By Lovemore Ranga Mataire
Chadian Foreign Minister Moussa Faki Mahamat’s dramatic victory as the new African Union chairperson surprised many neutrals who had put money on Kenya’s Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed.
Unlike his closest Kenyan rival who ran a slick social media blitz, Mahamat ran an orthodox behind-the-scene campaign that proved effective to land him the top continental job.
But who is Moussa Faki Mahamat and what does he stand for?
A lawyer by profession, Mahamat was, until his election as AU commission chairperson, Chadian Foreign Affairs Minister, a position he has held since April 2008.
Mahamat is a seasoned diplomat and politician who had stints in the private sector before assuming public office in the Chadian government.
He is viewed as the brains behind Chad’s nomination to the United Nations Security Council as a non-permanent member and also of the country’s rotating presidency of the AU in 2016.
A Congo-Brazzaville University law graduate, Mahamat went into exile in 1982 when Hissene Habre assumed power and returned in 1991 following the coming to power of Idriss Deby.
His return from exile and his quick ascendency to positions of authority did not surprise many Chadians.
Born in 1960 in the country’s eastern town of Biltine, Mahamat belongs to President Idriss Deby’s ethnic group – Zaghawa. He served as Deby’s campaign manager in the 2001 presidential elections.
After obtaining his Bachelor Degree in Public Law in 1982, Mahamat later graduated with a Diploma in Higher Studies in Public Law and registered in thesis of law from the University of Paris.
He became an assistant professor at the Faculty of Law and Economic Sciences at Marien Ngouabi University, Brazzaville Congo. He was later appointed full time lecturer at the Faculty of Law and Management at the University of N’ Ndjamena.
Between 1994 and 1995, he held positions of Head of Administration and Financial Division in the Ministry of Rural Development and general director in the Ministry of Communications and Post Offices. In 1996, he was legal expert member of the team on the negotiation of the Chadian-Cameroun Oil Project.
In 1997, Mahamat was appointed the General rapporteur of the Independent National Electoral Commission before becoming the Chief of Staff to the President between 1999 and 2002.
He later rose to the position of Prime Minister between 2003 and February 2005 and has been the Foreign Affairs Minister since 2008.
Several factors worked in Mahamat’s favour in his AU election campaign. He is an insider in the AU system after having headed the AU Commission on Peace and Security at the Nairobi summit in 2013, which was dedicated to the fight against terrorism.
As former Prime Minister and current foreign minister, he has been at the forefront of the fight against Islamists in Nigeria, Mali and Sahel, something that raised his profile at home and abroad.
Another factor that worked in Mahamat’s favour was that his own president Deby held the rotational presidency of the continental body during his campaign and could have used his influence on other member states.
In essence, President Deby succeeded in placing a man he trusts at the helm of the AU on the same day he handed over the rotating presidency of the organisation to Guinea, proving the extent of Chad’s influence on the continental body.
The internal rifts highlighted in July 2016 when no candidate won the necessary two-thirds majority at a previous attempt to elect a chairperson also worked in Mahamat’s favour.
Although it took seven rounds of voting before Mahamat emerged winner, it long appeared that the Chadian delegation had already done its homework.
Unlike his rivals, Mahamat is fluent in English, French and Arabic which makes him the most attractive candidate in breaking the communication barrier with other member countries. Mahamat becomes the fifth chairperson of the AU Commission and the second from Central Africa after Gabon’s Jean Ping who served between 2008 and 2012.
The AU Commission serves as the executive administrative branch or secretariat of the AU. It is headed by a chairperson with the help of commissioners dealing with different policy areas.
Amara Essay from Cote d’lvoire served as chairperson from 200-2003, Alpha Kotare from Mali served until 2008 after which Gabon’s Ping took over until 2012.
Mahamat’s election as chief executive of the AU will most likely see a reorientation of the continental body’s policies towards issues of peace and security. He has promised to silence “the sounds of guns (that) will be drowned out by cultural songs and rumbling factories,” and wants development and security to top the agenda of his four-year term. The 56 year-old is married and a father of five children.