After a tightly-fought battle against incumbent Jean Ping, South Africa’s Home Affairs Minister, Ms. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has become the first woman to head the African Union Commission.
“As an experienced diplomat, we are confident that she will add much value to the African Union and add significantly to efforts to promote unity and drive development on the continent with AU member states. We regard her appointment as significant for the entire continent of Africa,” said South African Chief Executive Officer Leslie Sedibe.
Meanwhile, President Jacob Zuma also congratulated his former wife and assured that his government would make the necessary adjustment to enable her to commence her new duties as soon as possible.
President Zuma said he was humbled by the confidence that Africa had showed in the Southern African candidate. Ahead of the vote, Ms Zuma had shrugged off criticism that she was breaking an unwritten rule that big African states, including her country and Nigeria, should not run for the top AU Commission post. Jean Ping hails from Gabon. South Africa’s decision to override this rule had sparked bad feeling. There were also criticism of its campaign tactics.
However, Dlamini-Zuma played down concerns the vote could divide the AU.
“I don’t think the continent will be polarised,” she said. “Whoever will be elected will make sure they work with everybody, irrespective of where and who they voted for.”
Benin’s president and current AU chairman Thomas Boni Yayi had warned that another failure to agree on a new head would damage the reputation of the 54-member body. “The current situation cannot drag on without undermining the running of the African Union and tarnishing its image,” Yayi told the summit.
There was therefore a feeling of relief at her victory, the culmination of a long-fought battle that started in January, when the election featuring both candidates was stalemated as neither scored the required 60% of the votes.
The leaders then set up an eight-member panel to work out a consensus on whether to back Ping or his challenger, while extending the mandate of the incumbent. However, that committee hit a brick wall, paving the way for the July 17th contest, on the first day of the 19th Ordinary Summit of the AU in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The contest was fought over four rounds with Dlamini-Zuma finally winning by 34 to 18 votes.
Dlamini-Zuma has said she wants to make the AU more efficient. It is high time, says South Africa’s Mail & Guardian newspaper. The AU is an institution bogged down by inefficiency, understaffing and underspending. Only 52% of posts are filled and the average underspending is 37%. Funding is still a major problem. More than half ($160m) of its budget of $275m for 2012 is paid for by external partners, mostly the European Union. The EU has welcomed Dlamini-Zuma’s election and hopes for closer ties.
Achieving credibility and raising the profile of the AU will ultimately depend not on the commission chairperson, but on the quality of leadership in its member states says the Mail & Guardian.