The Implications of Dr Dlamini-Zuma's Election as Head of the African Union

The election of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma of South Africa (SA) as Chairperson of the African Union Commission has attracted a great deal of attention from across the world and furore within African women’s groups. This could not have come at a better time than now when the region and the rest of the world celebrate Nelson Mandela’s birthday. But what does this specific development mean to Zimbabwe both as a stand- alone development and also in the context of broader regional developme

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma

A cursory survey of blogs by Zimbabweans on various forums including social media reveals an enthusiastic expression of solidarity with the South Africans on ‘our shared victory’. Further, Zimbabweans have already filled Dr Dlamini-Zuma’s in-tray with their wish list, top of which are ; for her to use her influence on the Zimbabwean situation, poverty reduction, human rights, development and neo-colonialism from the Far East. Some of these views are equally shared by the Secretary-General of the UN, Ban Ki-moon who welcomed the election and congratulated her on being the first African woman chosen to lead the regional body.

He says he looks forward to working with her on peace and security issues, as well as on achieving the Millennium Development Goals and promoting sustainable development in Africa. The Institute of Security Studies in Pretoria also identifies peace and security, democracy and good governance initiatives as priority areas that will be consolidated under Dr Dlamini-Zuma's leadership. The MDC (N) also views this development from a regional solidarity perspective through its statement which partly reads, “At the same time we also wish to congratulate the SADC region for its unity of purpose as Africa elected the daughter from the region”.

However a Zimbabwean Editor at Afropolitan Magazine in Johannesburg expressed pessimism on this development saying that the election was little consolation to Africa from a country (SA) that for most part does not think its part of the African continent. This view would not be surprising in light of the xenophobia some Zimbabweans living in South Africa have experienced

The impact that Dr Dlamini-Zuma will have on Zimbabwe should not be divorced from other contextual factors and the precedent already set by other South African pace setters, for example, Navanethem “Navi” Pillay and Nelson Mandela who have both exercised caution in their approach to Zimbabwe. Further South Africa exclusively borders Swaziland which has an unsavoury human rights record.

Although Dr Dlamini-Zuma’s election has raised a great deal of optimism among some Zimbabweans, the same optimism will not directly translate to tangible benefits to Zimbabwe unless there is real political will within Zimbabwe and the capacity for social shame and remorse within the Zimbabwean leadership. Dr Dlamini-Zuma cannot do much in changing entrenched political perspectives. That is primarily the responsibility of Zimbabweans, with support of SADC structures.

On a separate but comparable note, the short lived furore among the Kenyans when Obama became the USA President is instructive. Obama’s lack of impact on Kenya, demonstrates the complexity of policy formulation in government and more so at multilateral institutions such as the AU. Although Dr Dlamini-Zuma’s geographical and psychological closeness to Zimbabwe might appeal to her heart, policies are not made from the heart but from the head, therefore her abiding attachment to Zimbabwe will not be one of the factors considered in AU policy formulation and decision making.

Apart from the Obama’s example, it is interesting to observe that Navi Pillay only managed to visit Zimbabwe after intense lobbying and as part of OCHR’s geographical balance policy. During her visit, despite, her diplomatic approach in addressing the Zimbabwean human rights issues, some of her views on torture were rejected by the government.

In its analysis, the Institute for Security Studies (18.07.2012), unpacks the dilemma that Dr Dlamini-Zuma might face in pushing good agendas she might have, “There is a perception among some African countries that South Africa 'bullied' its way into the position,……………. Dr Dlamini-Zuma may be politically skilled, but if she faces too much resistance, she will not be able to bring about the change that the AU needs”. This analysis draws strong parallels to Obama’s recent admission on NBC News that he had underestimated how politics influence common sense in Capitol Hill decision making.

On a note of optimism, South Africa’s successes will continue setting a toll order for Zimbabwe. This is especially the case to the uninformed part of the world that still thinks Zimbabwe is a province within South Africa. Zimbabwe’s civil society needs to take advantage of South Africa’s successes and rather than allow such developments to eclipse Zimbabwe into oblivion, they should use them to benchmark progress in Zimbabwe.

Further, Dr Dlamini-Zuma’s election buttresses South Africa’s position and credentials as the guarantor of the Zimbabwean road map to a free and fair election under Zimbabwe’s Global Political Agreement. This will enable South Africa to stand tall on a higher moral ground and rebuke the Harare administration from its elevated pedestal. There is also no doubt that Dr Dlamini-Zuma may use her AU leverage in private diplomatic overtures in influencing Pretoria to ensure that the Zimbabwean problem is escalated not only within SADC structures but at AU level. In doing so, she might use her inside information on Zimbabwe as well as the shared history she has with the ZANU PF elite. That both the Zimbabwean and South African liberation struggles were underpinned by shared values could be her entry point. Certainly Dr Dlamini-Zuma, like any one of us, wouldn’t want to see mess accumulating at South Africa’s doorstep. However whether she will have the time to leverage on Zimbabwe in light of competing regional demands is certainly a factor to be considered in calibrating our optimism.

Despite this doubt, the unprecedented election of a woman to the AU helm is symbolic to the extent that it dismantles patriarchal hegemony. Further it galvanises and strengthens women’s movements both in Zimbabwe and the region to take leadership positions and enable them to arise and set a new political dispensation based on compassion. This view is shared by MDC (N)’s Secretary General Priscilla Misihaibwi-Mushonga, who compares Dr Dlamini-Zuma’s victory to that of the biblical Deborah and views this as a positive and refreshing step towards attaining gender equality, “As a party that upholds the principle of gender equality, we believe that Dlamini-Zuma’s election will stand as an inspiration to all other women throughout the world who have been intimidated by patriarchy to realize their dream”.

The above line of thought is validated by the recent appointment of Joyce Banda as Malawi’s first female president. This rise in Southern African women to positions of power provides an alternative long overdue power base that challenges patriarchal far right politics that has dominated Africa from its cradle. The success of Dr Dlamini-Zuma, if seen in the context of the success of Navi Pillay and the early strides by Joyce Banda will yet vindicate those who subscribe to the theory that the solution to Africa’s problem resides in lactose and not in testosterone. Should this theory be proven correct, then it shall come to pass that it is ‘through the seed of a woman that Africa’s serpent of human wrongs will be crushed (sic). Zimbabwe could follow suit if ZANU PF were to exploit the potential for compassion within Mrs Joyce Mujuru whilst the MDC formations could do the same with Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga and Theresa Makone respectively. Both President Mugabe and Prime Minister Tsvangirai already seem to have a soft heart for women. This is evidenced by the easy relationships that both parties, mainly ZANU PF has had with women’s rights groups.

Post published in: Africa News

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