Friday, February 03, 2017

AU Summit: Deliberating Away From the Ritual
February 1, 2017
Opinion & Analysis
Mabasa Sasa recently in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia—
Zimbabwe Herald

THERE is something of the ritualistic about the manner in which Africa’s Heads of State and Government go about their business when they meet at annual summits in Addis Ababa.

Perhaps that is to be expected as they meet round about the same time of every year and have a regular way of drafting the agenda and then engaging each other, appropriately ponderous expressions on their faces as the world’s cameras roll and flash.

We know that the official opening ceremony will never start on time; that the outgoing chairperson will lavish praise on the secretariat for ably assisting him/her over the past year; that delegates will be told that the battle is ongoing to fight poverty, disease and war; and that the leaders will assemble on the steps to the entrance to the plenary hall for their group photo.

Over the past few years, President Mugabe was right in the thick of it.

First he was Deputy Chair of the African Union, then the following year he was Chair, and the year after he was rapporteur.

This meant for three years to the 28th Ordinary Assembly of the AU which ended yesterday (Tuesday), he was right in the thick of the public ritual that is annually played out for the benefit of the watching world.

But as this Summit opened, he was one of 50 Heads of State who do not make up the quartet of Chair, Deputy Chair, Second Deputy Chair and Rapporteur that constitutes the Bureau of the AU leadership.

He walked in a few minutes before official proceedings started and did what he had not been able to do in recent years: He strolled among other leaders and accepted varied compliments from colleagues who were evidently not only pleased to see him, but some of whom were evidently in awe of one of Africa’s foremost statesmen ever.

There was President Nana Akufo Ado of Ghana walking up to President Mugabe to shake his hand, there was President Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea beaming from ear to ear as he exchanged pleasantries, there was President Sisi of Egypt with his firm grip.

President Mugabe took his place next to Zambia’s President Edgar Lungu and watched the public ritual unfold.

Outgoing Chair President Deby of Chad told delegates about the three main issues discussed in the preceding closed door session of the Summit: a self-financing plan for the AU; administrative reorganisation of the bloc; and election of the new Bureau.

Prior to the opening, the AU had said four issues were under deliberation in that early session. Now there was no mention about Morocco’s bid to be readmitted into the AU 30 years after the North African kingdom quit because it would not dine at the same table as a sovereign Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic.

Who would have guessed that President Mugabe, away from the public ritual, had 24 hours earlier met other stalwarts of the African liberation agenda — stalwarts from Algeria, South Africa and Namibia, among others — to stop a dilution of the principles that led to the formation of the continental bloc in this great city of Addis Ababa back in 1963?

The public ritual is a key part of the proceedings. People love ritual, they love displays of power, they crave expressions of grandeur. Ritual has always been as important to politics as it is to religion.

Away from the ritual, much work is done behind closed doors; plenty of bargaining, table banging and justified righteous anger finds expression as the custodians of the Pan-African agenda seek to ensure the continent remains connected to its source.

Much was done between the setting of the agenda and the opening of the Summit for the Morocco issue to disappear — for now — without a mention.

As the applause faded and the plenary hall emptied, President Mugabe got up to leave for the traditional private lunch of Heads of State and Government that is very much part of this ritual.

It would not be so simple.

Ordinary delegates flocked to his seat. They reached for his hand and stood proudly as the cameras gathered round unbidden to capture images and videos of one of Africa’s last true warriors.

And after 10 minutes of impromptu meeting and greeting a potpourri of African Union and United Nations delegates, garlanded pubescent ushers, and hardened Africa policy executives, he managed to start leaving his seat.

A Caucasian fellow, determined to have his word with the man known by many as an icon of African liberation, grasped his hand and had his say.

“Mr President,” he said, “I cannot imagine an African Union without you,” was his simple but profound compliment.

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