2012 has been a progressive year for African women in global politics.
In April Joyce Banda of Malawi became the first ever female president of Malawi and the Second Female president in Africa. In June, Fatou Bensouda of the Gambia became the first female and African Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) after having served as a Deputy Prosecutor in charge of the Prosecutions Division of the ICC since 2004. In June again, Zainab Hawa Bangura of Sierra Leone was appointed as Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict at the level of Under-Secretary-General. She replaced Margot Wallström. Just yesterday, Dr Nkosana Dhlamini-Zuma became the first female Chairperson for the African Union Commission.
Whilst others do not celebrate her appointment given the political debates, politicking and struggles that characterised her election, it still remains fact that her election preludes a significant shift in African politics and in the history of the African Union (AU).
In my view Dr Dlamini-Zuma was a strong candidate not only because she had the requisite experience and skill having served as Foreign Affairs Minister for South Africa for 10 years between 1999 and 2009 and led a number of peace and security initiatives with the AU in Lesotho, the DRC, the Comoros and others but also because she represents a new paradigm shift as the first female Chair and bringing a new face to AU politics where Southern Africa is given its rightful place as an integral member of the AU. Previously it seemed the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region was repeatedly sidelined, in what appeared to be legitimacy battles given that there was not a single representation of SADC at the inception of the AU then known as the Organisation of the African Unity as all the Southern African countries were still under colonialism and doubts about SADC sharing a common Pan-African vision given its population demographics.
While some people may choose to look at Dr Dlamini-Zuma’s main challenges as the new AU chairperson in country specific terms, for instance, resolving the conflict in Mali, in Somalia and in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), as a woman I perceive her biggest challenge to be that of forging ahead a dispensation that addresses African women’s plight.
I am hopeful that should Dr Dlamini-Zuma’s vision for the AU be fulfilled, seeing as how it resonates largely with women’s agenda, then African women are going to be in a better position than they have been so far. She articulates her vision with the following strategic aims (adapted from the Press statement by Mac Maharaj, spokesperson for President Jacob Zuma):
(i) To implement programmes supporting the AU Decade for Women (2010-2020);
(ii) To prioritise integration, peace and security and conflict resolution as key pillars of Africa’s developmental agenda
(iii) To consolidate the institution of the AU as a formidable, premier, Pan-African institution;
(iv) To reinforce the importance of NEPAD infrastructural development projects as an important programme of the AU;
(v) To focus on the youth of Africa in development programs;
(vi) To spearhead Africa’s continued advocacy for reform of the global governance architecture.
The AU has largely been about rhetoric, focusing on sugar coating a semblance of unity and Pan-Africanism at the expense of the most vulnerable members of its society, especially women. Hence despite the rape and mutilation of women in Zimbabwe, in the DRC, in Sierra Leone, Kenya and Liberia the focus of the AU’s efforts have not been on giving these women an effective remedy but about reaching compromised solutions. Of course, the peace vs. justice debate had raged on and partially consumed the African continent. So never mind the scars that Omar Al-Bashir inflicted and continues to inflict on the bodies, spirits and minds of Sudanese women and children, and men for that matter, but the AU was prepared to protect him and rescue him from the clawing paws of the huge, ferocious and African-hating mammal called the ICC than afford justice to the individual women on the ground.
“Every man [and woman] must decide whether he [or she] will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.” (Martin Luther King) I hope that the former- creative altruism – is what Dr Dlamini-Zuma represents. The AU Chairpersonship requires a seasoned diplomat not a politician and certainly not a proponent of certain African leaders’ political ideological standpoints! Her statement to the press ignites hope in my mind;
“South Africa is not going to come to Addis Ababa to run the AU. It is, [ I] Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma who is going to come to make a contribution.”