African Union (AU) leaders, attending the ongoing 28th Summit of the organization in Addis Ababa, have elected Chad’s Foreign Minister Moussa Faki Mahamat as the new chairman of the AU Commission, succeeding South Africa’s Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
The 56-year-old seasoned diplomat beat his Kenyan counterpart, Amina Mohamed, after seven rounds, an indication of how keen the race was.
Five candidates vied to replace Dr Dlamini-Zuma, the first female to lead the bloc of 54 states, who did not seek a second term in office after completing her four-year stint.
The other three contestants were Abdoulaye Bathily, a Senegalese diplomat and academic, Botswana’s Foreign Minister Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi and Mba Mokuy, a former political adviser to the president of Equatorial Guinea
The AU was supposed to have picked a new leader in July last year but the election was postponed following three rounds of voting after no candidate garnered the required number of votes. A candidate needs to secure at least a two-thirds majority, 36 votes, to be declared winner.
The Chairperson of the African Union Commission, who is elected for a four-year term, is the administrative head of the organisation and is based at the AU’s headquarters in Addis Ababa.
The gathering of African heads of states in the Ethiopian capital, from 30-31 January, also elected President Alpha Conde of Guinea as new Chairperson of the AU.
The chairperson is the ceremonial head of the union, who is elected by the Assembly of Heads of State for a one-year term.
The seat rotates among the continent’s five regions – North, Central, East, West and Southern African.
Conde will now chair summits and represent the continent in various international fora such as the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD), the Forum on China–Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) and the G8 and G20 summits.
The African leaders also voted to re-admit Morocco into the organisation.
Morocco, the only country on the continent which is not part of AU, applied to rejoin the bloc in July 2016.
Rabat withdrew from the Organisation of African Unity (which later became the African Union) in 1984 after it recognised the independence of Western Sahara, regarded by Morocco as part of its historic territory.
Western Sahara is the last African territory yet to be independent. A referendum was promised in 1991 but never carried out due to wrangling over who is eligible to vote.
Morocco maintains that the former Spanish colony under its control is an integral part of the kingdom, while the Polisario Front, which campaigns for the territory’s independence, demands a referendum on self-determination.
Morocco’s readmission into the AU may provide an opportunity for African diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict, say analysts.
“As we have said, if the family grows bigger, we can find solutions as a family,” Senegalese President Macky Sall told journalists.