Jean Ping has worked for the United Nations, diligently served Omar Bongo, the late dictator of Gabon, as a diplomat and later foreign affairs minister; served as a parliamentarian, and then as the Chair of the African Union Commission (2008-2012).
Only the “international community”
With such a pedigree, he then decided to challenge electorally the son of the dictator he had dutifully served for many years. He essentially challenged the dynasty in a way to which fans of the hit TV series, Game of Thrones, can relate.
He was, however, checkmated, if in a very controversial manner, by the son of his former boss. The message from the scion of the Bongo presidential monarchy, Ali Bongo, is loud and clear: the Bongo dynasty is going nowhere.
As expected, Monsieur Ping is furious. He has declared himself as the president, and also, interestingly, called for a recount of votes. He wants the international community to oversee this recount. His version of “international community” is one that excludes the organisation he had served for four years, the AU. It only includes the UN and the European Union.
When someone like Ping, who had worked within the inner sanctum of a continental political system like the AU for years, implicitly excludes the AU from a significant matter like this, then a deeper reflection is required.
Ping is not just an ordinary opposition figure. He has first-hand, behind-the-scene information on how the AU handled sensitive issues of electoral chicanery across the continent. Very few have such privileged information.
As a former head of the AU Commission, Mr Ping sat in deliberations of heads of state and foreign affairs ministers, where decisions that counteracted the wishes of the people were taken.
He witnessed the routine canonisation of incumbents that had rigged themselves back into office and sacrificed the lives of innocent citizens in the process. In addition, he silently acceded to decisions to impose on people the highly defective “Government of National Unity” option, which is often a euphemism for preserving election riggers in office. He also sat quietly in summits where dictators were elected as chairs of the AU Assembly. Suffice to say he had to work intimately with such dictators.
So Monsieur Ping has seen it all. His position on not including the AU in the process of recounting of votes is one that speaks to the legitimacy of the organisation. Without saying much, Monsieur Ping is very loud in pointing at the possibility of complicity on the part of the AU in muddying an already complicated issue.
Ping fully understands the never-changing AU script, which always works from answer to the question. Such process typically starts with the dispatch of a friendly president (who probably shares the philosophy of life presidency) by the AU; then a choreographed consultative dialogue with the incumbent and the aggrieved opposition leader; setting up of a “Government of National Unity”, with the incumbent retaining his position and the opposition leader becoming either a vice president or a prime minister, and the AU Assembly ends up patting itself on the back for a job well done. But these arrangements are usually fraught with problems which sometimes end up in bloody conflicts.
The truth according to Ping is basically about the inability of the AU to position itself as the vehicle for deepening democracy on this continent. As a trained diplomat and politician, Ping is able to present this bitter truth in a way that does not outwardly offend his friends in the AU.
Inasmuch as Ping’s truth is significant, it also reflects some form of insincerity on his part. He has wined and dined on the altar of continental privilege for decades, where he witnessed unpardonable injustices but just decided to go with the flow. He carefully mastered the art of “see-no-evil-hear-no-evil” without realising that one day, the shoe would move to the other foot.
Babatunde Fagbayibo is an associate professor of law at the University of South Africa. Twitter @babsfagbayibo
Op-Ed: President of the African Union Commission Jean Ping during a press conference with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso at a session of the Africa/EU summit in Tripoli, Libya, 30 November 2010. EPA/SABRI ELMHEDWI
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