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African States Rebuff South African Leadership Pretensions

South Africa's failure to win the top job in the African Union reflects resentment over South African pretentiousness and relative success.

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Amiel Ungar,

Jacob Zuma
Jacob Zuma
South Africa

South African president Jacob Zuma sought to secure the leadership of the African Union for his ex-wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

However, this attempt by Pretoria violated an unwritten rule that the head of the organization usually comes from one of the weaker African  nations, such as the incumbent Jean Ping of Gabon, rather than from a continental powerhouse. South Africa believed that it would be chosen, as it is the wealthiest African country, while the other heavyweights are embroiled in internal problems. Nigeria, dealing with Boko Haram and Egypt, in a tug-of-war between the military and the Islamists, were not expected to compete.

Despite assiduous lobbying and visits to nearly every African country, neither Diamini-Zuma nor Ping could come up with the necessary two thirds majority in the four ballots. Now the decision will be deferred till May. The South African candidate had already withdrawn after the third round when Ping took the lead, and South African efforts switched to blocking his election.

Some view the rebuff to South African aspirations as a message to Jacob Zuma. It was Zuma who heavy-handedly attempted to steer the African Union towards a policy of backing Muammar Qadaffi in Libya and condemned the NATO intervention.

Previously, he had berated France for its instrumental role in getting rid of the former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo, who refused to quit the presidential mansion after losing the elections.

Other South African observers believe the vote reflects animosity towards South Africa by the rest of the continent. "Being a South African in Africa is like being an American in the rest of the world. We're looked upon with a mix of envy and resentment."

South African diplomacy tried to put a positive spin on the defeat and took satisfaction over Ping' s inability to win another term . Ping, from a Francophone African country, was depicted as the stooge of France, a country that Pretoria had opposed on Libya and the Ivory Coast.

South African Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said, “After four rounds of elections, the political message that has emerged is that African leaders want change.".