Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Minister of Home Affairs in South Africa is vying for the top job, while the current chair Jean Ping is seeking reelection. The chair is elected after every four years and there is a provision to stand for a second four-year term.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) is backing up Dlamini-Zuma's nomination. According to Professor Stephen Friedman, Johannesburg University's director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy, "countries generally vote along geopolitical lines, including which countries they have a strong relationship with, not who is necessarily the ideal candidate."
However, it is my hope that for the first time countries will vote for Dlamini-Zuma based on merit so that she becomes the first woman to lead the AU Commission. In the words of Professor Muna Ndulo, a legal expert from Zambia, "Her election will signify to the world that the AU takes seriously its commitment to gender equality by recognising competence and qualification where it is clearly established above regional politics."
In a press release issued on 18 January 2012, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, Minister of International Relations and Cooperation in South Africa said that Dlamini-Zuma is "a high calibre cadre with extensive knowledge and experience of the AU and the African continent in general."
The contributions that she has made to the betterment of the lives of South Africans cannot be understated. She delivered several unqualified audits as minister of foreign affairs. In 2009, she started heading the home affairs ministry that in September 2011 celebrated its first unqualified audit since 1995.
Cheryl Hendricks of the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa added that "Dlamini-Zuma is a woman of equal and admirable stature and she has the capability to chair the AU Commission. During her tenure as Minister of Foreign Affairs she played an important part in the restructuring of the AU and in providing leadership in terms of its values and principles (moral compass)."
In February 2009, the AU Assembly of Heads of State and Government adopted a Gender Policy. The Gender Policy seeks among other things "to ensure gender parity (50/ 50) as an institutional culture, promote values and work practices within the AU Commission, other AU organs, the Regional Economic Communities (RECs) and Member States."
Since its creation in 2002, men have been at the helm of leading the pan-African grouping. These are Alpha Ouma Konare from Mali and his deputy Patrick Kayumba Mazimhaka of Rwanda who led the Commission from 2003. In the 2008 elections, Jean Ping of Gabon became chair of the Commission and his deputy has been Erastus Mwencha of Kenya. They were all elected before the adoption of the Gender Policy in 2009.
The implementation of the AU Gender Policy at this years' elections is thus crucial to the achievements of the Union's mission and objectives. Not only does it offer an opportunity for the advancement and achievement of gender equality between women and men. It can also facilitate the mainstreaming of gender issues in the African agenda.
Again, it is also no coincidence that Dlamini-Zuma's nomination for the position of AU chair is happening within the context of the AU having declared 2010-2020 the African Women's Decade. Voting for her into this post will be one way of making history during this decade in Africa. The AU also encourages women to be included in its decision-making structures, a principle affirmed by Hendricks.
Those participating in the 18th AU Summit should vote for Dlamini-Zuma to take forward the good work that Ping has accomplished during his term. "She has long been an advocate of gender equality and so she will ensure that women's voices and issues are centrally raised and addressed", Hendricks said.
Many African countries are launching the 50-50 campaign aimed at increasing the number of women in politics and decision-making. If she is voted for, the AU will have set a good example that indeed women can lead and that the 50-50 campaign can be a lived reality.
As a woman growing in Africa, I view Dlamini-Zuma as a role model. Her nomination for Africa's top job is an achievement on its own. She has achieved beyond what many women could in their lifetime, breaking the glass ceiling in the political playing field. Her achievements, including becoming the next chairperson of the AU Commission will inspire me and many other women in Africa and beyond.
Women can lead and bring new ideas to the development path of the African continent. The time for women to occupy decision-making positions in institutions that shape Africa's agenda is NOW! It can only happen if the many men who currently lead these institutions acknowledge the diverse perspectives that women can bring to the table.
Saeanna Chingamuka is the Editor at Gender Links. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service, bringing you fresh views on everyday views.Post published in: Africa News