ONE of the first decisions of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as chairwoman of the policy-setting African Union (AU) Commission has been to insist that Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir should remain in office rather than face genocide charges by the International Criminal Court.
After consultations with a number of former presidents, including Mozambique’s Joaquim Chissano and Zambia’s Kenneth Kaunda, Ms Dlamini-Zuma stuck to the AU’s guns that peace could be achieved more expeditiously with Mr Bashir in office, and that racing to arrest him was counterproductive.
When Ms Dlamini-Zuma was appointed last month this newspaper said she faced a baptism of fire navigating Africa’s sometimes incendiary and often divided politics. That has proved to be the case, but there will be even harder choices ahead. Applying soft diplomacy on Sudan does not bode well.
Ms Dlamini-Zuma — who has been credited with turning around the corrupt and inefficient Department of Home Affairs in SA — should place Africa’s needs ahead of what the African National Congress (ANC), her political home, wants.
One priority is providing clarity on the future of private sector mining on the continent.
At the second AU conference of ministers responsible for mineral resources development in December, a long-overdue plan to develop mining was agreed on. This provided a road map for implementing the "African Mining Vision 2050" to spur the development and industrialisation of Africa.
Although there has been little discernible movement since, the AU’s proposals make far more sense than those of the ANC.
The problem is the ANC has conveniently, it seems, left out of its controversial State Intervention in the Minerals Sector report (Sims) some of the key provisions meant to be implemented by African states. These include an independent mining regulator and capital raising by state-owned mines on the market.
Ms Dlamini-Zuma will continue to face tough choices in her new role, but getting the ANC to drop its efforts to control rather than facilitate growth in the mining sector will be a bold step in the right direction. Which road Ms Dlamini-Zuma takes remains to be seen. Defending the AU’s position on Sudan, similar to SA’s abstention on United Nations (UN) Syria resolutions, appears to be the easy way out.
There may be fewer military uniforms in attendance at high-profile African meetings now, but the AU should be circumspect in following SA’s lead on matters of diplomacy and international conflict resolution.
This is the country which chose to abstain from a vote on UN action in Syria. The crisis has escalated and threatens to engulf the region. Russia and China, of course, used their vetoes on the resolution, making SA appear, in some respects, to bow to the whims of its Brics partners and erstwhile Cold War benefactors.
SA in February backed a draft resolution condemning continued widespread and systematic human rights violations by the Syrian authorities, but by last month chose to abstain on a UN Security Council resolution because it was "unbalanced". Incidentally, the resolution also demanded that Syrian authorities stop using heavy weapons against the uprising.
Whatever the reason, there are many who wish more action could have been taken to save all the lives lost since the civil strife to oust President Bashar al-Assad began last year. The images of tanks and heavy artillery being brazenly used to crush opposition rebels and civilians caught in the conflict, and the 21,000 lives lost, does not sit well.
It is little surprise that Kofi Annan has resigned as peace envoy to Syria, citing the growing militarisation of the conflict and the clashes within the UN Security Council.
The AU may be making a similar mistake on Sudan. Staying with the devil you know may not always be the best policy choice in this fractious region.
Mr Bashir stands accused of a long list of atrocities in West Darfur, including genocide. But what hope of peace can the AU expect from a man who leads a state that retains stoning on its statute books? The day after Ms Dlamini-Zuma clarified the AU’s policy on Mr Bashir, the top trending story on Yahoo News was of a Sudanese woman shackled and jailed with her baby, awaiting death by stoning for adultery.
While the logic of the decision to defer Mr Bashir’s trial to ensure stability and engender moves to peace in the country may make sense in one respect, they are short-sighted in another.
Decisive action against the Sudanese leader would send a strong message that past and continuous abuses will not be tolerated, whether by a sitting head of government or past dictators.
Ms Dlamini-Zuma should raise the bar on getting things done and mend fences between regional groupings, particularly between Francophone and English-speaking countries. She won the top AU post by only a handful of votes after all.
But certainly, having a stronger, more economically vibrant country at the helm is a good thing. A close relationship with Brazil, India, China and Russia is not bad, either.
But that doesn’t mean Africa should not think for itself, nor forget that the private sector — domestic and foreign — is a key partner in achieving its goals.