Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma waved an African Union flag, tapped a wooden gavel and became the first woman to take office as the Chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC) at the A.U. headquarters in Addis Ababa on Monday.
Upon taking office, Dr. Dlamini-Zuma shall be confronted by simmering conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Guinea Bissau; chronic instability in Somalia; and an insurgency in northern Mali where fighters affiliated with al-Qaeda have taken control of large swathes of land.
In her inaugural address, Dr. Dlamini-Zuma said the A.U. would “spare no efforts to try and resolve the conflict in Mali”, describing the situation as a crisis that has the potential “to spread across the entire region and even the continent”, and would work closely with the U.N. Security Council and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). On Saturday, she told AFP she supported military intervention in Mali if it did not worsen an already fraught situation.
She also pledged support for continued negotiations between Sudan and South Sudan as they seek to demarcate international boundaries under the aegis of the A.U. High Level Implementation Panel.
A former South African Minister of Home Affairs, Dr. Dlamini-Zuma won the chair after a closely fought election in July against the incumbent Jean Ping of Gabon. The contest — marked by multiple rounds of voting and frenetic lobbying — exposed divisions between the continent’s francophone countries, allied with Mr. Ping, and Anglophone nations that supported Dr. Dlamini-Zuma.
Prior to her election, Dr. Dlamini-Zuma held positions as Health Minister under Nelson Mandela’s post-apartheid Cabinet in 1994 and as Foreign Minister under President Thabo Mbeki, but won most praise for transforming the Ministry of Home Affairs in the Cabinet of her former husband, and current South African President, Jacob Zuma.
Her ascension as AU Chairperson is a break with a tradition that has called for major regional powers like South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria and Egypt to refrain from controlling the A.U. chair.
On Monday, she struck a conciliatory note and spoke of the need to strike a balance between conflict resolution and development, and urged African leaders to resolve what former Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah once described as, “the paradox of poverty in the midst of plenty and scarcity in the midst of abundance”.
“The majority of our countries are stable and developing”, she said, “but if we neglect them, they may become unstable”.