African Union set to decide top post
13 July 2012
South African Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has arrived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where Sunday's vote by African leaders will determine if she becomes the first woman to lead the African Union's executive arm, the AU Commission.
Dlamini-Zuma, one of South Africa's longest-serving Cabinet ministers - she has been part of the country's executive since 1994 - is up against Gabon's Jean Ping, who has occupied the position of AU Commission chairperson since 2008.
The vote on Sunday is expected to be a bruising contest, as the candidate must get a two-thirds majority to secure a win.
Ping is seeking a re-election and vowed in a statement this week that he would not back down, despite rumours that he intended to withdraw from the contest. In January, Dlamini-Zuma sought to unseat Ping during a vote that ended in a stalemate.
This is a key position within the AU as it determines the effectiveness of the bloc and its ability to maintain stability on the continent, which is crucial for attracting foreign investment.
Since its inception in 2003, the AU has made considerable strides towards the development of the continent. Some observers say that, moving forward, the AU needs strong leadership at the top for it to continue building on the gains of the past decade.
If Dlamini-Zuma were elected, her supporters argue, it would be a boost for the continent. It would certainly help South Africa gain more influence, as it increasingly represents Africa on international forums such as the G20, the UN Security Council and, lately, BRICS.
The continent is undergoing immense transformation, with talks of regional integration and intra-trade gaining momentum each day. With her experience in governance and supervision, her supporters believe Dlamini-Zuma would be the candidate the AU needs to "get the job done".
The South African government this week reiterated its support for her candidature, expressing conviction that "she possesses both the capacity and the will to help the continent in its endeavors to create a better life for all Africans".
Despite the complex underlying calculus that has tended to characterise African politics, commentators say Dlamini-Zuma, buoyed by the unequivocal support of SADC, could emerge victorious come 15 July.
Add to this the AU policy of alternating senior positions between men and women. South Africa has argued that this policy has not been enforced in the position of the chair of the commission.
International Relations and Cooperation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane recently told her SADC counterparts that the region was in position to field a formidable candidate that met the requirement.
On Thursday, the chairperson of the Executive Council of the AU, Nassiru Bako Arifari, urged the union's leadership to ensure that the issue of leadership was "put to rest", adding that a leaderless AU Commission risked undermining the credibility of continent.
"Our continent is faced with serious conflicts that need our attention and effectiveness of the union, and the past six months had not been easy ... In the face of all of this, we have a responsibility to maintain peace and stability on the continent," Arifari said.
Opening the Executive Council meeting, which is attended by foreign ministers across the AU member states, Arifari said the AU remained concerned about the unresolved political situation in Mali, Somalia, Western Sahara and the latest developments between Sudan and South Sudan.
"The union is determined to solve the Malian crisis and the situation is Sudan and South Sudan, and in the face of all we shall remain focus to offer solutions to these crises," said Arifari.