The term of Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma as head of the African Union came to an end at the end of January 2017, after turning down a bid for a second term. The jury is now out on her legacy for her four year tenure.
I personally don’t know enough about what was expected of the AU chairperson to make an informed opinion on her legacy. I would rather leave that assessment in the capable hands of the scholars and analysts of African politics. On the other hand I wonder if my limited knowledge is a product of my ignorance or a testament of the workings of the AU being far-flung from ordinary people. Perhaps it is both.
The other day I listened to radio 702 where a panel of scholars were weighing on her legacy. Their views were predictably opposed with some vehement that she leaves nothing to write about, while others pointed to agenda 2063 and the successful democratic transitions of power in several countries as hallmarks of her legacy. However, what caught my attention when the panelists were asked about her legacy, was the fact that two of the men opened their remarks with; “As a woman, she…”
That statement was telling about how society relates to women as leaders. Clearly, her performance should have been about her as a person, given her many years of professional and political leadership. Despite the fact that she was there to hold the other half of the sky, significant attention was paid to her biological make-up. I am not advocating that we should over look her gender, infact it matters because women are still second class citizens in many countries.
Yet the statement left me wondering about what impact her navigation of the AU in a female body affected her leadership of the male dominated institution. I know she has traversed many battles in her many years in politics and can stand her ground. But, is that experience enough to shield one away from a culture still steeped in patriarchy?
I wonder if she felt included, respected and heard. I wonder if she felt taken seriously by those accustomed to a culture that privileges the male voice and reveres men as “natural” leaders? Was she expected to perform wonders and magically wad off the developmental and governances challenges that have plagued the continent under male leadership?
Did she have to work twice or thrice as hard to prove herself? Is that why she did not stand for a second term, the same way that many women who finally make it to the decision making seats in boardrooms don’t stay long? Did we expect her to be Africa’s Atlas?
On the contrary, she may have had a welcoming and affirming experience at the AU. Perhaps her early departure has something to do with what some analysts speculate as her using the position at the AU as leverage to position herself as South Africa’s first woman president in 2019. I don’t know.
What I do know is that Dlamini-Zuma’s presence as the first woman to head the AU is of significant interest. It was a historic feat and a powerful symbol of the space and role of women in the leadership of our continent. I personally wish she had served a second term and strengthened any positive tractions she may have made. I particularly lament the fact that she could have continued to champion the women’s development agenda more, but alas, she had other mountains to climb.
Perhaps Mme Dlamini-Zuma will host a round table soon and speak for herself because we have many questions. Regardless of the jury’s verdict on her legacy, I applaud her courage to stand and make a historic representation in the lifespan of the AU. She may have given women more courage to rise up as an army of Atlases that will one day hold up the African skies in places where it really matters.
God bless Afrika!