Newly-elected chair of the African Union Commission (AUC) Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma has undertaken to set a new agenda for the continent while also pledging to build on the gains of her predecessors.
Speaking to reporters for the first time last night following her election to lead the AUC, a relaxed Dlamini Zuma told a packed press conference room at the AU’s headquarters in Ethiopia that Africa needed a new vision – one that would guide the AU’s ability to bring about stability and growth on the continent.
“We assume this position with a vision that says our continent should grow and take its rightful place among the nations of the world. I plan to work with all regions for the benefit of our continent and to achieve that goal,” she said according to the official South African government news agency, SAnews.
Her election should not be seen as a personal victory but a victory for the continent and women in particular, it added. “I made it clear that this was not about me or South Africa but should be seen as an achievement for the continent. I pledge my loyalty to the continent, our continent is not an island and we have to make sure that we grow and take our rightful place among the nations of the world.”
Since the news of her victory over the former chair, Gabon’s Jean Ping, emerged on Sunday, congratulatory and support messages have poured in for Dlamini Zuma. South Africa expressed its confidence that the former minister would champion critical issues of peace and security while taking seriously the rights of women and children. The US government wished her success and said it looked forward to working closely with her and maintaining a productive relationship with the AU. The Congress of SA Trade Unions expressed full confidence in her and urged her to campaign against human rights abuses.
Credited for her achievements when she served as South Africa’s minister of foreign affairs and then home affairs, the 63-year-old Dlamini Zuma said she was mindful of the fact that the AU faced many challenges and that carrying the hopes of more than one billion people could never be an easy task. “That is why I rely on the support of my sisters and brothers to make sure that all of us take this continent forward…there has been a consensus on this election, the Heads of State and Government decided to vote this way and we need to work together for the sake of our continent.”
Dlamini Zuma received 37 votes following a gruelling contest with Jean Ping who had served as AUC chairperson since 2008. Ping has since written a letter to Dlamini Zuma congratulating her on the appointment. Lobbying by both Ping’s and Dlamini Zuma’s supporters had intensified ahead of the vote on Sunday. The winner required 60 percent of votes to be elected, something the South African minister was able to achieve in the fourth round of voting.
Dlamini Zuma has rejected suggestions that the rivalry between her and Ping risked tearing the AU apart. “I think the continent is stronger than that … to allow itself to just be fractured by elections involving two people,” she said, calling on all of the AU’s 54 members states to support whoever emerged as the winner.
The Mail & Guardian newspaper reports part of South Africa’s campaign to oust Ping has been predicated on the belief that he was an ineffectual AU commissioner. During her campaign, Dlamini-Zuma said she would make the AU a “more efficient and effective organisation” and she will now be called on to deliver. The M&G says the AU Commission is indeed in need of an overhaul. A scathing 2007 audit of the AU, chaired by former South African speaker of Parliament Frene Ginwala, uncovered massive underspending – of up to 90% – by some directorates and showed than only half of the tasks approved by the AU were implemented, and almost half of its posts were unfilled.
The commission has also struggled to establish its independence and many of administrators showing greater allegiance to their own countries than to the AU commission.
But Adekeye Adebajo, executive director of the Centre for Conflict Resolution, said Dlamini-Zuma’s biggest short-term challenge will be to heal some of the divisions created during South Africa’s aggressive campaigning for the post. “This will be a particular challenge for her because her campaign was so divisive,” he said Adebajo. “The way South Africa got this post alienated and annoyed a lot of countries.” Dlamini-Zuma would need to find ways to “make up” with Gabon, Nigeria and certain Francophone countries that did not support her bid and work to reassure people that she is not there to pursue a South African agenda but a pan-African agenda, he added.
But trying to win the support of staff at the commission may be complicated by the fact that many worked closely with Ping … and liked him.
SA President Jacob Zuma’s spokesman Mac Maharaj says South Africa was also of the view that there will not be a policy shift now that a SADC candidate had been appointed to the position but that there should be more emphasis on implementation. “We would expect her to follow up on the work done by Dr Jean Ping to look at the decisions of the AU and to ensure that those decisions are implemented. The AU has taken many good decisions, the problem is to get them implemented,” he said.
Maharaj said bringing peace and development to the continent was not an easy task and said President Jacob Zuma had called on all Heads of State to support the new AUC chairperson as she took the union’s work forward.
He emphasised that Dlamini Zuma was no longer a “servant” of South Africa but that of the continent. “We’ve lost her, its Africa’s gain. She sees this as a win for the AU,” said Maharaj.
The Presidency will liaise with the AU to facilitate the logistics surrounding the movement of Dlamini Zuma from the Ministry of Home Affairs to her new offices in Addis Ababa, the continental body’s headquarters.