The July African Union Summit in Kigali: A Suspended Union Governance

In the Rwandan capital where the 27th summit of the African Union (AU) was held, which was to elect the president, his deputy and the eight commissioners of the AU Commission, the permanent body that ensures the day-to-day running of the institution, ended in a lack of consensus. The succession of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the first woman to hold this prestigious position, does not look like a simple administrative formality. Indeed, it is rare in the history of the African Union for the election of the Chairperson of the Commission to take place in a consensual atmosphere. Tensions have almost always plagued the processes for appointing the chairpersons of the African Union Commission, often acquired after a large number of rounds of voting.

Although the professional background and international experience of candidates count in the election to a position on the Commission, the regulations emphasize the need for equitable geographical distribution. The diplomatic efforts of the Heads of State of the candidates’ countries of origin also play an important role in the success or failure of an application. Gender balance is another criterion to be taken into consideration. It is indeed to what we must call political, even strategic prerequisites that Member States must take into account. The procedure for appointing the incumbent of the post, in which the last word always rests with the Member States, has therefore been postponed to Kigali; applications are being reopened and other, not the least, candidates are also being announced. While this stay is not surprising and does not always reflect the difficulties encountered upstream of the procedure, it does not reflect the divisions perceptible as soon as the first negotiations at the AU begin.

Africa, which remains strongly rooted in unanimity and consensus as a decision-making process on highly complex issues, seeks to give the first AU official a strong legitimacy to assume an increasingly complex function. The expansion of the AU’s activities and the subsequent multiplication of structures have radically transformed the institutional framework in which the Chairperson of the Commission operates.

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