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African Union Elects First-Ever Female Leader, A Former Anti-Apartheid Activist
July 16, 2012
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For the first time ever, a woman is leading the African Union (AU). Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, South Africa's home affairs minister and a former anti-apartheid activist, defeated the incumbent, Jean Ping of Gabon, after a hard-fought contest to become the head of the AU.

Dlamini-Zuma is the first woman to lead the continent since the Organization of African Unity (which later became the AU) was formed in 1963 - she is also the first leader from southern Africa. Her own history includes time spent as the Minister of Health in Nelson Mandela's cabinet, during which tenure she de-segregated the health system and broadened access to free basic healthcare in South Africa.

She has also faced controversy at times: while Health Minister, she commissioned an AIDS education play called 'Sarafina II' which was criticized for poor financial controls and poor commissioning procedures, and she supported an anti-AIDS drug called Virodene, which was cheaper than other drugs on the market but not recommended by the scientific community.

The AU election was a long and intense contest: Dlamini-Zuma stood against Ping in elections in January, but the contest ended in a stalemate. Ping's term in office was extended by six months until a fresh ballot could be held. According to the Guardian, observers believed Dlamini-Zuma would have trouble overcoming the unwritten convention that politicians from the five largest contributors to the AU budget - Egypt, Nigeria, Libya, Algeria and South Africa - should not stand for the commission's highest office. But she did win in the end, with support from 37 out of the 51 eligible member states.

And there is talk that she might bring a very different kind of leadership to the AU: Yoweri Museveni, president of Uganda, said "we are used to diplomats and bureaucrats. Her background as a freedom fighter, this is a value addition". Her ex-husband, controversial current President of South Africa Jacob Zuma, called her election "empowerment for women". But her own take on the victory was more modest: "I think I'm fine. I'm just very grateful to all the member states for having entrusted me with this responsibility of their organization".

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