South African Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma on Sunday became the first female head of the African Union (AU) Commission, ending a bruising leadership battle that had threatened to divide and weaken the organisation. Cheers broke out at the AU’s soaring, Chinese-built steel and glass headquarters in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa as supporters of President Jacob Zuma’s ex-wife celebrated her victory over incumbent Jean Ping of Gabon.
Dr Dlamini-Zuma, South Africa’s home affairs minister and an ex-wife of President Jacob Zuma defeated incumbent Jean Ping of Gabon, who had been at the helm of the Commission, the AU’s steering body, since 2008. The 63-year-old who has previously served as minister of health and foreign affairs, had to undergo three voting rounds before Ping, 69, was finally eliminated. A final confidence vote of 37 in favour gave her the 60 per cent majority she needed to be elected.
The contest to head the Commission of the 54-member AU had been deadlocked since last year. It pitted French-speaking states, largely backing Ping, against mostly English-speaking countries, especially in southern Africa, which gave their support to Dlamini-Zuma. The feverish impasse over the candidates had persisted through a summit of AU heads of state held in Addis Ababa at the weekend. It prompted the AU’s rotating chairperson, Benin President Boni Yayi, to warn that failure by the continental body to resolve the leadership deadlock would divide it and undermine its credibility in the world. Critics say the AU showed itself hesitant and slow-moving in its response to the conflicts last year in Libya and Ivory Coast, allowing Western governments to take lead roles.
One notable absentee at the African leaders’ summit was Meles Zenawi, the Ethiopian Prime Minister whose absence amused those present as it went unexplained, fuelling speculation about his health. The Ethiopian government later confirmed he was ill but gave no details. Mr. Zenawi had been scheduled to chair a meeting of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, or NEPAD, on Saturday, and an African Union government leaders’ summit on Sunday. Ethiopia’s foreign minister attended in his place. His Foreign Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, told Bloomberg news Monday that Mr. Meles was receiving treatment.
The agency quotes him as saying, “There is no serious illness at all. It’s minor only.” He said the prime minister would be “back soon” after receiving medication. Mr Zenawi has not been seen in public for at least two weeks. He is 57 years old and has ruled Ethiopia since 1991. Senegalese President Macky Sall told the NEPAD meeting Saturday that Prime Minister Meles was not attending “for health reasons” and expressed wishes that he “recover soon.” Ethiopian state television on Sunday acknowledged the prime minister’s absence from meetings. State TV noted what it said were “various media reports” saying the prime minister has been sick — including opposition reports that said Mr. Meles was receiving treatment in Belgium.