South African wins top AU job

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The African Union has elected the first female head of its commission, a veteran South African minister who analysts say must now heal the rifts caused by a protracted leadership battle and revitalise an organisation confronting some of the continent’s most complex crises of recent times.

In voting late on Sunday, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, South Africa’s respected home affairs minister and a former foreign minister, defeated Jean Ping of Gabon, the incumbent.

Her victory ended an election process that had exposed diplomatic power struggles and divisions on the continent and across the 53-member AU. The process had been tarnished by accusations and counteraccusations between the candidates’ supporters since a previous vote ended in a stalemate in January.

There will be relief that the deadlock has been broken amid warnings that the wrangling was dividing the body and undermining its credibility at a time when the AU has to grapple with the fallout from coups in Mali and Guinea Bissau, as well as tensions and clashes between Sudan and newly independent South Sudan.

Ms Dlamini-Zuma, a former wife of Jacob Zuma, South Africa’s president, is considered experienced and well qualified for the job.

But there has been criticism of South Africa’s perceived heavy handedness in supporting its candidate, and complaints that Ms Dlamini-Zuma’s candidacy violated an unwritten rule that Africa’s dominant states should not contest the AU leadership.

South Africa boasts the continent’s largest economy and is Africa’s only member of the G20 group of nations, and critics accuse it of behaving with arrogance in what some see as a bid for primacy on the continent. Nigeria, which vies with South Africa as the continent’s other political and economic powerhouse, had supported Mr Ping, as had other west African nations.

“Had west Africa stood firmly with the north and the francophones, they could have fought back. … west Africa succumbed, their vote just crumbled,” said a veteran AU observer who attended the meeting in Addis Ababa last week. “But although she (Dlamini-Zuma) is aggressive to the point of abrasive, she will have to realise that those same heads of states who voted against her will hold her back.”

Pretoria had insisted that Ms Dlamini-Zuma was a southern Africa candidate, a region that has not previously led the AU commission. “South Africa is not going to come to Addis Ababa to run the AU. It is Dlamini-Zuma who is going to come to make a contribution,” Ms Dlamini-Zuma told reporters ahead of the vote .

A key issue now will be whether she can breathe new life into an organisation that has struggled to shake off criticisms that it is often too slow and ineffective in responding to problems on the continent.

The AU has intervened in areas like the conflict in Darfur in western Sudan and it has taken a stronger stance towards coups in recent years, while military intervention in Mali – where rebels and Islamists have seized control of northern parts of the country – has been raised as a possibility. But it lacks capacity, as well as physical and financial resources, while the battles over the AU leadership were partly the result of a fallout last year when Africa was sharply divided over how to respond to crises in Ivory Coast and Libya.

“The ball is firmly in South Africa’s court to see what it can do to inject some life into the AU. One of the critical things is going to be to see how governments respond to a change in style by the commission … I think she will be more proactive,” said Piers Pigou, an analyst at the International Crisis Group. “The experience to date has been a rather minimalist approach so we might see a change in direction, but this is like shifting an oil tanker, so don’t expect any massive and immediate changes. But it’s going to be interesting to see what course she plots.”

 

In : World News