Dlamini Zuma laid a great foundation for her predecessor, writes Yamkela Fanisi

(Image: Destiny)

I followed with interest as the AU Commission decided to postpone elections of its new Chairperson last week. I knew that replacing Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, the first woman to Chair the AUC, would not be easy. 

The election of Dlamini Zuma in 2012 was not easy. Her election campaign was a bruising one, with strong opposition from Francophone countries. In fact, the continent was so divided that the first round of voting did not produce a conclusive result and the process had to be postponed for six months. 

When she finally got the position, the beginning of her tenure was fraught with challenges. The challenges facing the African continent ranged from Ebola in West Africa, Yellow Fever in parts of Southern Africa; climate change and food insecurity around the Sahel and Horn of Africa, AU’s dependence on foreign donors, and an emigration crisis. Regardless of these challenges she made good strides. 

First the formulation of Agenda 2063, a blue print document and strategic framework for the socio-economic transformation of the continent over the next 50 years, was a step in the right direction. Agenda 2063 seeks to accelerate the implementation of past and existing continental initiatives for growth and sustainable development. 

Second the launching of Africa passport flagship project with a specific aim of facilitating free movement of people, goods and services around the continent in order to foster intra-Africa trade, integration and socio-economic development.

Third, she paved the way for an illustrious legacy, especially with regards to gender issues. She had made gender issues an integral and mainstream part of the AU.

Fourth, she organised exemplary summits, with events starting on time and better agenda management for leaders who in the past spoke far beyond their allocated times.
Dlamini Zuma has been praised for fostering better interdepartmental cooperation and coordination that appeared to create a new sense of purpose within the AUC. It has been noted that officials adapted her method and purposely incorporated these practices into the administrative strategies and visions that she set for the AUC.

Fifth, one of the biggest challenges of the AU is funding of its operations and projects. There have been calls for the AU to be financially self-sufficient. The creation of the African Union Foundation has convinced other countries to increase their contributions to the AU (which by the way made firm commitments). 

Sixth she worked tirelessly to galvanize support against the Ebola crisis and got support from the private sector, civil society, and member states. , Africa is now Ebola free. 

And lastly, Dlamini Zuma ran a very powerful campaign to modernize agriculture so that it is attractive to youth and also lessens the labour burden on women.

It is very important to understand how the AU Commission functions (its strength and limitations), it is more about policy coordination and administration but most of the work belongs to AU member states who ultimately have to implement these initiatives. There are also limitations because the AU lacks enforcement mechanism when states fail to comply with some policies and initiatives.

Having stated all these achievements during her tenure one can argue that judging a leader requires some sense of being considerate to circumstances, contexts, and personal flexibility of the leader. Whether Dlamini Zuma leaves a good legacy or a bad one it’s up to individuals to decide, but definitely she made great advances for her successor to build on. 

  • Yamkela Fanisi is a student and founding Chairperson of the African Union Youth Club Wits University in South Africa.