The former Vice President is seeking election as Chair of the African Union Commission at next month’s summit in Kigali. Her excellent academic and leadership credentials surpass by far those of her two male rivals, Dr. Venson-Moitoi Pelonomi and Mokuy Agapito Mba, foreign affairs ministers of Botswana and Equatorial Guinea, respectively.
Uganda is once again in the limelight. One of her very accomplished daughters, Dr. Specioza Kazibwe, has her eyes set on the AU Commission chair. What are her prospects? What makes Dr. Kazibwe’s contest for the AU Commission Chairperson dramatic is that she is following the footsteps of yet another illustrious and much celebrated South African woman, Dr. Nkosanzana Dlamini-Zuma. The fact that the highest Pan-African organization has attracted some of Africa’s most talented women is in itself something to celebrate. Let us look at Dr. Kazibwe’s chances of taking over running of the continental body that is dominated by male heads of state.
What is Dr. Kazibwe made of?
Dr. Kazibwe has risen from a humble background to claim an international stature. Her intellectual prowess is not in doubt. The high school where she studied, Mount Saint Mary’s Namagunga, is reputed for producing some of the most gifted women in Uganda. Up to now, this Catholic high school in the heart of Uganda is reputed for its discipline and for excellent grades. Over 70% of girls (it is an exclusively girls school) qualify for the prestigious Makerere University, many of them to study medicine. It is therefore no surprise that Dr. Kazibwe studied medicine and surgery at Makerere University—a course she completed in 1979. The late 1970s were turbulent times as the infamous dictator Idi Amin was at the peak of his tyrannical rule, that was toppled in 1979. To study medicine under such tough circumstances was no mean achievement.
Dr. Kazibwe never aims for the minimum. She proceeded to do a Master of Medicine in general surgery at Makerere University. Still not satisfied, she later went to Harvard University for a PhD in global health and population, a course she completed in 2006.
Dr. Kazibwe descends on the AU Commission loaded with a pan-African vision and philosophy grounded in her early moral and academic formation. As a surgeon she is passionate about human life. Stories are told that when she was a government minister and she happened to be close at a road accident scene, she would roll her sleeves and perform some first aid in an attempt to save lives. It is her medical profession that made her close to the plight of women. Her struggle for gender equality caught the attention of the NRM government under President Yoweri Museveni, who appointed her Minister for Women in Development, Culture and Youth (1991-1993). She then went on to serve as Minister of Gender and Community Development (1993-1994).
As a scientist, Dr. Kazibwe served in science-related ministries with great success. From 1989 to 1991 she served as Deputy Minister of Industry and Technology. From 1996-1998 she served as a Minister of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries. Dr. Kazibwe is the first woman in Africa to become a Vice President from 1994-2003.
How did Dr. Kazibwe evolve into a formidable politician? She started off as a member of the Democratic Party under the youth and women’s wing. She carefully worked her way up the political ladder through active participation in politics at various levels. When the NRM started the Resistance Council system, Dr. Kazibwe was elected at the village level. When the Constituent Assembly was set up to draft the constitution in 1994, she was a member of that assembly. She was later elected to represent her constituency of Kigulu South in Iganga District in 1996. She clearly enjoys grass-root support.
International stature and diplomatic credentials
From a diplomatic point of view, does Dr. Specioza Kazibwe have what it takes to be the top Executive of the AU? Do her credentials surpass those of her two male rivals, Dr. Venson-Moitoi Pelonomi and Mokuy Agapito Mba, foreign affairs ministers of Botswana and Equatorial Guinea, respectively? The competition is stiff. Dr. Kazibwe’s long term as a Vice President of Uganda gave her the much-needed diplomatic and leadership skills. She has also engaged in high level international advocacy and diplomacy in her own right taking personal initiative. She has contributed enormously to the women’s cause at the continental level, like when she collaborated with the then OAU and UNECA to found the African Women Committee on Peace and Development (AWCPD) in 1998. Chairing such a high-level organization must have sharpened her diplomatic skills.
Dr. Kazibwe is currently a member of the AU Panel of the Wise. In a continent that values patriarchy, to have her among the “elders” is nothing short of revolutionary. With her excellent background in health issues, she was appointed a special envoy of the UN Secretary General for HIV/AIDS in charge of Africa from 2013 to 2014. With such impressive diplomatic credentials, no doubt Dr. Kazibwe will give her male contenders a run for their money. On top of her numerous qualities we can add her keen interest in gender issues that loom large in the current discourse on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) following the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Dr. Kazibwe is well positioned as a global champion for women’s cause and gender equality.
