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AFRICAN UNIONZuma has work to do
08/07/12, Anthony Akaeze
AU newly-elected President, the South Africa minister Dlamini-Zuma
Now that Dlamini-Zuma has finally become AU Commission's chair, the organisation would have to redouble its efforts to bring peace to Mali and DR Congo and also tackle other pressing problems facing the continent.
It is the first major pan-African body, created to champion and protect the interest of Africans, after the decolonisation struggles of the early 1960s that swept through the continent. But the Organisation of African Unity, now called African Union, AU, also has been a test ground for power play and political supremacy among African member states. This much was on display in on July 15 in Addis Ababa when the elections for the chair of the AU Commission and other positions held. It turned out, last minute: pleading and lobbying for votes for preferred candidates.
In the end, South Africa's Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, emerged as the new head of the union. Her triumph is historic because it's the first time a woman would attain that height. Coming just few weeks after Gambia's Fatou Bensouda became the International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor, Dlamini-Zuma's victory is viewed by many as another milestone for African women. She succeeds Jean Ping of Gabon, who had served in that capacity since April 28, 2008.
Although she got the mantle in July, the race to become the AU Chairperson, for Dlamini-Zuma, a former wife of South African president, Jacob Zuma, began earlier in the year when she contested against Ping for the position. There was no clear cut winner at the time as neither candidate won the mandatory two thirds votes needed to carry the day. It was a tight race indeed and the election had to be shifted to July. At the July 15 rerun, Dlamini-Zuma garnered more votes to beat her opponent. She secured 37 of the 54-member body votes cast, giving her the 60% she needed to be elected.
Her victory was predictably hailed by her country as heartwarming and deserving. The ruling African National Congress Women's League, ANCWL, said that Dlamini-Zuma's success "is not a South African victory or even a Southern African Development Community (SADC)" feat, but "rather a victory for the women of the African continent who have long suffered under the oppression of colonialism, wars, poverty and patriarchy." Dlamini-Zuma was, at the time of the election, South Africa's home affairs minister.
She had previously served as minister of health and foreign affairs, making her one of her country's longest-serving ministers.
AU newly elected president Dlamini- Zuma being congratulated by her former husband the South African President Jacob Zuma
The voting appeared to have been split along linguistic lines, with English-speaking countries, with the exception of Nigeria, tending to support Dlamini-Zuma and French-speaking countries lining up behind Ping. Nigeria and South Africa are major African powers who, in recent years, appear to see things differently. Settings, such as the Ethiopian electoral contest provided an opportunity for both countries to flex their muscles.
Nigeria's support for Ping is thought to have paved way for its candidate Aisha Laraba Abdulahi, to clinch the AU's commissioner for political affairs' portfolio. Abdulahi was Nigeria's former Ambassador to Guinea. She led in all three rounds of the contest, scoring 22 and 24 votes in the first and second rounds of voting and then 35 of the 50 votes cast in the final round to edge out Botswana's nominee. Nigeria benefited from the decision of Central Africa's candidates to drop out of the final round of voting, in a bid to boost Nigeria's chances, as compensation for the country's support for Ping. The move swung the votes Abdulahi's way.
But Nigeria's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Olugbenga Ashiru, downplayed the rumoured power play between his country and South Africa when he said: "It was not a contest between Nigeria and South Africa. The South African did a good job and mobilised support far more than Gabon. We work with whoever heads the commission in the interest of African Unity and solidarity."
Aged 63, Dlamini-Zuma will have a lot to prove, beyond just gender statement. She's the candidate of a country that feels the AU, under Ping, didn't quite acquit itself well. One of the accusations against Ping's leadership was that the AU appeared to pander to the dictate of foreign powers such as France, his home nation's colonial master. While canvassing for votes for her election, Dlamini-Zuma promised to run "a more efficient and effective organisation."
She has the chance to do that now, and even show how much of an independent minded person she is.
In the meantime, she would need to focus attention on halting the crisis in Mali, the violence in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo as well as the tension between Sudan and South Sudan.
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