The African Union executive committee has a female chairperson for the first time.
South African Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma took the helm of the AU Commission at a handover ceremony Monday at AU headquarters in Addis Ababa. She replaces Jean Ping, whom she defeated in a July vote that took four rounds to produce a winner.
The 63-year-old takes over as the African Union faces challenges posed by Islamist militants in northern Mali and a growing rebellion in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
Dlamini-Zuma is also the first commission chair from South Africa, where she has held several ministerial posts since 1994.
Her work in desegregating the country's health-care system after the end of apartheid and in turning around the Department of Home Affairs have earned praise. But critics say her positions against anti-retroviral drugs have hurt the fight against AIDS in South Africa, which has one of the highest HIV-infection rates in the world.