THE 24th Ordinary Session of the African Union General Assembly officially opens at the African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, today; part of the agenda covers the election of the AU chairperson. As First Vice President of the continental body, President Mugabe is in line to land the chairmanship having been endorsed by sadc as the bloc’s candidate. Zimbabwe’s traditional detractors drawn from the Anglo-Saxon alliance have been busy trying to sabotage the President’s ascension. Our Editor Caesar Zvayi along with other Zimbabwean journalists covering the Summit, spoke to Presidential Spokesman Mr George Charamba about this and other issues.
Q: Zimbabwe’s campaign to get the AU chairmanship, where does it stand so far?
A: Well, we have done our homework and we remain guardedly optimistic that we will be able to get something that will please the Zimbabwean people but with these things you are never certain. Let’s wait and see what will happen tomorrow.
Q: What makes us uncertain about it?
A: Well the fact that it is a decision that is taken by many countries means you can never be sure until it happens, so it’s always safer to take such a guarded position, but generally we have done our homework and we remain optimistic that things will work out.
Q: Any opponents in the region?
A: It’s less the fact of an opponent and more the fact of striking a consensus among African regions. What you want to do is to be less of a controversial chair, you want to be a consensual chair?
Q: This campaign started a while back, Zimbabwe is of course chair to sadc, was this a time for us to be de-campaigned?
A: I think we have our serial decampaigners by way of western interests that we have injured either by way of our own policies or certain decisions we have taken in respect of how we manage our economy and our assets. So really the fact of having opponents from the West is something that we always budget for, but what for us is primary is the fact of commanding that support from the continent and I think basically that is what we are looking at. But don’t connect the two.
We got chairmanship of sadc, and this on the basis not just of leadership but the rotational logic of the chairmanship of sadc, and that we also made a bid for the African Union chairmanship more or less the same time that we were also bidding for sadc is purely fortuitous.
What is key is to note is that Zimbabwe had been out of the leadership contest for a while because we had so many things to deal with at home. We had a self-preoccupied country.
Now that we have defeated the western pressures against us, having defeated even sanctions, you begin to see a Zimbabwe which is crouching from its shell to begin to project its leadership qualities continentally, regionally to begin with and then continentally, and that we are going to twin the sadc chairmanship and hopefully African Union chairmanship is an emphatic statement about how Zimbabwe is again re-assuming that natural leadership position it has always acquired.
After all in terms of experience on the continent we remain topmost, I can’t think of any other country on the continent that combines both good historical experience and leadership experience the way that Zimbabwe does, and I think there is that general appreciation that the President remains not just a senior statesman but also the link between politics of liberation and post-colonial politics.
Q: What is the relationship between Zimbabwe, in its campaign and the rest of African member states for this post?
A: The logic of chairmanship of the AU is rotational, what is certain is that the chairmanship has to go to Southern Africa, what is uncertain is which country in Southern Africa is going to take it. What we are fighting for is to make sure that Zimbabwe becomes that country which takes that chairmanship.
So really in terms of regions, the whole campaign was to try and make sure that there is consensus that ecowas endorses us, the East African Community endorses us, sadc endorses us — as indeed it has done — as and then of course the Maghreb region also does the same.
Really given the nature and character of the President I do not see him wanting to be a controversial chairman, in the sense of being a chairman who chairs by minority or by a slim majority. He wants to build that consensual position which, therefore, makes his chairmanship not just solid but also enough to generate a certain momentum which makes it continental, that is basically the intention.
You want to bear in mind that the President has for a long time been complaining about the trajectory of the AU. He thinks that for a long time we have been kowtowing to western interests, he thinks we have been trying as it were bending our policies so as to win the goodwill of the West
He thinks we have not been recognising that by virtue of commanding, maybe three quarters of the world resources that is clout enough, that gives us tremendous leverage in our interaction with the West. What the President visualises is a leadership that recognises the strategic advantage of Africa and then translates that strategic advantage into a leadership bid on the global stage.
So that is basically the change that you will see when the President takes over or if the President takes over, which we hope he will.
Q: We are reliably informed that western countries are trying to shoot down on the basis that Zimbabwe is on sanctions?
A: That exactly is my problem with the West; they don’t interrogate the sense behind the sanctions. They move instead from unilateral sanctions as a fact to trying to make it a precondition for election and I think Africa is understanding enough to know that you can’t start from the premise of an illegality, which is what the sanctions are, we will start from the premise of the leadership that Africa requires to tackle those problems including the sanctions on Zimbabwe. These are not UN sanctions, so no one in the west can have the moral status of starting an argument on sanctions as if the sanctions are legitimate in the first place. But you and me must know that we must always budget for that opposition from the West.
Q: What have we done to counter the western moves?
A: We have done that already, this is why we are optimistic of the result. As before in sadc they were trying to oppose us and we trounced them, and hey we feel pity for them, they are destined for grief in this matter.
Q: Turning to the ADB, we understand we have some of them in the delegation?
A: Zimbabwe has produced a candidate for sadc and please get me right, this is not a Zimbabwean candidate only, this is a sadc candidate, and essentially what we are trying to do is to provide leadership to that critical bank on the African continent.
We are a member, we have been contributing diligently and we have also drawn from the resources of ADB, and it is only natural that when an opportunity presents itself, we go for it, and we have a well experienced candidate, 36 years of banking experience.
And I hear he also taught the current governor of the Reserve Bank, and he is not just a competent banker, he is also a producer of bankers.