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Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has made history by becoming the first woman to lead the African Union Commission (AUC).(2) A skilled diplomat, a stern personality, a former doctor, ex-wife to South Africa's (SA) current president, Jacob Zuma, and an apartheid fighter, are some of her many faces.(3) Dlamini-Zuma has served all presidents since Nelson Mandela and is one of few survivors from the highly regarded tenure of former SA president, Thabo Mbeki. Her background as former SA Health Minister, Foreign Minister and Home Affairs Minister implies that she is knowledgeable and illustrates both management and political leadership skills.(4) However, reactions to her being elected as head of the AUC have been mixed. Critics argue that the candidacy broke the unwritten tradition of not giving the chairmanship to one of Africa's major countries and, subsequently, the election process created divisions within the organisation.(5)
Now, however, Dlamini-Zuma is faced with the challenge of mastering the notoriously inefficient organisation.(6) Nevertheless her appointment demonstrates that Africa is paving the way for female leadership and increasing the level of importance placed on gender equality. The symbolism of which is compounded by the fact that it falls within the African Women's Decade (2010-2020), an initiative started by the AU to help advance gender equality.(7)
In line with this, this CAI paper discusses the recent AUC election of Dlamini-Zuma and its meaning for gender equality and female leadership by examining the election process, Dlamini-Zuma's career, as well as the hopes and challenges that await the AUC's first chairwoman.
An African Union chairwoman
In January 2012 Dlamini-Zuma challenged the Gabonese incumbent Jean Ping, who had served as the AU's chairman since 2008. Neither candidate received the required two-thirds majority in the initial rounds of voting. According to unofficial voting records, Dlamini-Zuma and Ping, respectively, received the following: 27-24 (first round), 29-22 (second round) and 33-18 (third round).(8) The deadlock left Ping in office for another six months and raised further concern about the efficiency and credibility of the AU.(9) Those six months involved heavy campaigning from both parties. Many were suspicious that SA, an economic powerhouse on the continent, was using economic diplomacy as a means of bullying other States.(10) Despite this, Dlamini-Zuma won the election on 15 July 2012 after a confidence vote in Addis Ababa. Receiving 37 of 51 votes (Guinea Bissau and Mali were under sanctions and hence excluded) Dlamini-Zuma reached the 60% majority needed to be elected. The victory was historic, as Dlamini-Zuma became the first woman to chair the AUC.(11)
Female political leadership
Joyce Banda, Navi Pillay, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and now Dlamini-Zuma are only a few of Africa's prominent female political leaders.(12) Dlamini-Zuma was a doctor by training before she became one of SA's longest serving ministers.(13) She has been described as a polished politician within the international arena.(14) As SA's Minister of Home Affairs, Dlamini-Zuma was able to reduce corruption levels and bring modernisation and efficiency to the organisation's internal processes.(15) A few controversies surround Dlamini-Zuma's career, including the support of a controversial anti-AIDS drug that was proven inefficient and the commission for an educational play, Sarafina II, which was later criticised for its small audience and huge budget.(16)
Beyond her role as minister, Dlamini-Zuma is a member of the African National Congress Women's League (ANCWL) National Executive Committee as well as the National Progressive Women's Movement of South Africa.(17) At a celebratory summit hosted by the ANCWL, Dlamini-Zuma expressed that her victory was not personal but for all African women.(18)
With this said, her appointment has raised hope among many gender advocates. Emily Sikazwe, Executive Director for Women for Change (WFC), says having a woman as chair of the AUC conveys hope for peace and stability and one of Africa's biggest challenges today; poverty eradication. "Her election is historic and is something the whole women's movement is happy about."(19) Sikazwe hopes the appointment will mean that African Governments will begin to take female political participation seriously. Sikazwe is not alone in her convictions. Matrine Chuulu, the regional coordinator for Women and Law in Southern Africa (WLSA), also anticipates the increased focus of gender equality and hopes the AU Protocol of Rights of Women will be fully implemented.(20)
Gender inequality in Africa
It is no surprise that the appointment of Africa's first female AUC chair has brought hope for bettering gender equality. Africa has some of the worst living conditions for women in the world. Using the Global Gender Gap Index (21) this section will highlight some of the challenges currently faced by women on the continent.
