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

Australia-Cambodia Resettlement Agreement Raises Concerns

Agreement calls for Cambodia to accept refugees in return for $35 million in aid and reflects Australia’s harder line approach towards asylum seekers and refugees More

India Looks to Become Arms Supplier Instead of Buyer

US hopes India can become alternative to China for countries looking to buy weapons, but experts question growth potential of Indian arms industry More

Earth Day Concert, Rally Draws Thousands in Washington

President Obama also took up the issue Saturday in his weekly address, saying there 'no greater threat to our planet than climate change' More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs