African Union leaders elected South African Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as the first woman to lead the body’s commission, ending a divisive six-month stalemate over who would get the job.
Delegates cheered when Dlamini-Zuma, a former wife of South African President Jacob Zuma, won 37 of the 51 votes after four rounds of balloting at the group’s Chinese-built headquarters yesterday in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. Dlamini-Zuma, 63, served as foreign minister for a decade through 2009, when she became home affairs minister.
“We’re looking forward to her bringing dynamism to it and she’ll make a difference and make us a more effective and responsive organization,” Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf said today in an interview. “Women bring a certain amount of strong commitment and passion to what they do and I expect her to do that.”
Neither Dlamini-Zuma nor incumbent Jean Ping of Gabon were able to win the required two-thirds majority in January to head the African Union’s executive arm. The impasse undermined the 54-nation group’s ability to deal with crises such as military coups in Mali and Guinea-Bissau, renewed conflict between Sudan and South Sudan and growing attacks by militant Islamist groups in northern Nigeria and the Sahel region.
“The issue has been hugely destructive; now we can get back to key issues,” Jakkie Cilliers, the executive director of the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies, said in an interview after the vote. Dlamini-Zuma “will bring strong leadership,” he said. “I don’t think she’ll be a divisive figure at all.”
Dlamini-Zuma received strong backing from South Africa, which has the continent’s biggest economy, and governments from the 15-member Southern African Development Community.
“It means a lot for Africa, for the continent, unity and the empowerment of women,” President Zuma said in an interview as he left the voting chamber. “Lobbying always pays off.”
Benin’s President Yayi Boni, the current chairman of the African Union, warned member states earlier in the day that “another failure will split this continent and it’s going to tarnish the image of our continent.”
The presidents of Sudan and South Sudan met for more than an hour at the summit and agreed to pursue talks to end their disputes over oil transit fees, borders and citizenship rights that took them to the brink of war in April and prompted a threat of United Nations sanctions against them.
South Sudan, which gained independence last year, shut down its 350,000 barrels a day of oil production after it accused President Umar al-Bashir’s government in Sudan of stealing $815 million worth of crude. Sudan said it was taken to pay unpaid transportation fees.
The African Union also agreed on a plan to restore civilian rule and national unity in Mali, where Touareg separatists and Islamist rebels seized control in the north after the military overthrew President Amadou Toure on March 22.
While the Touareg insurgents declared independence in April, Islamist rebels of the Ansar ud-Din group have been destroying historic mausoleums in Timbuktu that they regard as idolatrous and seized the cities of Gao and Kidal.
African states will “spare no effort” to maintain the unity of Mali, the third-biggest gold miner, AU Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra told reporters on July 14.
The African Union has sent a mission to spend two weeks in the capital, Bamako, to meet a UN request to gather more information before it endorses an African-led military intervention, he said.
Leaders from nine central African countries also backed a rapprochement between Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo, which accuses its eastern neighbor of supporting a rebellion along their mutual border.
Congolese President Joseph Kabila and his Rwandan counterpart, Paul Kagame, met for the first time since the mainly ethnic Tutsi soldiers in Congo’s North Kivu province deserted the army and took control of several parts of the province, forcing 220,000 people to flee their homes. Rwanda denies allegations by the UN Group of Experts that it’s supporting the rebel group, known as the M23.
The mood between Kabila and Kagame, who have repeatedly been involved in cross-border disputes, was “excellent” and “amicable,” Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said in an interview after the meeting. They will meet again next month in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, he said.