The African Union Must Elect A Responsive Leader!

African Union headquarters, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. PHOTO/Getty Images

By Mariéme Jamme

Change is coming into the African Union

  Change is coming into the African Union and Africans should demand the very best person to lead it; we need a responsive and inclusive leader, a leader of global stature, visionary leadership, great intelligence and acumen, international credibility, world class negotiator, experience in leading large international organizations, a leader who can put women and girls issues at the top of their mandate and with a proven international track record of delivering for Africa.

It is a truly demanding job. It is not a job for experimentation, a political crony or regional rotation but someone who has the proven ability of bringing people together can inspire the African people and has the skills, experience and capability to take Africa to the next level internationally. The stakes are very high for Africa if we are to secure our place in the rapidly changing international economic and political environment.

Further the relevance and legitimacy of the African Union (AU) ultimately rests on its standing with the people of the world.

All the candidates are achievers in their own countries, sphere and right.
Do they have what it takes in all aspects and the proven world class leadership skills to deliver for Africa?

In our own interest as Africans we need to be objective, setting aside any other interests, agendas – ours or others, in making this key decision. The candidate we choose can mean the difference between us continuing as we are or Africa rising to the level we desire and having its rightful place in the affairs of the world.

Agapito Mba Mokuy, Equatorial Guinea’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, Botswana’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, were not found suitable in 7 rounds of voting by the Heads of State at the 27th AU summit in Kigali, last year.

In the 7th and ultimate round of the election, 30 states abstained – the highest number of abstentions in the history of African Union Commision (AUC) elections.
What has changed to make these candidates acceptable since then?

The other candidates Moussa Faki Mahamat Chad’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Abdoulaye Bathily of Senegal are quite similar to the 2 other candidates from Equatorial Guinea and Botswana in terms of what they bring. Great Africans, like the other candidates, but have not run major multilateral organizations, do not have the track record at the top level internationally, breadth of knowledge, experience or expertise in global negotiations.
Are they the very best? Can they best represent Africa on the world stage?

Regional rotation at the expense of choosing the best candidate who could represent and get the best deal for Africa on the world stage would be a shortsighted mistake. Africans would pay the price for years.

This time however, we have the right person.
The leadership debate that was held last month, demonstrated it in terms of presence, gravitas, vision, successful experience at the top international level, solid achievements, a leader of global stature with a proven international track record, preparedness, clearly thought out solutions to Africa’s challenges.
A simple indicator, who was the only candidate to get applause to her answers from the non-partisan audience from all countries until they were shut down by the moderator – Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Amina Mohamed.

Visionary leadership, political credibility and acumen

After all, it is a truly demanding job. It demands visionary leadership, political credibility and acumen, and managerial skills. It is not a job for a political crony, but someone who can truly reach out and inspire the African people and secure Africa’s interests and place at the table on the world stage.

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta, perhaps put it most clearly when personally presenting her qualifications, background and reasons for nominating Mohamed.
“She has also been influential in promoting Africa’s agenda in multi-lateral fora including in the World Trade Organization (WTO) where she chaired the 10th Ministerial Conference, successfully hosted in Nairobi. She continues to champion for Africa’s voice to be heard within the United Nations System through the proposed United Nations Security Council reforms, with Kenya as a member of the AU Committee of 10 on the Security Council reforms.”

Mohamed was recently honored by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) as one of the 4 UNDP Champions for the year 2016.

I do not believe there is anyone on the continent more qualified to lead this important organization than Mohamed. She has a clear strategic vision for Africa and she has demonstrated the leadership, negotiating, and managerial skills that are a prerequisite for success in this critical job.

Amina Mohamed brings extraordinary experience and distinguished service at the national and international levels compare to all other candidates.
Among the most significant recent achievements include being the first woman to lead the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade of the Republic of Kenya. She was elected President of UNCTAD 14 for the next 4 years, was the Chairperson of the historic WTO 10th Ministerial Conference which is the top decision-making body of the WTO, and Co-Chairperson of the Ministerial segment of the first ever TICAD Summit held on our continent.

Mohamed is the first woman to have chaired the 3 most important bodies of the WTO; the Trade Policy Body, the Dispute Settlement Body and the Governing General Council.
She was President of the Conference on Disarmament, and the first African and the first female Chairperson of the Council of the International Organization for Migration.
In addition, she served as a member of the Executive Bodies and Committees of the World Health Organization, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, World Intellectual Property Organization and the United Nations Program on HIV and AIDS. Cumulatively, these assignments have earned Kenya and Mohamed international acclaim and respect.

In 2008-2011 at the height of her country’s legal, institutional and constitutional review process, Mohamed was Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs, the Ministry charged with the responsibility of the Constitutional Review and implementation process. She Chaired the Governance, Justice, Law and Order Sector reforms (GJLOS) a sector-wide cross-institutional program which carried out broad reforms at a time of great change in her country.

In 2010, Mohamed was elected President of the United Nations International Conference on Transnational Crime in Vienna, Austria for a 2 year period. In 2011, she was appointed by the UN Secretary General as United Nations Assistant Secretary General and Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). During her tenure UNEP was upgraded from a 58 member Governing Body to the Universal Environment Assembly, encompassing all members of the United Nations.

Given her track record, I am confident that Amina Mohamed will serve our continent with the requisite professionalism, intellect, skill, integrity, passion and commitment. I have no doubt that her international experience and exposure will be an invaluable asset in driving AUC in the achievement of Africa’s immense potential.

So we have a figure that represents the very best of Africa this time. Stateswoman, Pan-Africanist, great intellect, international lawyer, national and international civil servant in top positions, Cabinet Secretary, -a lifetime of firsts – WTO, IOM etc, formidable negotiator on a global level proven through breakthroughs at WTO MC -10, UNCTAD 14 and so on , highly respected and known quantity worldwide with tested relationships and tremendous goodwill and credibility with people key to Africa built over the years, unmatched experience in both the African and international arena and so on.

So what has this done for Africa? – she brought WTO for the first time to Africa , where against all odds, she was able to achieve a breakthrough in the global negotiations and get rid of agricultural subsidies in the rich countries that affect the ability of the African farmer to compete on a level international playing field.
She engineered the TRIPS agreement to provide lifesaving medicines for HIV, malaria, Tuberculosis for poor countries at affordable prices. Brought UNCTAD 14 to Africa – the list of achievements goes on. Internationally proven delivery.

She was a much talked about potential candidate to become the first woman Secretary General of the UN.
With her resume, experience and track record in the international system and worldwide credibility, she probably would have won. Despite intense pressure, she refused to run choosing to focus on taking Africa to the next level at the African Union Commission. It demonstrates her loyalty to Africa.

Those are the facts. Ignoring them or pursuing any other agenda would be shortsighted and a setback for Africa’s interests and the AU.

Senegal’s Mariéme Jamme is a serial entrepreneur and social commentator. The original version of this article was published in the Huffington Post.