Monday, July 30, 2012

South African Dlamini-Zuma Chosen to Lead African Commission


On July 15, 2012, the African Union’s (AU) 51 voting member-states chose Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Home Affairs Minister of South Africa, to lead the African Commission for the next four years. The AU countries initially voted in January, but neither Dlamini-Zuma nor incumbent Jean Ping of Gabon were able to garner the 60% of the votes necessary to chair the Commission.

Member-states of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), including Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Tanzania, supported Dlamini-Zuma, while member states of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), including Ghana, Cote D’Ivoire, and Nigeria, supported Ping.

Dlamini-Zuma is the first woman elected to lead the AU Commission—a position exercising power over the executive and administrative branch of the AU. The Women’s League of African hailed Dlamini-Zuma’s election a victory for women across Africa, who have historically been victims of prejudice and oppression in many parts of Africa.

The election of South African Dlamini-Zuma is also noteworthy because such a position is typically held by a representative from a smaller African government. The reason that representatives from smaller governments have typically held the position is to ensure that African powerhouses—Egypt, South Africa, Nigeria, Libya, and Algeria—do not have too much influence over African politics. However, many leaders in Africa thought a change was necessary to give the AU more global influence; analysts and some Western diplomats have criticized the AU for allowing Western countries to take the lead in recent conflicts in Africa.

South African leaders, including President Jacob Zuma, Dlamini-Zuma’s former husband, have been lobbying for Dlamini-Zuma to chair the Commission for months. They believed that leadership of the AU would cement its status as an emerging global power. Last year, South Africa increased its global status by beginning a two-year term on the United Nations Security Council. A temporary seat on the Security Council gave South Africa authority to vote on Security Council resolutions. South Africa is now seeking to gain permanent-member status, which would give it veto power over Security Council resolutions. South Africa has also been active with Brazil, Russia, India, and China—together, the BRICS—to increase the influence of emerging economies. They have acted together in deciding whether to bailout Europe, and they have plans to set up a development bank for emerging countries, similar to the International Monetary Fund.

There are many ongoing conflicts in Africa: South Sudan’s dispute over oil rights, military coups in Mali and Guinea-Bissau, and a dispute between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. If Dlamini-Zuma wants to increase the AU’s and South Africa’s economic and political power, she must gain the support of the nations that supported Jean Ping and begin to solve these problems. For example, ECOWAS member-states, who predominantly supported Ping, are seeking Security Council support for a military intervention to unite a divided Mali, an intervention that SADC member-states, who supported Dlamini-Zuma, have shown scant support. If Dlamini-Zuma can use her influence to garner Security Council and SADC support for this intervention, countries that were opposed to her candidacy may view her more favorably, which will further increase the AU’s power.

A united Africa could show Western nations that the African Union is a serious player in global politics. For a continent in conflict and mired in indecision for the last six months, this would certainly be a welcome development.

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