The Index examines the gap between men and women in four categories: 1) economic participation and opportunity, 2) educational attainment, 3) health and survival, and4) political empowerment. It is important to note that this Index does not compare levels (which, in many instances, are likely to be higher in developed nations) but looks at the gap between men and women within a given society. Thereafter it ranks countries based on their level of parity.
Of the 135 countries analysed for the 2011 report the overall results indicated that 12 African countries were in the bottom 20 and only two (SA and Lesotho) were in the top 20.(22) The following table indicates the number of African countries in the top and bottom 20 of the four categories mentioned above.
|Top 29||Bottom 20|
|Economic participation and opportunity||5||6|
|Health and survival||7 (several ties in first)||7 (ties at 111)|
Number of African countries in the top and bottom 20 (23)
Cumulatively, sub-Saharan African is the second worst performing region, with the Middle East and North Africa in last position.(24) Nonetheless, there has been improvement; sub-Saharan Africa has closed 65% of its gender gap, however, this is comparatively less than North America, Europe and Central Asia which have managed to close the gap by over 70%. The best overall ranked sub-Saharan African (and overall African) country in the report is Lesotho, at number nine. The worst performer in the same region is Chad at 134 (followed only by Yemen).(25)
Only nine of the top 50 countries are from sub-Saharan Africa in the economic participation and opportunity and political empowerment indexes. Nonetheless, within the category of political empowerment the region is ranked ahead of Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as the Middle East and North Africa. Furthermore, on the 'Women in Parliament index' SA comes second, Mozambique ninth and Angola in tenth place.(26)
However, despite showing a fairly good performance within the political empowerment and the economic participation and opportunity categories, the region demonstrates poor school enrolment rates and low levels of life expectancy. In addition, on the literacy rate indicator, four of the bottom five countries are from sub-Saharan Africa.(27)
Therefore, this report indicates that Africa still faces (beyond its economic and political struggles) challenges when it comes to recognising and attaining gender parity. This is one of the reasons why there has been so much excitement surrounding Dlamini-Zuma's appointment.(28) However, despite the hope that her election could combat the gender inequality on the continent, her appointment also started debates about splits within the AU.
Divisions in the AU
Critical voices accuse the controversial election process of dividing the AU. Some argue that the election has created a split along linguistic lines, between Franco- and Anglophone states, and that weaker nations have been pitted against more powerful ones.(29)
The voting was divided to a large extent; English-speaking voters favoured Dlamini-Zuma and French speakers Ping.(30) Therefore there are tensions between the French and English speaking blocs, as well as between the regional blocs of Southern and West Africa. This tension can be traced to the former unspoken rule that large African nations ought not to chair the organisation.(31)
However, Dlamini-Zuma has responded to the criticism, saying: "In the African Union, unlike in the United Nations where there is the group of five permanent members we have no powerful, major contributor or a weak member. The AU charter treats all AU member states equally and each member states including South Africa, Libya, Egypt and Nigeria have a single vote to use in the election. I see no sense of saying I, as a candidate coming from South Africa, have violated the rule which moreover does not exist."(32) Furthermore, regarding the split along linguistic lines, Dlamini-Zuma has emphasised that she is not an Anglophone but Zulu-speaking.(33)
The African Union's road forward
Dlamini-Zuma aims to contribute with efficiency and effectiveness during her tenure as chairwoman,(34) she does not, as already suggested, have an easy task ahead.
The agenda is filled with political and economic concerns. Political challenges include the crisis in Mali, AU military involvement in Somalia, the latest violence in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the dispute between Rwanda and the DRC, as well as diplomatic talks between South Sudan and Sudan. Economic challenges include the funding of the AU, which remains a prominent issue,(35) and ensuring mineral wealth is used in a more efficient way so as to enhance people's lives.(36) Furthermore, the inner-workings of the Commission itself needs to be improved; today the institution is characterised by inefficiency, understaffing and under-spending.(37)
For Dlamini-Zuma to be able to contribute effectively the organisation must act as one, through unity and cooperation. It is therefore vital that the splits along both linguistic and regional lines are dealt with and that all states demonstrate their support. Dlamini-Zuma contributed with efficiency to the SA Home Affairs Office, a similar contribution to the Commission could help alleviate some of the organisation's challenges.
Despite the obstacles, Dlamini-Zuma's record as a long serving minister in SA and the support she has been given from women all over Africa is a source of optimism. Appointing her as the AUC's first chairwoman demonstrates that Africa is capable of paving the way for female leadership, not solely nationally but internationally, thereby mainstreaming gender equality.
