There is a change of guard at the African Union after members last Sunday voted South African Home Affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as its leader.
The AU has at last sent a strong signal by electing a woman of exceptional pedigree to the helm during this significant period in its history.
Dr Dlamini-Zuma becomes the first woman to head the AU Commission after beating Gabon’s Jean Ping in a closely fought contest. She garnered 60 per cent of the votes in the fourth round.
She also becomes the first person from the SADC region to occupy the seat. West Africa has held it seven times, Central Africa three times and East Africa twice.
At one point, Dr Dlamini-Zuma had to set the record straight after rumours started doing the rounds that her candidature divided member states into Anglophone and Francophone blocs, and between the weak and powerful nations.
Her election has disproved the common notion about the AU’s unwritten rule that those seeking an executive position should not come from key member states, which pay about 75 per cent of continental body’s annual budget.
The countries involved have been Egypt, Nigeria, South Africa and Libya.
Speculation was rife ahead of the poll that the South African Government might use its influence to bully weaker States after the country offered a soft loan to Malawi and a jet to South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir.
But in my opinion, Dr Dlamini-Zuma is best suited for the job based on her training, background, experience and integrity.
The continental body has never had a woman head since its formation as the Organisation of African Unity 50 years ago, and its transformation into the AU 10 years ago.
Dr Dlamini-Zuma could use her position to improve the lives of women across the continent.
This is because the AU has already adopted Gender Parity policy, and South Africa is most likely to support the AU Decade for Women (2010-2020).
The new AU chair cut her teeth in the African National Congress as a freedom fighter at a time when the party was banned by the apartheid regime.
She could bring this experience to front a pan-African agenda at the global arena, thus giving the AU greater credibility.
South Africa is currently a member of emerging economies called Brics alongside Brazil, Russia, India and China.
Dr Dlamini-Zuma has an impressive resume, given that she has held powerful Cabinet positions including Health, Foreign Affairs and Home Affairs, besides being a member the ruling ANC’s national executive committee.
She has also sat on several boards and been a leader in several organisations in South Africa and beyond.
These credentials illustrate that she is not just your ordinary woman leader, but someone armed with the skills and competencies needed to transform the AU into an efficient and effective organisation.
The dawning of this new era might signify that it is no longer business as usual in continental politics.
People want fresh breed of leaders and Dr Dlamini-Zuma will be an inspiration to other African women with potential to take on leadership positions.
Ms Otieno is an editor in charge of Southern Africa Region for NMG digital magazine, Africa Review (firstname.lastname@example.org / Twitter: JanetOtieno)