Zambia's Ambassador to Washington, Dr Inonge Mbikusita Lewanika, is one of the six candidates for the chair of the African Union Commission. She is a distinguished politician, civic activist and diplomat who has led peace missions in Burundi, Rwanda and the Horn of Africa as part of her illustrious career. If she is elected at the end of January, she will be the first woman and the first Southern African to hold this top position. She has tough words for the continent: "The solutions to all the challenges facing Africa are committed in African hands, sharp African minds, and strong African self-determination." The African Union Commission implements policies and coordinates the AU's activities. Its chairperson is elected every four years, and the current chairman, Alpha Oumar Konare, the former Malian president, has been in the post since 2003. Reginald Ntomba interviewed Dr Lewanika in Lusaka. Here are the excerpts.
NA: What do you particularly find exciting about the AU?
Lewanika: Well, I am a very happy African, a very proud African. You know many people have a very negative perception of Africa, including Africans themselves, and I feel very strongly that we need to work towards changing this image, starting with Africans themselves. In some places outside Africa, people think Africa is one country, they don't know it is 53 sovereign nations. I think for the last two decades, we have had very exciting leaders who are really moving Africa in the right direction, and that is why people are taking note of Africa.
Our biggest battle is with Africans themselves. Many of them, because of colonialism, have a very negative sense of everything and that is why they copy and imitate everything foreign--accents and how other people dress, all because they don't want to accept themselves. I would like to help Africans, particularly young people, to accept themselves, that it is great to be an African. It is a passion that I grew up with and Africa is in my heart.
Q: Why do you think you should be chosen as the chair of the AU Commission?
A: I believe the African Union needs a broad-based leader and somebody who can talk to all Africans. I have had the privilege of working in 42 African countries and it has really given me a good view of Africa in a broad sense. I have worked with presidents, senior government officials, traditional rulers, religious leaders, and people in urban and remote villages all...