Dlamini-Zuma elected head of AU Commission

South African home affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma was elected as chairperson of the African Union (AU) Commission at the 19th African Summit in Addis Ababa on 15 July, and she was sworn in as the summit closed shortly after midnight on 17 July.

Dlamini-Zuma becomes the first female head of the AU Commission, the organisation's executive wing. The tightly-contested vote saw her beat the existing chairman and long-time rival for the post, Jean Ping of Gabon, bringing to an end a protracted leadership battle that had threatened to cause significant divisions in the 54-nation bloc.

The contest had been deadlocked since a previous attempt to elect an AU chairperson ended in a stalemate in January. There were three voting rounds before Ping was eliminated, with the final vote giving Dlamini-Zuma the 60 per cent majority she required to be elected.

Her campaign was endorsed by fellow members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Pan African Business Forum (mainly English speaking), while the former Gabonese foreign affairs minister Ping, who had served in the AU post since 2008, was largely supported by French-speaking African states including many members of the 16-nation west African regional grouping ECOWAS.

Immediate challenges facing Dlamini-Zuma include securing UN Security Council backing for military intervention in northern Mali, where Islamist rebels seized power after a military coup in the southern capital Bamako in March. She must also deal with strained relations between Sudan and South Sudan, the latter of which gained its independence just over a year ago.

Within the AU itself, Dlamini-Zuma will have to reconcile with the Francophone bloc which supported Ping.

Dlamini-Zuma has held a number of ministerial portfolios in her native South Africa and is the former wife of incumbent South African president Jacob Zuma.