Sections of people in the Southern African region have reportedly welcomed with open arms the election of Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete as the new chairman of the Africa Union (AU). Kikwete takes over from Ghana?s President John Kufuor. Political observers believe Kikwete faces an uphill task to help solve the political crises on the continent in countries like Zimbabwe and Kenya. Sydney Masamvu is a political analyst with the International Crisis Group. From the South African capital, Pretoria, he tells reporter Peter Clottey that President Kikwete faces a Herculean task as chairman of the African Union.

?I think it?s two major issues confronts the African Union this year, the resolution of the Zimbabwe crisis and of course the crisis in Kenya. So, in a sense we are actually going to see a more coordinated approach given that President Kikwete has been actively involved in the formulation of the SADC (Southern African Development Community) mediation process. And when he assumes the AU chairmanship we are actually going to see the Zimbabwe issue actually taking a continental dimension, which has been lacking so far,? Masamvu pointed out.

Masamvu said President Kikwete?s work is cut out for him.

?Yes, indeed, given the complex dynamics of the politics in Africa and the failure of African bodies to oversee or actually to try to reign in conflicts among member states. Indeed, President Kikwete has a tough task as much as the onus would be on him to resolve the Zimbabwe issue one way or the other. And also the onus would be on him to resolve the Kenya crisis and indeed that (South African) President Mbeki has failed and that he would count on Tanzania and Zambia as major allies, with Zambia being the SADC chair and Tanzania now being the AU chair. We are actually to see two of the least progressive states within the SADC who are ready to push a little bit on Zimbabwe assuming very important positions. So it is really big. But the jury is still out,? he said.

Masamvu said Zimbabwe?s main opposition would not be able to forestall President Robert Mugabe?s determination of the country?s general elections slated for March.

?Nothing will happen. Zimbabwe is going to have disputed elections on March 29, and we will be back to the status quo, as in other ways we will be back to the 2000 scenario. So, actually, any process we are going to see post-elections for, already, we can conclude, and rightly so, that Zimbabwe is going to have flawed elections, which would be disputed,? Masamvu noted.