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Inside the exclusive club where Africa's plans are crafted

By Nzau Musau | Published Mon, February 5th 2018 at 08:54, Updated February 5th 2018 at 09:03 GMT +3
A general view of the 26th African Union Summit at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on January 30, 2018 [EPA, Solan Kolli]

The lights shooting down from the vaulted ellipsoidal ceiling of Nelson Mandela Plenary Hall reflected on shiny bald-heads beneath and bounced off to twinkling eyes in the galleries.

Beneath, the clatter and chatter ahead of official business sounded all too familiar -- incongruous, muddled and jumbled. Some sitting, some walking around and others standing in hallways and corners.

Their aides glided on the hallways sorely bidding opportunity to be of any use to their bosses. Their official press turning every angle to get their best shot at them before they are herded out.

Uhuru Kenyatta, the scion of the Burning Spear, was literally at home, to the right of the front row.

Directly ahead of him, a huge camera beamed in all directions as he consulted with delegation comprising Cabinet Secretaries Amina Mohamed and Mwangi Kiunjuri, ambassador Catherine Mwangi and aide Jomo Gecaga -- the latter two his bloodline.

In the din of it all, a choir took to the stage: “My motherland Africa, I treasure and love you Africa. I will bring peace and love in Africa, because I am proud to belong to Africa, united we move on, here in Africa,” the medley went on but they paid little attention.

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They had heard these exhortations before, countless times. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni was least trifled -- been listening to them since 1985, before any of the sassy choir members was born. In contrast, the club’s brand new player, Liberia’s George Weah, paid the most attention to the goings-on on stage. The ex-footballer sat on the front row, possibly for a better view.

Robbed in a sparkling white garb, he seemed dazed and enthralled by the experience. He shifted his eyes thither and hither as congratulatory winks and clasps of fists flew from every direction within the hall.

Jacob Zuma, the embattled South African President, sat on the row behind Kenyatta. He was brooding, perhaps enjoying the break away from home. And the good company.

Outside in the hallways, people said this could be his last club meeting as the party was menacingly coming after him.

Other than Zuma, there was some other unease going about. And you could cut a piece of it in the air; a platinum member of the club, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, was missing in action after rocking the club’s chairs for three decades. In the galleries, everyone scurried to spot the general who replaced him, necks sticking out of the railings. He didn't look quite familiar, Emmerson Mnangagwa. He sat like a true general, leaning back on his seat, focused and alert.

Shame and tears to Africa

Near him sat two hat-men whose countries have brought enormous shame and tears to Africa. Donning ominous black hat and slender like a tree, Salva Kiir rested South Sudan’s collective disgrace with him on his seat.

Somalia’s Abdullahi Farmajo beamed with hope for his motherland, scarred now for three decades of senseless internal strife which has since morphed into regional terror.

For all their majesties and combined glory, the lights went off at 2:34pm but bounced back within seconds before they could comprehend what was happening. Shortly thereafter, Guinea President and chairman of the club, Alpha Conde, took over.

An octogenarian from next month and dressed in brilliant white suit, he took charge of the hallowed gathering in a deep, respectful voice of an Africa elder. The din went down in seconds, aides retreated to the backroom and the meeting officially began.

The head of the AU Commission Faki Mahamat, the man who does the bidding for the club, was not afraid to stick it up to them. To the faces of the men in charge, he called for sanctions against South Sudan, conclusion of dialogue in Burundi, implementation of political deals in Congo DRC, speed-up of reforms in Mali, conclusion of reconciliation in Central African Republic and resolution of the conflict in Libya.

Then came the opportunity to introduce the new members to the club.

The first to be called out was Angola’s new member Joao Lourenco. Few seemed to recognise him when Conde called him out. Not used to the clubs ways, he too was confused as to whether to proceed to the podium or remain on his seat. “You don’t have to come up here. You can address us from your station,” Conde stepped in.

When he spoke, he stated what an honour and privilege it was for him to use the floor of the house, bemoaned conflicts, poverty and exploitation rife in Africa and called for African unity.

Conde then called out Mnangagwa who rather than take to the microphone first glanced to his back as though to ensure the ghost of his predecessor was not watching over him.

After expressing his sincere gratitude to the hosts, he proceeded to break the assembly’s longings for a brief on their platinum card-wielding member Mugabe.

“I wish to inform this august chamber that your brother Robert Mugabe is well, safe, secure and it is my duty, leading the current administration, to preserve his legacy as the founding father of our republic,” he said, pausing to give way to applause which rent the air.

The next speaker was introduced to a thunderous reception. And when he took to the floor, you could hear a pin drop as everyone waited on his voice and vision. George Weah is the new dynamo for the club.

In his brief address, Weah rued corruption and looked forward to working with his African colleagues in addressing Africa’s problems. You could tell that it was already getting into him when he rubbed it over them that he was quite a busy man.

“I regret not to be able to sit any longer with you due to pressing national matters,” he said while thanking the Ethiopian government for his safety and comfort while in Addis.

You could see Conde almost telling him that was too fast.

“As you can see and hear, that acclamation is sufficient to welcome you. You are the only one here who played professional football in Europe and we want to wish you success in your duties,” Conde remarked.

Benin’s Patrice Talon who missed out on last year’s club meeting was barely audible as he addressed his colleagues leaning back on his seat. He expressed surprise at the “usefulness” of the AU as an institution.

Tanzania's John Maghufuli who has never turned up in Addis would have been encouraged by this. Conde challenged Talon to become a regular in the meetings.

Prayer mission

When Somalia’s Farmajo was called out for his maiden speech, he was out on prayer mission. Conde took the time to address the assembly for the last time. His term at the high table was lapsing.

In his farewell speech, Conde challenged Africa to “face its responsibilities” with regard to migrant challenges of slavery and death.

He pitched for increased continental funding of African initiatives, less lectures from Western nations and commitment to the fight against the scourge of corruption.

He then gave way to the dean of African Ambassadors to unveil Rwanda’s Paul Kagame as the new chair 2018 and Libya’s Faiz Saraj, SA’s Zuma, Congo’s Sassou Nguesso and Conde as first, second, third and fourth vice chairs.

Egypt's Abdel Fatah El Sisi was also announced as the chair of the union 2019.

Without much ado, Kagame who was seated at the plenary, was welcomed to the podium to take over. Conde walked down and took his seat at the plenary with a firm congratulatory handshake from Kenyatta.

Kagame took over with fire and fury. Facing his colleagues, he bemoaned the lost time in Africa, rued wasted chances and denounced ongoing lethargy, conflict and poverty.

He said under his leadership, Africa will respond with “focus and facts”. Kagame had been leading reforms at the AU before his ascendancy.

“Fixing this wouldn’t take a year but it need not take a generation either,” he said.

After Kagame’s fiery speech, Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari was garlanded as the club’s champion against corruption. He was pontificating on stage when I left to file this copy.