Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma made history Sunday by becoming the first female elected to lead the African Union Commission.
The African Union's new chief replaces Gabonese incumbent Jean Ping, who led the 54-member organization since 2008. The 63-year-old Dlamini-Zuma is the former wife of South African President Jacob Zuma and recently served as his home affairs minister.
“It’s extraordinary to have someone come to the helm of the African Union who’s been a medical doctor, but she is also an activist,” said Emira Woods is with the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington. She says Dlamini-Zuma’s militancy within the African National Congress [ANC] and the various posts she’s held since the fall of apartheid shows she has credentials - but tremendous challenges await her.
“All that’s happening with the crisis in Mali is one of the most critical at the moment; you also have the DRC, where a neighboring state has now, according to the U.N., been found culpable in the atrocities across the border in the Eastern Congo. How do you bring an end to these crises?,” Woods said.
In addition, there are concerns about basic rights, says political analyst Steven Friedman of the University of Johannesburg.
“People in this continent are still being negatively affected by wars. They are still in many parts not being listened to by the people who govern their countries, and many people are living in poverty," Friedman said.
Dlamini-Zuma comes from South Africa’s KwaZulu Natal province.
Reactions in the continent are mixed.
"We must wait and see. But South Africa has a good example for Africa in terms of government and of democracy," said one man.
Another man said "In Liberia, we have a lady at the top, in Malawi also, and now we have a South African woman at the top of the AU, I think it will work."
VOA's Amanda Scott contributed to this report.