Call it the century of African women! First, there was the Nobel winner Ma Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the current president of Liberia. Then, there was the grassroots women’s rights activist Joyce Hilda Banda, who was sworn in April 2012 as the president of impoverished Malawi after the death of wa Mutharika . And now, the iron lady of South Africa, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, was elected on Sunday as the first female head of the African Union Commission.
Dlamini-Zuma’s victory comes in the aftermath of a deadlocked leadership contest that had threatened to divide the 54-member AU along Francophone and Anglophone lines. No matter how absurd this sounds, the subtext here is that Dlamini-Zuma, who is from Anglophone South Africa, was mainly supported by English-speaking African countries, and the defeated incumbent Jean Ping, who hails from the French-speaking Gabon, was mainly backed by the French-speaking African countries.
Putting the Francophone and Anglophone politics aside, in my opinion the essence of Dlamini-Zuma’s election is probably not that she is the first female to head Africa’s top diplomatic institution, but more about what she will bring to the position. A veteran ANC activist against apartheid, the 63-year-old ex-wife of South African president Jacob Zuma is widely hailed as an effective and visionary technocrat, qualities that have eluded the AU leadership under Ping. A medical doctor by training, her resume includes: Minister of health in Nelson Mandela’s cabinet, minister of foreign affairs under Mbeki, and minister of home affairs under Jacob Zuma.