In the context of AU geopolitics
Uganda, where Dr. Kazibwe comes from, is strategically located at the epicenter of the Great Lakes Region, and is an active member of the East African Community. Uganda has been playing a strategic role in the Eastern African region and in the Horn of Africa judging from the active involvement in Somalia’s pacification and stabilization. South Sudan has also benefitted from Uganda’s quasi-regional hegemony, not to mention DRC. Dr. Kazibwe is an insider and knows inside out Uganda’s foreign policy. The period when she was a minister and a vice president, Uganda was at the center of the Great Lakes crisis, playing both military and strategic roles. Issues of regional security and peace are not alien to her.
Uganda is a key player in IGAD and other regional integration initiatives such as COMESA and PTA. Both of these took shape when Dr. Kazibwe was serving as a minister. These sub-regional integration models are the building blocks of a strong AU—regional integration from below.
The regions of the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes Region are still experiencing cataclysmic episodes of armed conflict involving cross-border incursions that threaten the continent’s stability. One who is well versed with inner dynamics of inter-and intra-state conflicts is qualified to negotiate peace among warring factions. Dr. Kazibwe combines both the gentleness and firmness to speak truth to power when need arises.
Global political context
There is a growing interest in the role of women in politics globally. With Helen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia and Prof. Ameenah-Gurib Fakim of Mauritius being the only women heads of state on the continent, an additional voice at the AU should be a welcome development for global feminism. The US is in the process of nominating the first female presidential candidate—a global phenomenon in its own right. From a global perspective, Dr. Kazibwe will join the ranks of a rare crop of women who are determined to tilt the balance of power in global politics. The message in these examples is clear: empower women and they will perform wonders in all spheres of public life.
Imagine a scenario whereby Hillary Clinton as president of the USA, addressing the AU with Dr. Kazibwe as Chairperson of the AU Commission, discussing Agenda 2063, suggesting that women empowerment is the secret to meeting all the goals of Agenda 2063. One recalls the often quoted phrase that: “If you educate a man, you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman, you educate a nation.” We can paraphrase this to read: “If you educate a man, you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate the world.” Global political transformation requires an increasing role of women in the highest level of decision making—global politics.
What is Dr. Kazibwe’s vision for the AU?
As Dr. Kazibwe traverses the continent hunting for votes, she seems quite clear on what she wants with a surgeon’s sharp perception. She seems to have a scientific precision of what the African continent needs right now. In her own words she has the following to say: “My candidacy for the African Union Commission chairperson position comes at a time when Africa knows where it wants to go; when it wants to get there, and how it wishes to get there; in a roadmap envisioned by our leaders and clearly laid out in African Union Agenda 2063.” The big agenda at the AU is the need to implement Agenda 2063 - an ambitious plan that requires an equally ambitious AU Commission Chair. It seems the implementation framework is firmly established and only needs an energetic leader such as Dr. Kazibwe who can take it to the next level.
Her resolve and collaborative mood is felt in the following remark: “As African Union chairperson, I will be the chief executive to the collective of 54 African Heads of State; work with governments and other institutions to promote, popularize and implement AU’s Agenda 2063 for over one billion Africans.” The over one billion Africans are all eager to see whether this daughter of Africa will deliver the AU to the promised land in 2063, step by step.
From Dr. Kazibwe’s vision, one can discern a clear focus on key strategic areas: peace building and conflict resolution; infrastructure development; resource mobilization, research, communication and people empowerment, member state and state partner engagement and reinforcing existing African Union systems. She clearly will not be re-inventing the wheel but continuing from where her predecessor left.
As the AU July summit in Kigali gets under way, all eyes will be focused on this formidable daughter of Africa—indeed she is not just representing Uganda, but the African continent. Africa stands to gain enormously from Dr. Speicioza Kazibwe’s vast political and diplomatic experience. Agenda 2063 has finally found someone who has the required academic, leadership, visionary and strategic credentials to bring it to fruition, following in the footsteps of the outgoing consummate diplomat and visionary Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. Let us hope that the 54 African heads of state will recognize the great potential in Dr. Kazibwe and support her bid for the AU Commission Chair. Africa is in safe hands under the leadership of these two resilient daughters of the rising continent—one who has finished the term and one who is to take over. The two political doctors have the remedy for the African continent. Go girl!
* Dr. Odomaro Mubangizi teaches philosophy and theology at the Institute of Philosophy and Theology in Addis Ababa, where is Dean of Philosophy Department. He is also Editor of Justice, Peace, and Environment Bulletin.
* THE VIEWS OF THE ABOVE ARTICLE ARE THOSE OF THE AUTHOR AND DO NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT THE VIEWS OF THE PAMBAZUKA NEWS EDITORIAL TEAM
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