Name: Jean Ping
Born: 24 November 1942, Gabon
Career: Ping served as Chairperson of the Commission of the African Union, from 2008 until 2012.
Mali, Guinea-Bissau, and Madagascar were blocked from voting as the countries were under suspension from AU membership after unconstitutional regime changes, meaning that only 51 African nations took part in election.
Dlamini Zuma, who was the South African Home Affairs Minister at the time, managed to oust Jean Ping by winning 27 votes to 24 in the first round and 29 to 22 in the second and 33 votes to 18 in the final round.
During his four-year tenure as chairperson of the AU Commission, Ping was a staunch critic of the International Criminal Court. He regularly accused the ICC of being a western creation that was biased against Africa.
He led the African Union in standing against the courts decision to indict Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in the country’s western Darfur region.
The career of Gabon’s consummate diplomat owes its success less to the impact he made as President of the United Nations General Assembly in September 2004-05 than his accomplishments as head of cabinet to the country’s veteran President, El Hadj Omar Bongo Ondimba in 1984-90.
Ping started off his career at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation in 1972, before becoming Gabon’s Ambassador to the institution from 1978 to 1984. He moved on to President Omar Bongo’s cabinet, jumping from one ministerial office to another, with stints at Information, Finance, Mines, and Foreign Affairs, before settling at the latter post in 1999.
Ping has built up strong diplomatic credentials across Africa and won the Chairmanship of the African Union Commission on 1 February 2008 with 31 of 46 votes in a single round of voting. A popular choice in Central, Western and North Africa, he lacked such support in Southern Africa, where South Africa is said to have wanted a candidate of greater substance. Ping faces a hard task: reforming an AU plagued by disfunction and unable to focus on internal reform because of relentless crises in a host of countries, headed by Sudan, Somalia and Chad. He says that his motto there will be ’less talk, more work’.
Born in November 1942 to a Chinese father and a Gabonese mother in Omboué, Gabon, Ping’s attachment to China is more nuanced than his nickname of ‘Mao’. As Foreign Minister since 1999, he has led Gabon’s campaign to open up trade with non-traditional partners including China, Brazil and South Africa. Ping is uncritical of the Chinese, who signed a controversial US$3 billion iron ore-backed deal for the development of the Bélinga deposit in northeastern Gabon in 2006, saying: ‘With China, everything is simple. She gives us debt forgiveness or long-term loans without interest or conditions.’
As a former President of the Organisation of Oil Producing Exporting Countries in 1993 and along with all his other jobs, Ping has a reputation as a globetrotter. He has also accompanied Bongo in his mediation efforts to São Tomé, Chad, Central African Republic and Congo-Kinshasa. According to local observers, Ping prefers to avoid Gabon’s messy local politicking and the ruling Parti Démocratique Gabonais, as he has the ear of the President himself. Ping has two children with the President’s daughter and current head of the presidential Cabinet, Pascaline Bongo, and is married to an Italo-Ivorian, Jeanne-Thérèse.
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