Can Kenya’s Amina Mohamed become AU Chairperson?

Kenya's Amina Mohamed could be the ideal candidate for AU Chair.


As the search for the next African Union Commission (AUC) Chair takes a final leap, three issues deserve focus. One is that there is some pressure for continuity.

The African Union (AU) has been anything but meek during these past five years. The continent has been much more assertive in an almost unprecedented manner and I hazard, this remains noticed; from Washington and New York, all the way to London and Geneva, and probably Moscow.

A second matter will have to be the long-standing desire to establish a more people-centered, rather than a leaders-centered, African Union. Third is the need to progress the transformative and service delivery agenda.

The question is: how does Africa convert its dreams and rhetoric into pragmatic reality, and, can we really start on some unhindered new slate? A strong leader would need to take on the challenge. Could this be the role for Kenya’s Amina Mohamed?

It was only in my recent work for the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) VI in which Kenya’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs was a driving force that our paths crossed more closely. TICAD VI has had an indelible lesson.

I do now have an excellent perspective on the Japanese work ethic and the AUC remains a major stakeholder. The greater lesson, though, is that to perform, leadership matters. It’s that simple, but ask anyone saddled into multi-state; multi-ethnic and public-international outfits and you may have a glimpse.

It leads to my unsolicited view on what every AUC candidate must reflect upon. The late Prof Ali Mazrui often mused about “flirting on and off” with government but remaining in the safety of academia. 

In the academy, independent choices are fairly definitive, but it is not so in political bureaucracies. It is actually real that in set-ups such as AUC there could be no shortage of influence peddling. 

Yet I must caution, the peddling is not always from within. Neither are power relationships so straight-jacketed, for that is what Michael Foucault left us in the academy.

The AUC tour of duty can be anything, but easy. The framework, for now, is Agenda 2063; a thoughtful prognosis on where Africa wants to be in the next fifty years. A good case study is the Programme for Infrastructure Development (PIDA); breath-taking and ambitious, much like the European post-World war II Marshall Plan. 

And so is the Peace and Security where the AU has tried to [re]-deliver Somalia from the ashes. Fate has even herded me into South Sudan and Mogadishu and I have more than a theoretical idea of some of Africa’s biggest fires.

So, what next? If the continental vision is to be correctly steered, it may need a hand that has been part of the game; a well-schooled diplomat who knows when to press and when to stop. 

I harbour the feeling that of them all, Mohamed presents the right pedigree. Presently serving as Kenya’s Foreign Affairs Minister, she has shown her mettle and little surprise, some in African want her on a bigger continental role.

Whereas the tango with the international criminal court has been quite something, many should know that Amb Amina’s real imprimatur has been within WTO. 

That is where she really jelled, long before being chair to the 10th Ministerial that also saw it held in Africa for the first time only this last December. Thereafter, Amb Amina ably steered the 14th United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

As part of a truly meteoric international service, Amb Amina became Assistant Secretary General and Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in 2011. However brief, she left behind memorable footprints that targeted the ideal of sustainable financing for UNEP and was quite engaged in the Rio+20 outcomes.

Overall, Ambassador Amina is a lawyer; initially educated at the University of Taras Shevchenko, Kiev (Ukraine) then part of the bigger Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). She received additional training in International Relations, from the University of Oxford and has been a fellow of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR).

To put it mildly, this record seems to put her in an excellent position to pick it up from where Dr Nkosazana Zuma will shortly be exiting. Only time will tell.

By George Odera-Outa

Dr George Odera-Outa is a multi-discipline Kenyan academic who has also served term under various internationally-supported modalities, inside and outside Kenya.

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