African Union Commission chairwoman, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, completes 100 days in office this week. Anaysyts generally give her good marks, but say she can't delegate.
She is known as competent and professional. The 63-year-old served as a foreign and interior minister and is a former wife of South African president, Jacob Zuma. She is also diplomatic and pragmatic. With multiple crises occuring within her first 100 days in office, the chairwoman of the African Union Commission has had a busy start, said Jakkie Cilliers, director of the South African Institute for Security Studies (ISS). “Up to now, she has done exceptionally well,” he said.
"She has shown strategic vision in recognizing the limitations of African peace and security architecture in responding to the crisis in Mali”, noted Alex Vines from the renowned UK-based think tank, Chatham House. At a meeting in Cairo in November 2012, huddled together with her mediators and special envoys, she conceded that the African Union and the UN were ill-equipped to deal with the Malian crisis. “And so she has been supportive of the French intervention when it was clear that radical jihadists were planning to break through from the north of Mali and move on to Bamako, the capital," Vines told DW in an interview.
In the case of the Central African Republic, the AU also made it clear that it would not recognise a regime which had come to power through a coup. Dlamini-Zuma also convinced her native South Africa to send troops to the Central African Republic.
A narrow win for the South African
In July 2012, the 63-year-old beat her predecessor, Jean Ping, from Gabon, to the job of AU chair by a narrow margin. Dlamini-Zuma failed to get a mandate from the francophone countries, who would have rather given Ping a second term in office. She was finally elected in the third round of voting.
“Her main challenge is probably organizationally, to take over an organization that has been demobilized by an impasse that lasted almost a year,” Cilliers told DW.
With her candidacy she broke the unwritten law that a chairperson of the African Union should not be drawn from one of the big players in Africa, such as South Africa, Nigeria, Algeria, or Egypt. Initially, there was a great amount of scepticism about Dlamini-Zuma, said Alex Vines. But she worked quickly to remove such reservations. “She's showing that she is technocratically able and isn't pursuing a South African agenda, but is truly trying to provide her technocratic skills for the benefit of the African Union and to confront pan-African challenges," he said.
Yet not much has changed in the work of the AU under Dlamini-Zuma, says Ulf Engel, a professor of African studies at the University of Leipzig. The high level of continuity from the work of her predecessor, Jean Ping, is partly due to the AU system. “Many decisions are not up to her. One always has to follow a certain protocol,” Engel said. "The institutionalisation of the AU as an organisation," he explained, "is very advanced."
Dlamini-Zuma has, however, managed to add her individual note to the AU despite its institutionalisation. She has laid a focus on the women and children as victims of violence and conflict, said Engel.
Criticism of Dlamini-Zuma
Analysts have generally assessed her work in a positive light. There are, however, warning voices who say that Dlamini-Zuma has laid too strong an emphasis on peace and security. Mehari Maru, an international advisor on peace and security matters concerning the AU, fears that this leaves too little time to fight the actual roots of the crises.
"Too much focus on peace and security, especially responding to conflict is like dealing with the symptom instead of having more time to deal with the root causes of the problems in Africa,” said Maru. “If we look at the negotiations between South Sudan and North Sudan, the Mbeki Panel, led by the former President Thabo Mbeki, is almost like an outsourcing of most of the activities of the AU Commission”.
If Dlamini-Zuma would take the Mbeki Panel as an example and delegate more AU activities to experts, she would have more time to fight the roots of the conflicts, Maru explained. "If the commissioner, the chairperson, is involved on responding to each and every conflict in Africa, she will not have enough time to deal with the main cause and triggers and accelerators of conflicts in Africa such as development issues, such as economic issues, politics and violence, including democratization, elections, state institution building," he warned.
More crisis prevention needed
Maru said the prevention of the crises should be a main area of focus. Instead of relying on the peace and security department, the AU should strengthen its political sector. In this way, one could react to political crises in Mali or Madagascar in ways other than the deployment of troops.
“The distinction between urgent and important matters, will play a decisive role in her time in office,” said Maru. She could delegate the urgent issues to others under her control; important issues like Africa's political development and democratisation should remain within her scope of work.
Alex Vines also agreed that institutional reform of the AU is urgently needed. Dlamini-Zuma should address this matter as soon as possible. The secretariat is bloated and many departments of the AU are inefficient. “She must also deal with the question of how the African Union can finance itself. At the moment, the peace and security sector relies almost completely on foreign money. That is not healthy for the African Union.”