Secret intelligence documents leaked to Al Jazeera's Investigative Unit have revealed details of the tense diplomatic politicking over the election of South Africa's Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, as African Union Commission chairperson in 2012.
The papers describe intense lobbying by South Africa, France, as well as the United States, which "played a significant behind the scenes role in campaigning against Dr Dlamini-Zuma".
They also report a claim that previous AUC chairman Jean Ping had blocked South African security from inspecting the chairperson's official residence ahead of its handover to Dlamini-Zuma.
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, former South African Foreign Minister and ex-wife of president Jacob Zuma, took over the chair of the AUC from Gabon's Jean Ping in October 2012, after a protracted election battle. She is the first woman to lead the pan-African body.
Her challenge to Ping caused a split between English and French-speaking countries, although Dlamini-Zuma was also opposed by three powerful Anglophone countries, Kenya, Ethiopia and Nigeria.
South Africa was accused by its critics of pressuring smaller countries into supporting her.
The memo of a meeting between the South Africa's State Security Agency (SSA) and Eritrean Intelligence reported that South Africa had offered to promote business investment in the East African country, and in return, "Eritrea has undertaken to support South Africa's AU Commission Chairperson candidacy."
Another document, from South Africa's State Security Agency, suggests non-African countries also sought to influence the race, reporting that France and the United States had worked against Dlamini-Zuma.
The secret cable alleges that the former French Ambassador Jean-Christopher Belliard had "tirelessly campaigned against the candidature of Dr Dlamini Zuma" and that the United States "had also played a significant behind the scenes role in campaigning" against her.
AU nations elected Dlamini-Zuma in July 2012 and soon after, South African officials sought to inspect the official residence the AUC chair in order to make security arrangements for her arrival.
Jean Ping was still in residence at the time, and the secret document suggests he had refused to give the South Africans access to the building.
"With regard to the request of the task team to conduct and inspection at the official resident of the Chairperson, Ambassador Pepani gave members of the task team an explanation of some of the difficulties the Embassy had experienced in accessing that site.
"It was only after prolonged persistence that a delegation from the Embassy, DIRCO [South Africa's Foreign Ministry], AU and the [SSA] Station led by the Ambassador was finally given permission by Dr Jean Ping to visit the official residence on 05 October 2012."
The same secret cable also noted the internal strife at the African Union caused by the change at the top.
The African Union Facilities Manager, Dr Auguste Ngomo, was reported as suggesting that Dlamini-Zuma was making staff changes that left many fearing for their jobs. He talks of his "concerns regarding the recent transfers against the letter and sprit of declared staff transfers and appointments."
"This has led to a situation where tension, anxiety and uncertainties among senior staff are rife," the South African report noted, and warned "that these developments hold the potential of heightening tensions and suspicions particularly in relation to perceived post-Ping movement of senior staff".
Change of heart
By late October 2012, however, a spy cable reports that many AU member nations had accepted the reality of a new AUC chairperson with whom they would need a working relationship.
France had appointed a new ambassador to Ethiopia and the AU, who they hoped could establish better relations with Dlamini-Zuma.
"The majority of African countries who campaigned against SADC candidates are beginning to express willingness to cooperate with the new newly-elected Chairperson," the secret cable said.
"Countries like Nigeria, Kenya and other have indicated readiness to turn a new leaf for the sake of the African continent."
Even the United States embassy in Addis Ababa "had indicated a willingness to facilitate a meeting between Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton and the newly elected AUC chairperson".
That meeting took place just over a month later in Washington DC.
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Source: Al Jazeera