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New African Union Commission Chairperson Assumes Power Monday

There is a changing of the guard Monday at the African Union Commission, the organ responsible for the day-to-management of the African Union. Former Malian President Alpha Ouma Konare, who has served as chairman of the commission since 2003, will handover power today to Jean Ping, former deputy prime minister and foreign minister of Gabon.

Mr. Ping was elected February this year during the last assembly of the African Union. Will there be changes in the way the African Union Commission handles the continent’s affairs under Mr. Ping’s leadership?

Ambassador John Shinkaiye is the outgoing chief of staff of the AU chairman’s cabinet. He told VOA that while there might be some changes in the way the new chairman approaches issues, little would change in the fundamental policies of the African Union.

“I think that one should always expect some changes in the approach when a new leadership takes over an organization or a country. But Mr. Ping was foreign minister of Gabon for over 10 years. And in those years he took very active part in the affairs of the Organization of African Union as well as the African Union. Therefore he is part of the process of the African Union. So if we have that in the back of our minds, one does not expect that there should be fundamental changes in the policies of the organization,” he said.

One of the policy changes that makes the African Union different from its predecessor, the Organization of African Unity, is the power to intervene in the affairs of a member country. But Shinkaiye said that power does not rest with the chairperson of the Commission.

“The chairperson of the Union or Commission itself does not on his own decide to intervene. A decision to intervene has to be taken either by the Peace and Security Council of the organization which is made up of 12 or 15 countries, or the assembly of heads of state that decides whether the organization should intervene in a country,” he said.

Shinkaiye said he does not believe that the momentum for big changes which many felt when the African Union was first announced has slowed down.

“At the beginning when the African Union was established, there was some criticism even within Africa itself, not to talk of outside Africa. But in the last four and a half years, the Commission has established itself, and it’s achieved quite a lot although most of what it has done is not well known to many people, including Africans,” Shinkaiye said.

He said the African Union’s achievements since coming into being include conflict management.

“The OAU (Organization of African Unity) did not have the capacity neither the political will to intervene in conflicts when it existed. But the African Union has been able to make its self extremely comfortably in managing conflicts on the continent. Another would be the fact that in many areas the African Union has been able to work its member states to evolve a common position in response to challenges the continent has been facing,” he said.

Ambassador Shinkaiye said the African Union has been working quietly to resolve Zimbabwe’s post-election crisis contrary to criticism by some world leaders.

“As you know the matter of Zimbabwe has been managed for the continent by SADC (Southern African Development Community), which is the regional organization to which Zimbabwe belongs. And the African Union and the SADC have been consulting on managing the situation there. So I think the expectations from different parts of the world are different from the way the African Union perceive the situation. Obviously no one wants the situation in Zimbabwe to deteriorate and every effort is being made by the organization and African countries to deal with the situation there in the best way that they can,” he said.