New AU chief pledges to build unity in Africa
The first woman elected to head the African Union Commission committed Monday to build unity on the continent after a controversial vote in which she unseated the incumbent chair.
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, South Africa’s home affairs minister, beat Jean Ping of Gabon in a close election on Sunday at a summit here.
“My election should not be seen as a personal victory but it should be seen as a victory for the African continent in general,” she told reporters before flying back to South Africa.
“We (will) continue to work in a way that tries to build consensus,” added Dlamini-Zuma, who earlier posed for pictures with Ping.
Many participants in the AU summit, which ran over into the early hours of Tuesday, appeared relieved that the six-month impasse over the continental body’s top job had finally been broken.
“One man in his time plays many parts, I have played my part and I now take my bow,” Ping said at the closing ceremony.
One Western diplomat noted “a definite sense of relief” within the AU after the vote.
But the “very tough and aggressive” campaign waged by the candidates “will leave scars and resentment” he said, asking not to be named, particularly “if the South Africans did indeed bring pressure to bear,” as some leaders have alleged.
Mac Maharaj, a spokesman for South African President Jacob Zuma — Dlamini-Zuma’s ex-husband and current boss — said he hoped the new appointment would result in a “more effective” AU.
“The African Union has taken many very good decisions. The problem is to get them implemented,” he told journalists.
Zuma’s office said he was “humbled by the confidence that Africa has showed in the Southern Africa candidate”.
Reaction from the rest of the continent was mixed.
Sudan, whose conflict with South Sudan has been a key issue at the two-day summit, said it respected the choice of Dlamini-Zuma.
“We accept… and we respect the opinion of the leaders,” said Rabbie Abdelatti Ebaid, a senior member of Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party.
Kenya, which voted for Ping, conceded that the breaking of the deadlock was good for the continent, with Richard Onyonka, an assistant foreign affairs minister, calling the vote “a kind of victory for Africa because we have moved forward.”
But he said he disapproved of South Africa’s tactics that caused divisions within the AU.
“I’m very uncomfortable with the methods and style of South Africa. They were entitled to bring a candidate… but we felt that there was too much intimidation, arm-twisting and threats.”
Another delegate, who did not want to be identified, accused South Africa, home to the continent’s largest economy, of buying votes.
Dlamini-Zuma, 63, is a veteran of the fight against apartheid. A doctor by training, she has also served as health and foreign minister.
Voting took place at the AU summit where leaders also focused on the continent’s flashpoints, including Mali, the crisis between Sudan and South Sudan and escalating violence in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
On Sunday, Kigali and Kinshasa agreed to an international force to neutralise rebels in eastern DR Congo, as the AU said it was ready to send peacekeepers.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame told AFP both sides had agreed “in principle” to accept the force.
He was speaking after his first face-to-face meeting with his DRC counterpart President Joseph Kabila since a UN report in June accused Rwanda of supporting Congolese rebels.
Dlamini-Zuma’s win follows her challenge six months ago to unseat Ping, which ended in deadlock after neither won the required two-thirds of the vote, leaving Ping in the post.
Officials said the election this time went to four rounds of voting before Dlamini-Zuma won 37 votes, three more than the required majority.
The vote raised tensions between Africa’s French- and English-speaking countries. South Africa also drew accusations of violating an unwritten rule that the AU top job should go to a candidate from one of the continent’s smaller countries.