President Cyril Ramaphosa started a year-long journey as chair of the 55-member AU with a specific mandate: to silence the guns that have made almost the entire continent a battlefield.
A tall order, if not an impossible task, for a leader whose own country is lurching from crisis to crisis largely because of his and his party’s inaction on key issues such as energy, jobs, dilapidated infrastructure, crime and a host of other social ills that accompany low economic growth.
While his election as chair of the AU brought much hope to a continent dominated by civil wars, border disputes, unemployment, disease, corruption and little or no economic growth, it could easily fizzle out, as did his new dawn in SA. Ramaphosa is set to chair a continent struggling to recover from natural and man-made disasters, the latter being the most prominent. Africa is littered with conflict and a single-year stint is hardly enough to deal with them all. He might fall before he flies.
The north of the continent is set to give him numerous headaches. There is the age-old Saharawi problem. SA has taken a decision to support the Saharawis in their struggle against Moroccan occupation. Ramaphosa’s diplomacy will be put to the test as the occupier, Morocco, is a key member of the region and the AU.
The hotspot in that region, though, is the Libyan crisis. The country has known no stability since the overthrow of Col Muammar Gaddafi on August 20 2011 by Nato-led forces. Libya, which has had no single government since then, has been split between the Government of National Accord in Tripoli and the forces of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar — both fighting for control of the oil-rich country. One faction is heavily backed by the US and the other has Russian support. Ramaphosa’s biggest challenge is to silence these guns.
There are the internecine conflicts he has to contend with in the Sahel region, comprising Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Algeria, Niger, Cameroon, Chad and Sudan. Also the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) region including Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya and Somalia.
To his credit, the president already has a feel of the South Sudan problem, having been appointed by former president Jacob Zuma as his special envoy to that country — a position he passed on to his deputy, David Mabuza, when he was elected president. But despite numerous forays to and from its capital, Juba, and various state visits, very little has come to fruition for both Ramaphosa and Mabuza. The government of Salva Kiir is still at odds with his former vice-president, Riek Machar, and attempts to create a transitional government are floundering.
Closer to home, in the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) region, Ramaphosa should expect to have his hands full. Despite signing a truce in 1992 to end civil war, there’s been a low-level conflict between the opposition Renamo and Frelimo-led government that may hamper efforts to tackle festering Islamic insurgency near the huge gas projects in the north of the country.
There is also the chronic civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where SA, as part of the UN peacekeeping force is already heavily involved. It is hoped that during SA’s tenure as chair, the grand illusion that has become the Inga Dam project will turn into reality.
Apart from the border disputes and military and political confrontations bedevilling the continent, Ramaphosa needs to deal with issues of gender-based violence and all other social and environmental ills facing Africa.
There is also the Zimbabwe problem next door. Though peaceful, Zimbabwe’s economy has collapsed and has become a political threat to its neighbours.
Ramaphosa’s success as chair of the AU will to a great extent depend on his ability to juggle local issues and continental demands.