South Africa Lobbied Doggedly for Its Home Affairs Minister to Win Post, Alienating Some Nations
By PATRICK MCGROARTY
The Wall Street Journal
South Africa's home affairs minister was elected Sunday to lead the African Union, capping a months-long campaign that aimed to expand the government's diplomatic role on the continent but risked sowing divisions among other African countries.
, an experienced diplomat and President Jacob Zuma's former wife, was chosen Sunday by the pan-African bloc's 54 member countries to serve a four-year term as chairwoman of the African Union's commission, its executive arm.
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, South Africa's home affairs minister, was elected to head the African Union after four rounds of voting Sunday.
South African officials lobbied aggressively for Ms. Dlamini-Zuma despite an informal arrangement that the chairmanship be held by one of Africa's smaller nations. Their hope is that her victory will lend more diplomatic heft to the African Union, which has appeared divided and weak in recent crises in the Ivory Coast and Libya. In both cases, military force prevailed over diplomatic solutions.
"Many within government really believe they can make a difference, that Ms. Zuma can make a contribution to making the AU a more effective organization," said Elizabeth Sidiropoulos, national director of the South African Institute of International Affairs.
A stable democracy and the continent's largest economy, South Africa occupies a powerful position among other African nations. But the country's campaign to win the AU leadership role created sharp differences among the continent's top leaders.
"I think there have been more people disappointed by this than myself," Rwanda's President Paul Kagame said in an interview in England several days before the vote. "You can hear the echoes all over saying they should probably have contributed to stability rather than contributing to having a divided continent on the basis of who becomes the chair."
South Africa's dogged pursuit of the AU post is the latest diplomatic prize Pretoria has pursued.
In 2011, South Africa joined Brazil, Russia India and China in the Brics club of major emerging economies—even though it's slow-growing economy is a fraction of the size compared to others in the club and could soon be surpassed by Nigeria. South Africa also started a two-year stint on the United Nations Security Council last year and is among the nations jockeying for a permanent seat on the council if it is reconfigured.
But the country has been criticized for controversial and sometimes inconsistent stances. When civilians came under fire from Col. Gadhafi's troops, South Africa and other Security Council members supported a resolution imposing a no-fly zone. President Zuma later said he rejected "foreign military intervention, whatever its form," echoing a different African Union position. Mr. Zuma also angered some Western powers with support for Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo, long after he was declared by the U.N. to have lost last year's presidential vote to challenger Alassane Ouattara.
Ms. Dlamini-Zuma was elected the AU's new chairwoman Sunday in the fourth round of voting by AU member countries gathered in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She had a narrow lead over the incumbent, Jean Ping of Gabon, through the first three rounds and reached the required two-thirds majority with 37 votes in the fourth round.
Ms. Dlamini-Zuma first challenged Mr. Ping for the post at a previous AU summit in January. Neither candidate received the required support of two-thirds of AU members, prompting Sunday's runoff.
—Alexis Flynn contributed to this article.
Write to Patrick McGroarty at email@example.com
A version of this article appeared July 16, 2012, on page A14 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: African Union Elects New Leader.