MWANGI: Mohamed vs Mahamat: Battle that defined African politics

Some African states oppose sending peacekeepers to Burundi, Gambia's president said on Saturday, the first ...
AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. PHOTO: Courtesy

The fissures that define relationships between African countries were evident as a long and expensive campaign for Kenya’s candidate in the race for the African Union Commission chairperson came to naught when she was defeated by Chad’s candidate.

Kenya’s Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed, despite putting up a strong challenge, was finally defeated by Moussa Faki Mahamat of Chad in seven rounds of voting.

Open democracy, one could say. A competitive environment that should be encouraged even within African countries. A great show of how Africans can manage their own affairs. Still, there is more when one scratches deeper.

To the great shame of the continent, colonially-defined politics dominated the voting. The continent is neatly divided into two major blocs: the English-speaking (Anglophone) and French-speaking (Francophone), with a minor Portuguese (Lusophone) presence. More than 50 years after gaining independence, African countries continue to define themselves by their former colonial masters, and seemingly with a lot of pride.

That is why Francophone countries will always vote as a bloc, their main consideration being their shared colonial past. And because they were fragmented into many tiny countries – and each state’s vote has equal weight in voting forums regardless of land mass or population – these countries have the power to influence voting patterns in the African Union.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with a candidate from any part of the continent clinching a seat in any pan-African institution. In fact, such organisations should display as wide a representation of African people’s and talent as possible – North Africa, Southern Africa, East Africa, Muslims, Christians, traditionalists, and so on.

What is pertinently wrong is to use artificial structures imposed through colonialism to make profound decisions affecting the continent. While we need to use the languages of our former colonial masters for the purpose of communication with others who use those languages around the world, we should not define ourselves by the standards and divisions set for us by our former (and current) oppressors.

In fact, other societies around the world have broken off from these mental shackles a lot more effectively than Africans. The Chinese, for instance, study and do business in their own language; it then becomes incumbent upon those who want to interact with them to learn their language. They, as well as the Japanese, do not define themselves by White conquerors or allow that sad part of their history to define their present international interactions.

But there were divisions even within regional blocs on the continent. This was particularly evident in East Africa, when some members of the region allegedly opted not to back Kenya’s candidate. Could it be that they were not persuaded about her competence and thought the opponent would do a better job? The real reasons may not be immediately fathomable, but it appears that the region did not support Amina’s candidature in the manner that other blocs supported their candidates.

Plus there was, of course, the gender perspective. The previous holder of the position having been a woman, the continent perhaps felt the need to have a man at the helm this time round. But that isn’t the practice in other positions; in fact, most African countries have never had a woman head of state. So this reason would only show that most of Africa is still deeply patriarchal, and the thought of yet another woman at the helm may have offended some of the Big Men of the continent.

Another important lesson had to do with the manner of conducting campaigns for such international posts. Kenya’s campaign was loud, to say the least, led by the head of state. The country gobbled up resources as its leaders moved from one country to another campaigning for Amina, even as drought ravaged a significant portion of the land. This cannot be the way to conduct such campaigns, and exposes the impunity and lack of priorities that is so evident in the region.

At the end of the day, the best person won in this epic contest. It was a battle well fought, and congratulations are in order for Mahamat.

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Story By Isaac Mwangi
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