Malawi’s president has been elected as leader of the African Union, a position held by the eccentric dictator Moammar Gadhafi of Libya for the last year.
Malawi’s President Bingu wa Mutharika was selected by the continental body at its annual summit Sunday. The chairmanship of the African Union is a rotating position held by heads of state for one year and gives the holder some influence over the continent’s politics but carries no real power.
The AU’s chairmanship rotates among Africa’s regions, with North Africa chairing for the past year.
Meetings to select the chairman are held in private. The leader is usually nominated and then chosen by consensus. AU officials would not give further details of the proceedings.
* Malawi’s Mutharika Named Next African Union Chairman
(Bloomberg) — Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika, who has pledged to champion greater investment in agriculture to end chronic hunger in Africa, was named chairman of the African Union today.
“My brother, the president of the Republic of Malawi, will replace me and take over,” Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, the incumbent chairman of the AU, said at the annual heads-of-state summit in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
Under Mutharika, 75, Malawi has been transformed from a country in which intermittent famines left 40 percent of the population dependent on international aid into a food exporter. A government program of subsidizing fertilizers helped corn production rise 36 percent to 3.7 million metric tons last year, leaving the nation with a 1.3 million-ton surplus.
“Five years from now, no African child should die of hunger,” Mutharika said in his speech, accepting the one-year term. “Africa must feed Africa.”
In sub-Saharan Africa, an estimated 265 million people are undernourished, according to the World Food Program.
In August, Kenya set aside 9 billion shillings ($120 million) to pay for food imports as up to 10 million faced the risk of hunger following a drought. In Somalia, where civil war has raged for the past 19 years, 1.8 million people rely on the United Nations food agency for aid.
Mutharika was the candidate of the Southern African Development Community. Under AU rules, top positions rotate between the continent’s five geographic regions.
United States of Africa
Qaddafi had sought to extend his tenure by another year to advance his plan to create a so-called United States of Africa. The proposal, which would incorporate the continent’s nations into a political federation, was rejected last year by other leaders who feared losing their sovereignty.
Established in 2002 as a successor to the Organization of African Unity, the AU’s stated aims include achieving greater unity among member states, promoting peace, stability and development and raising living standards.
Mutharika will have to address several other ongoing crises, including restoring democracy in Madagascar, persuading Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe to uphold a power sharing accord and ending a protracted conflict in Sudan’s western region of Darfur.
“The realm of security remains a key challenge for the African Union,” said George Katito, a researcher at the Johannesburg-based South African Institute for International Affairs. “We have seen the African Union challenge unconstitutional changes in government” when it suspended Mauritania and Madagascar from its ranks. Those actions are a “vast difference from its ‘hear nothing, see nothing’ policy that we had before.”