Will Mugabe's Political Rhetoric Transform AU Without Donor Funding?

By Prince Tongogara

President Robert Mugabe will be at the helm of African Union (AU) for the next twelve months, a position that will allow him to shape not only the continent’s destiny but also how it relates to generally a bipolar world where the US/EU bloc contests for hegemony against Chinese rising economic sun.

Mugabe the self-avowed Marxist-Leninist quickly reminded the AU that Africa was greatly endowed with natural resources that she can leverage to hasten her economic development for the benefit of her one billion population.

The leveraging of natural resources for economic development is not a new concept in the world and currently being implemented in Botswana and Angola with some degree of success compared to most countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Resource rich Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria and lately Zimbabwe despite their abundant natural resources are still struggling economically with the majority of their people living in abject poverty.

It escapes the leaders’ mind that natural resources without good accountable leadership, technology, competent and efficient human resources and funding remains with potential to develop but rarely develop.

However, for Mugabe at 91 rising to the top is a personal triumph albeit coming in the twilight of his political career. Over the decades he has contested for the mantle to lead Africa against iconic Nelson Mandela and maverick slain Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Mugabe in his inaugural speech spoke of his beloved subject of sovereignty and independence from imperial West to the new paradigm of developing mutual beneficial partnerships. The speech rouses deep nationalism feelings and reignites pan-Africanism sentiments among the continent’s citizens but falls short on immediately addressing how Africa can climb out of the economic morass of underdevelopment, debt and poverty.

Mugabe’s euphoria in particular and Zimbabwe’s joy at leading the continent were brought back into context when AU staff told him that the continental body was far away from being sovereign as it heavily depended Western donor funding for its budget.

AU Staff Association President Salah Siddiq Hammad had the unenviable task of telling ‘Africa’s living icon’ of the enormity of the task that lay ahead and most likely would not be achieved within his one year tenure.

Hammad politely told Mugabe that AU’s programmes and activities depend heavily on donors and they were happy that the political leadership at their 24th summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, had taken a decision to seek alternative sources of funding the continental body.

“We really hope that during this presidency that this decision can be implemented so that we can be liberated as you previously liberated Zimbabwe and the African continent so that we can depend on ourselves, proudly as Africans. We are the AU and we are funding the AU as Africans,” Hammad said.

It remains to be seen if the irony of the statement was lost on Mugabe who for the least 15 years has been preaching sovereignty at all international forums yet Zimbabwe’s economy was contracting faster than an economy in a war zone.

Political analyst Takura Zhangazha on his blog wrote, “Key among these is that whatever radical Pan Africanist rhetoric he harbours will have to be tempered. The African continent is a highly contested geo-political terrain for varying reasons. These include but are not limited to the war on terror, the scramble for natural resources (including water) and the competition for African markets by global corporations.”

He added, “To radically attack the West or pander to the East will not create an impression of a leader who really understands Africa’s placement in the world.  Or its own complicity in any same said unfair placement in world affairs.”

Zimbabwe despite aggressively nationalizing its land, mineral resources and compulsorily indigenizing foreign owned companies still depends on donors and developmental partners to meet the basic needs of its people such as water, food, health and education.

Whether Mugabe got the subtle and cryptic message from Hammad that transformation politics is more than political rhetoric on international forums and involves the reality of funding your own programmes and activities will be answered in the next eleven months as Mugabe tries to balance the books by making fellow leaders cough up for the upkeep of the continental body. For now, history seems to point in one direction – failure and that could sadly be his signature on Africa’s leadership.