Former AU Commission chair Ping to run for Gabon presidency—but what happened to others who held the post?

The position can be a springboard for higher things, but it has also been a soft landing pad for its holders

FORMER African Union Commission Chairman Jean Ping will run as the opposition candidate in presidential elections scheduled for next year.

Ping said he will seek to represent the Front Uni as he toured districts in Libreville, the capital, seeking support, news wire Bloomberg reported Wednesday.

Ping will probably face President Ali Bongo who wants to extend his family’s almost 50-year rule over the oil-producing nation. Ping served as the chairman of the AU Commission for four years.

The name of his successor, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, has also been periodically linked with a stab for the South African presidency.

It would suggest the visibility the powerful position gives is a useful springboard for seeking an African presidency, but it has also at times worked the other way round, as a soft landing following the presidency.

In some instances its holder has ended up in the opposition or been demoted, while others have died in political detention. Many have gone on to publish books.

The articulate and passionate Alpha Oumar Konare, who headed the Commission between 2003 and 2008, had been Malian president for the ten years preceding his stint at the helm of the 54-member regional bloc.  

Konare’s tenure as Mali president is generally well regarded, having helped stabilise the country’s often rocky path to democracy, although he struggled to tame corruption.

He remains the only Malian president to have left office at the end of his term, a habit he retained—he also did not seek another term as AU Commission chair, despite snagged 35 of 45 African votes the first time round.

Lack of ‘big’ support

Koran succeeded former Ivorian foreign minister Amara Essy, who withdrew from the race having midwifed the transition from the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) to the current AU. Essy however failed to command the support of the “big” African states of Nigeria, South Africa, Libya and Egypt.

He also failed to inspire the support of key UN security council members the US and the UK during the 1996 vote to succeed the out-of-favour Boutros Ghali, despite fervent backing from France. Kofi Annan was eventually picked.

The last secretary-general of the OAU was Tanzania’s Salim Ahmed Salim, who served as prime minister for a year until 1985.

Decorated: Salim Ahmed Salim

He is now a highly-decorated elder African statesman who sits on the boards of several organisations including the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, and has held scores of diplomatic positions.

Former Nigerien journalist Ide Oumarou served as OAU secretary-general between 1985 and 1988, when he lost to the charismatic Salim. A man of few words, Oumarou’s term saw him leave an organisation which had seen its credibility dented following a failure to tackle African conflict. A reformist, he died in 2002.

Nigeria’s Dr Peter Onu acted in the position for the two years preceding Oumarou’s stint, following a crisis that hastened the departure of Edem Kodjovi Kodjo of Togo.

In office for five years from 1978, Kodjo run into a serious diplomatic crisis when he unilaterally allowed the contested Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) to seat at the OAU in 1982.

Boycott of OAU
A humiliated Morocco, which claims dominion over parts of the contested Western Sahara region, and its allies protested the decision bitterly, even as Kodjo held that a number of OAU member states had recognised the SADR.

Morocco led a successful 18-member walkout, breaking quorum, and the kingdom would soon pull out of the OAU, yet to return.

Kodjo found himself isolated even at home and left in 1983 to become a lecturer in France, while also occupying himself with magazine publishing.

He was Togo prime minister between for six years over two different stints, the most recent of which ended in 2006.

He is now in the opposition, but has been quoted as saying he has since lost interest in his country’s internal politics.

Cameroonians William Eteki and Nzo Ekangaki held the position between 1972 and 1978.

Eteki was a compromise choice following a voting deadlock in 1974, after his compatriot Ekangaki resigned.

Eteki had a blue-eyed boy in Paul Biya’s regime, but was suddenly dismissed as minister in 1987, with few reasons adduced by the Cameroonian leader.

Final straw
Ekangaki, a prolific author, had rubbed president Ahmadou Ahidjo the wrong way after being seen too independent, with an oil consultancy deal he signed with the London and Rhodesia Company (Lonhro) proving the last straw. 

After resignation he was essentially on gardening leave as a minor technocrat. He was rehabilitated by Biya, who made him a high level adviser until 1989. He died in 2005.

Guinea’s Diallo Telli was the OAU’s first substantial secretary-general, serving between 1964 and 1972.

Telli, a brilliant but radical socialist, succeeded Ethiopia’s Kifle Wodajo, who acted for a year from 1963. He had the task of uniting a fledgling OAU that was still a playground for many colonial interests.

He died a broken man in prison in 1977, victim of the increasingly autocratic regime of Sekou Toure which accused him of seeking to overthrow the government, but he was widely seen as major rival to the incumbent.

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