By Kilemi Mwiria
Dlamini-Zuma’s election to the chair of the African Union (AU) is a victory for both the African woman and the African continent. This is despite fears that the long drawn battle between key western African and southern African states on the one hand, and the sad manifestation of the colonial imposed divide between French (Francophone) and English (Anglophone) speaking Africa countries on the other, played themselves out in the tense contest.
It is refreshing that that her election was more about regional economic interests as evidenced by French-speaking Rwanda, Burundi and DRC preferring her to the French-speaking Benin’s incumbent, Dr Jean Ping as opposed to a senseless language divide.
The colonial imposed divide between French and English speaking Africa has been a big barrier to the unity and development of the continent by making it harder for us to have a unifying official language, allowing Africa to be a pawn in the cold war interests of western powers and by marginalising states that do not fit in the two traditionally very distinct language categories, such as former Portuguese colonies, Tanzania or Ethiopia.
It is a shame that Africans should disadvantage themselves so foolishly by vehemently embracing languages of their oppressors. By pointing out that she is “Zulu” not “Anglophone”, Dlamini-Zuma was expressing how alive she is to this monumental African contradiction.
Her victory was a gift to the crop of African leaders born out of genuine struggle for the emancipation of africa as opposed to the many political opportunists and colonial collaborators that rose to leadership at independence, some with the backing of colonial authorities.
Unlike this cadre of sell outs, Dlamini-Zuma rose from poverty and had to contend with both racism and traditional African sexism to attain a medical degree while still a key part of the South African struggle against apartheid. She belongs to the class of our own Field Marshall Kimathi, General Baimungi and Mwariama of the Mau Mau struggle, except that unlike them, she got rewarded with a Cabinet position.
What a great example for the aspiring African woman that Dlamini-Zuma is, having risen from poverty to a medical doctor, Cabinet Minister and now at the top of the AU. She has demonstrated that being single or divorced is no obstacle to professional and political success in a continent where single and divorced women are often viewed as losers.
She is part of the new positive continental wave that has given us two women presidents in recent years. I hope she lives up to her acknowledgement that “... those heroes and heroines who were pan Africans held a vision of a united economically and politically emancipated continent at peace with itself and the world...”
This is irrespective of differences in geographical location, language barriers and size of country and that she will utilise her leadership experience for the benefit of an organisation that has been largely ineffective in implementing many of the goals for which it was founded.
Hopefully, some of the traits for which she is known - refreshing, simple, honest, genuineness, hard working, open and tough – will benefit an organisation known for little action and too much talk.
The writer is MP for Tigania West and Assistant Minister Higher Education, Science and Technology