On Sunday, the African Union voted, for the first time, woman to head the AU Commission. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, South Africa’s Home affairs minister, beat Gabon’s Jean Ping, who lost his bid for a second term in office.
Dlamini-Zuma comes into office at a time when the African Union and, indeed several African countries and regional economic blocs, find themselves amidst difficult situations, which threaten to reverse the progress that had been made lately.
From DRC to the Sudans, and to the West African countries of Guinea Bissau and Mali, which are still reeling from recent coups, with the latter confronted with an Al Qaeda linked militia, the AU has a lot on its plate. It’s telling that up to five West African governments have unconstitutionally been removed from power within four years, with Guinea Bissau experiencing two coups in two years.
Many African countries are struggling to overcome the effects of the global economic crisis. Various Western countries, as part of the austerity measures, have reduced support to developing countries. This should serve as a wake-up call that Africans have to com-up with solutions and one major one is fostering intra-Africa trade and partnerships.
Nonetheless, not all is doom and gloom. There are impressive gains in Somalia where the Al Shabaab militants have suffered successive defeats against an African peacekeeping mission, with the country now headed for general elections next month.
In addition, the North African states that saw dictatorial governments overthrown during the so-called Arab Spring are undergoing critical democratic reforms, with free and fair elections.
The AU needs to support countries which are steadily making progress towards good governance and self-sufficiency.
But it will need to strengthen its early warning mechanisms and move faster to prevent avoidable crises, like the current situation in Mali. It will need to work more closely with regional economic blocs and other partners to ensure such situations are contained beforehand.
AU needs to provide strong leadership to help the continent sail through these waters.