News / Africa

Challenges Ahead for New AU Commission Chairwoman

 Newly elected South African minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as first female head of the African Union (AU) Commission, speaks during a press conference,July 16, 2012.
Newly elected South African minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as first female head of the African Union (AU) Commission, speaks during a press conference,July 16, 2012.
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma takes office as the new chairperson of the African Union Commission on Monday. 
                              
South African Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is the first woman to hold the position of AU Commission Chair. She was elected to head the AU’s executive arm in July after a bruising battle with incumbent Jean Ping, which showed the division between French-speaking African states and the Southern African Development Community.
 
In time, it may prove to be the easiest challenge she’ll face in the African Union.

Pressing issues
 
As her tenure starts, Dlamini-Zuma’s most pressing policy issues are tackling support for a military intervention in northern Mali - where Islamist militants have taken control after an April coup - and a growing rebellion in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.  
 
Internally, the 63-year-old will need to heal divisions brought out in her successful leadership fight - and fears that the continent’s economic powerhouse, South Africa, will try to dominate the 54-member body.
 
Major-General Chris Pepani, the South African ambassador to the African Union, worked with Dlamini-Zuma when she was minister of foreign affairs from 1999 to 2009.  He describes her style of leadership as firm.
 
“She is a very strategic thinker, a person that I could describe as a person of substance," he said. "And, she is a person of detail and she is a person that walks the talk. She believes in things being delivered. She is a very kind person, but very firm person.”

Biography
 
Dlamini-Zuma has served in various ministerial posts in South Africa since the end of apartheid in 1994. She was the health minister under president Nelson Mandela, foreign affairs minister under president Thabo Mbeki and home affairs minister under her ex-husband, President Jacob Zuma.
 
Critics of the long-time politician, who is also a medical doctor, point to her controversial positions against anti-retroviral drugs as hindering the fight to reduce South Africa’s AIDS rate, which is still the highest in the world.
 
But Dlamini-Zuma also had many successes in her political career, making her popular in South Africa. She has been praised for desegregating the health care system after the end of apartheid, and providing free access to basic health care for the poor.

She also turned around the department of home affairs, which used to be known as one of the most mismanaged ministries in South Africa.
 
Despite these achievements, independent African Union expert Mehari Taddele Maru says being a leader in a pan-Africanist organization is different.
 
”You have a different set up, a different mandate and different actors playing, different political dynamics," said Maru. "So we cannot transpose what she has achieved in South Africa will be the same thing, the same manner, the same approach will work in the African Union.”

Dlamini-Zuma's goals
 
Dlamini-Zuma has said she will make the African Union a more effective organization.  Mehari says she will have to make four changes to deliver on that promise:
 
“The first thing she should push is we should stop policy formulation, we should stop norm setting and start policy implementation," said Mehari. "The second area is there are procedures. The bureaucracy internally has to change. It takes on average three years to recruit one person. The third is implementation of budget.

"The program budget implementation of a program is 39 percent," continued Mehari. "Almost 61 percent is not used.  The forth area is of course recruitment.  It has only 50 percent of the staff that was approved in 2003.”

Much attention will be focused on her gender as the first woman. Bience Gawanas, the outgoing AU commissioner of social affairs who has known Dlamini-Zuma for a long time thinks it is extremely significant that a woman will now take office as chairperson, but points out that she was not chosen because of her gender.
 
“The particular woman that was elected is a former minister of foreign affairs with a good understanding of the organization, she served on the executive council," said Gawanas. "By profession she is a doctor, a medical doctor. And also served in her country as minister of health. So she definitely brings with her a wealth of experience, apart from the fact that she also fought for the freedom in South Africa.”

Gender discrimination
 
Despite that, Commissioner Gawanas thinks being a woman will make the job harder for Dlamini-Zuma
 
“As women, we always will experience discrimination," she said. "Some very direct, some very indirect. I think it will take a long time for men to be subordinate to a woman, in the sense that you will be a supervisor to men. When I came to the African Union, I definitely realized that it was a very bureaucratic institution; it was also a very male-dominated institution.”
 
Dlamini-Zuma does not seem fazed by being the first woman or the first South African to hold the post. She has said her main focus will be on making the African Union a stronger, efficient and more effective institution for the whole continent.

You May Like

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said To Be Improving

Experimental drugs have been tried on six people: three Westerners and now, three African pyhysicians More

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities residents rebuild their lives, but many say everyone is being treated with suspicion More

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

Girls learn to object; FGM practitioners face penalties from jail sentences to stiff fines More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improvingi
X
Carol Pearson
August 19, 2014 11:43 PM
The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.
Video

Video For Obama, Racial Violence is Personal Issue

The racial violence in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson is presenting U.S. President Barack Obama with an issue to which he has a deep personal connection. To many Americans, Obama's election as America's first black president marked a turning point in race relations in the United States, and Obama has made ending the violence a policy priority. On Monday he issued a new call for calm and understanding. Luis Ramirez reports from the White House.
Video

Video Clinton-Obama Relationship Could Impact 2016 Election

President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have a long and complicated relationship. That relationship took another turn recently when Clinton criticized the president’s foreign policy. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports there is renewed attention on the Clinton-Obama relationship as Hillary Clinton considers running for
Video

Video Iran Looks to Maintain Influence in Baghdad With New Shia PM

Washington and Tehran share the goal of stopping Syrian-based militants in Iraq. But experts say it's Iran, not the United States, that will most influence how the new government in Baghdad approaches internal reforms and the war in Syria. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns has the story.

AppleAndroid