By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
October 15, 2012 (ADDIS ABABA) – The new head of the African Union Commission, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, took office on Monday becoming the first female to assume the top position of the 54 member continental bloc.
A special handing over ceremony was held at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia where outgoing Chairman Jean Ping, who had been in the position since 2008, handed over the gavel - a small ceremonial mallet - to his successor.
After the inauguration Dlamini-Zuma, who has previously served as South Africa’s health and foreign affairs minister, vowed to work towards solving the peace and security challenges facing the African continent.
“We will spare no efforts to try and resolve conflicts in Mali and the Sahelian region, the crisis that has the potential to spread across the region and even the continent,” she said adding supporting the political transition in war torn Somalia will also be among her priorities to be addressed.
She also vowed to support economic development, ensure women’s rights, and boost health and education.
Dlamini Zuma, who will take over the leadership for a four-year term, will be assisted by her deputy, Erastus Mwencha who will mainly be tasked with political and economic affairs.
Ethiopia’s new Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, Boni Yayi, President of the Republic of Benin and Chairperson of the African Union, AU officials, diplomats and other regional and international representatives attended the handing over ceremony.
Dlamini-Zuma was elected as AU Chairwoman at the 19th AU Heads of States and Governments assembly held in July in Addis Ababa after a heavily contested election where she beat the incumbent, Jean Ping of Gabon.
Dlamini-Zuma, 63, is a medical doctor and a veteran of the fight against apartheid. Until her appointment as head of the AU Commission she was serving as South Africa’s home affairs minister.
She is the former wife of South African President Jacob Zuma. Her appointment is a change from the custom that the AU commission in led by a politician from one of Africa’s smaller nations. South Africa has the continents larger economy.
Implementing Septembers deal between Sudan and South Sudan and ensuring the two sides do not return to conflict will be one of her major challenges.