Written by Christine Petré (1)
(1) Contact Christine Petré through Consultancy Africa Intelligence's Gender Issues Unit (firstname.lastname@example.org).
(2) Cilliers, J., 'A new era for the African Union', ISS, 18 July 2012, http://www.issafrica.org.
(3) 'Dlamini-Zuma first woman to head African Union', Jamaica Observer, 16 July 2012, http://www.jamaicaobserver.com.
(4) Cilliers, J., 'A new era for the African Union', ISS, 18 July 2012, http://www.issafrica.org.
(5) 'AU chooses Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as leader', BBC News Africa, 15 July 2012, http://www.bbc.co.uk.
(5) Louw-Vaudran, L.., 'Bridging the African Union's divides', Mail & Guardian, 20 July 2012, http://mg.co.za.
(6) 'Concept note: The African women's decade', African Union, http://www.africa-union.org.
(7) Dialio, M., 'Analysts: Serious challenges await first woman AU chair', Voice of America, 18 July 2012, http://www.voanews.com.
(8) Hartley, W., 'Dlamini-Zuma hailed at home, doubts raised abroad', Businessday, 16 July 2012, http://www.businessday.co.za.
(10) Cilliers, J., 'A new era for the African Union', ISS, 18 July 2012, http://www.issafrica.org.
(11) 'Lessons from Nkosazana-Zuma', The Herald online, 20 July 2012, http://www.herald.co.zw.
(12) Dialio, M., 'Analysts: Serious challenges await first woman AU chair', 18 July 2012, http://www.voanews.com.
(13) 'Controversial appointment', The Economist, 21 July 2012, http://www.economist.com.
(14) Kotzé, D., 'Dlamini-Zuma is the right woman for AU', Sunday Independent, 24 July 2012, http://www.iol.co.za.
(15) 'Dlamini-Zuma, the stern diplomat', The Daily News, 25 January 2012, http://www.iol.co.za.
(16) 'Nkosazana Clarice Dlamini-Zuma, Dr', South Africa Government online website, http://www.info.gov.za.
(17) Nhlabathi, H., 'ANCWL bids farewell to Dlamini-Zuma', Sowetan live, 18 July 2012, http://www.sowetanlive.co.za.
(18) Mooya, B., 'Women's movement welcomes Dlamini-Zuma election', Zambia Daily Mail, 21 July 2012, http://www.daily-mail.co.zm.
(21) Hausmann, R., et al. 'The global gender gap report 2011', World Economic Forum, http://www.weforum.org.
(23) Created by the author with data from Hausmann, R., et al. 'The global gender gap report 2011', World Economic Forum, http://www.weforum.org.
(24) Hausmann, R., et al. 'The global gender gap report 2011', World Economic Forum, http://www.weforum.org.
(27) A theoretical argument, beyond the scope of this paper could then be introduced surrounding the complexities of assuming a woman in power will translate into better gender equality.
(28) Kabale, L.., 'Dlamini-Zuma denies her candidature divides AU', Africa Review, 15 July 2012, http://www.africareview.com.
(29) 'Dlamini-Zuma is new AU commission chief', Businessday, 15 July 2012, http://www.businessday.co.za.
(30) Mkokeli, S., 'News analysis: Dlamini-Zuma has tough task ahead in her AU post', Businessday, 17 July 2012, http://www.businessday.co.za.
(31) Kabale, L.., 'Dlamini-Zuma denies her candidature divides AU', Africa Review, 15 July 2012, http://www.africareview.com.
(32) 'Dlamini-Zuma first woman to head African Union', Jamaica Observer, 16 July 2012, http://www.jamaicaobserver.com.
(33) 'Transcript copy: Speaking notes for home affairs minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma during interview with E-TV 360°', South Africa's home affairs website, 14 July 2012, http://www.home-affairs.gov.za.
(35) 'Dlamini-Zuma takes charge', Africa Confidential, 19 July 2012, http://www.africa-confidential.com.
(36) 'Africa is faced with challenges and opportunities', SABC, 29 July 2012, http://www.sabc.co.za.
(37) Louw-Vaudran, L.., 'Bridging the African Union's divides', Mail & Guardian, 20 July 2012, http://mg.co.za.