentially knows that he is in from the cold, albeit a second time after having become the current Sadc chair.”
Zhangazha said Africa was a highly contested geo-political space and for that reason, Mugabe’s strong pan-African sentiments may not sit well with some members.
“There are however some evident realities that will be faced by the new AU chair despite his much publicised pan-Africanism or popularity on the continent,” he said.
“Key among these is that whatever radical pan-Africanist rhetoric he harbours will have to be tampered with.”
Attacking the West and embracing the East, Zhangazha said, would create the impression that Mugabe did not understand Africa’s position in the world.
“So apart from veiled attacks on imperialism with specific reference to Zimbabwe, the new AU Chair cannot speak against the interests of the varying regions which have countries with bilateral or military agreements with global superpowers such as the United States and France,” he said.
Zhangazha said it was notable that many of the AU members had also embraced the principles of a free market economy.
He added that the election of Zimbabwe to chair the AU was not necessarily an affirmation of shared values and belief systems in the continent, but merely procedural and Mugabe lacked “the continental goodwill to enable him to be as influential as his long-time friend, [former South African president] Thabo Mbeki”.
Following his appointment, President Mugabe called on the AU to cast off its business-as-usual approach to issues and reportedly ordered AU Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dhlamini–Zuma to ensure that the way things had been done at the AU was changed.
“We want to provide Africa with a new developmental trajectory. We must make the AU the engine of the continent’s growth,” he told his supporters at the Harare International Airport upon arrival from the AU summit.
“The continent must unite and find ways of enriching our people.”
He said there was consensus among African leaders that they had discarded the spirit of the continent’s founding fathers who had declared that Africa should be for Africans.
University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer Professor Eldred Masunungure said Mugabe’s call for the AU to adopt a new way was part of a “wish list” that he would not be able to achieve during his tenure at the helm of the AU in just one year.
“He can start the ball rolling but one year is just too short to make an impact. This is a long-term development programme,” he said.