by Piet Coetzer

Dlamini-Zuma’s huge challenges

African Union's new chair settles in

Dr. Dlamini-Zuma
Dr. Dlamini-Zuma.JPG
South Africa’s immediate former Minister of Home Affairs Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma was sworn in as the first woman chair of the African Union Commission (AUC) in Addis Ababa last week. She will be facing both huge expectations and huge challenges in her new role with one hand tied behind her back. 
Dlamini-Zuma is also a former South African Minister of Foreign Affairs and the expectations she is taking into her new job are closely tied to her background in that position.
Ironically, it is expected of her to help revive the dream of an African Renaissance and Pan-Africanism, which were the dreams of ex-president Thabo Mbeki whom she served as minister in the foreign affairs capacity.
Mbeki was removed from the position of head of the ANC and replaced as president of South Africa by her former husband, Jacob Zuma. The then new president appointed her as minister of the extremely, administratively troubled portfolio of Home Affairs.
In heading up the administration of the African Union, the challenges Dlamini-Zuma will faceare familiar to her regarding her background and what she faced at Home Affairs. These include:
•At its last audit, nearly half of the staff positions at the AUC were found to be unfilled; 
•Its budget was not even close to adding up; 
•Its general administration is in disarray; 
•It’s a ponderous bureaucracy that struggles to attract talented people;  and 
•It struggles even more to fulfill its basic functions.
Although, by her own admission, not yet at the level where it should be, tremendous strides had been made at sorting out the troubles of Home Affairs under her stewardship.
As chair of the AUC Dlamini-Zuma is now its chief executive officer, the legal representative and the accounting officer. But as a recent article in the Institute for Security Studies newsletter, Conflict Prevention and Risk Analysis  ( ) puts it, “Despite the considerable role of the AUC Chairperson, Dr Dlamini-Zuma, like her predecessors, will have to contend with some limitations. Three main limitations are discernible: 
•The Chairperson does not have enforcement power. This curbs her ability to transform key decisions into reality; 
•The Chairperson does not have discretionary power. In fact, she is not allowed to exercise her discretion in responding to crises not anticipated by instruments and policies of the AU; 
•The Chairperson lacks significant control over the rest of the Commission. The Chairperson does not play a role in the election and appointment of the Deputy Chairperson or the Commissioners. This does not allow for proper oversight of Commissioners by the Chairperson; and 
•Importantly, the Commissioners are often subject to the political whims of member states.
“Due to these limitations, the new leadership will have to contend with the statist structure of the AU and her capacity to deliver will depend on her ability to reach consensus with member states on the formulation and implementation of policies.”
To further complicate her task, Dlamini-Zuma will need all the diplomatic skills that she honed in the Mbeki administration to first heal the wounds caused by her bruising battle for election to the position against her predecessor, Dr Jean Ping of Gabon.
There are high hopes that with her at the helm of the AUC, the African Union will start to prioritise its development and infrastructure projects, tackle the scourge of corruption in Africa in a meaningful way, give new momentum to the establishment of a human and women’s rights culture in Africa, and more.  
The reality however, is that she has limited authority and severe limitations on being able to influence policy decisions and practical outcomes.
The AUC is not the AU per se and does not make decisions. That rests with the assembly of AU heads of states which meets twice a year. Often these assemblies are deeply divided on issues and united visions are rather the exception than the rule. 
One of the most important institutions of the AU is its Peace and Security Council (PSC), which is intended to prevent and respond to conflicts and crisis situations on the continent.
The chair of the AUC is expected to assist the PSC in the formulation and implementation of PSC decisions through the information and assistance provided by the PSC structures (such as the Continental Early Warning System, African Standby Force, Panel of the Wise and Military Staff Committee). In the end, results are dependent on multilateral political processes.
It is on this front that Dlamini-Zuma’s diplomatic skills will be most thoroughly tested as she settles into her new office in Addis Ababa.
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