A fairly vicious battle for the AU’s top leadership position, as chairman of the AU Commission, shows that unity is still a distant goal.
The incumbent is Jean Ping, a Gabonese diplomat of mixed heritage. His father was a Chinese immigrant, his mother was Gabonese. Mr. Ping was educated in France, and rose up through politics to be chief of cabinet for the long-ruling Gabonese President El Hadj Omar Bongo Ondimba. The magazine African Confidential quoted Ping as being largely uncritical of China’s growing role in Africa.
“With China, everything is simple," Ping is quoted by African Confidential as saying. "She gives us debt forgiveness or long-term loans without interest or conditions.”
But Ping’s capabilities as a diplomat were not quite up to the exacting standards of South Africa.
During last year’s Libyan crisis, when South African President Jacob Zuma was attempting to broker a peace deal between Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi and Libyan rebels, Ping was seen as inadequately standing up for the interests of the AU. Ping failed last March to broker a peace deal in Ivory Coast, after disputed elections turned into a brief civil war. Many South Africans fretted that his failure gave an opportunity for France to throw in its troops to oust former President Laurent Gbagbo, who refused to accept election results showing he had lost.