South African law professor Danwood Chirwa said the election of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as the new African Union Commission chairperson could mean that AU policies will reflect South Africa’s foreign policy.
Chirwa, professor of law at the University of Cape Town, said South Africa’s foreign policy has, for the past five years, been protective of African leaders.
However, Chirwa Dlamini-Zuma’s election is significant because she will be the first woman to hold the once male-dominated AU Commission chairmanship.
“It is interesting in two ways. Firstly, this will be the first woman to lead the African Union, which is dominated, obviously, by male presidents. The second, this is the first time that southern Africa has gotten the position,” he said.
Chirwa said Dlamini-Zuma’s election could mean that South African foreign policy could be at the forefront of AU policies during her term. He said his prediction was based on South Africa’s record during the past five years in the international arena.
“I’m sad to say that South Africa did not do very well at the UN Security Council when it had a stint there for two years. Zimbabwe was a major issue at the time and South Africa did everything possible for Zimbabwe not to be discussed at the UN,” Chirwa said.
Chirwa praised South African foreign policy in other areas, including its role in the negotiations that resulted in South Sudan’s independence from Sudan, and in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Outgoing chairman Jean Ping is from Francophone Gabon, while Dlamini-Zuma is from English-speaking South Africa.
Some observers fear the closeness of the election could do more to polarize the African Union between Francophone and Anglophone countries.
Chirwa said he does not think the election of Dlamini-Zuma will polarize the African Union.
“I don’t think that Gabon will have so much of an issue because they have a person who was serving in the post. He has done his part; I think he has done a good job. The French-speaking countries are always quite well represented at the international level, both at the UN level and at the regional level,” Chirwa said.