Dlamini Zuma made history four-and-a-half years ago by being the first South African and Southern African to chair the AU Commission.
Her journey to the top of Africa’s key and strategic centre of governance upset the French, who wished for a candidate from a Francophone country through whom they were sure to call the shots.
There were others in the West and in some parts of the continent who were concerned by what they perceived to be the consolidation of Pretoria’s hegemony and soft power over Africa and its affairs.
President Zuma, International Relations and Cooperation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, then-state security minister Siyabonga Cwele and other cabinet members successfully championed Dlamini Zuma’s campaign with the active assistance of some Southern African Development Community (SADC) presidents and ministers.
Her victory marked the triumph of Pretoria’s Africa’s policy under Zuma and Nkoana-Mashabane’s tutelage as much as it marked the triumph of regional social and political solidarity within the SADC.
Dlamini Zuma may have faced some subtle challenges and resistance in setting up shop and getting on with the important task of turning the AU Commission around by modernising its processes, systems and structures.
Prior to her tenure, the AU Commission was, rightly or wrongly, perceived as inefficient, weak and pedestrian. Her effective and tried and tested style of leadership that delivers results saw an impressive turnaround in operational efficiencies being unlocked.
Countries and continents are, in the ultimate analysis, as good as their leaders. What then will Dlamini Zuma’s legacy be? Apart from fixing the internal engine room of the AU Commission, there are many things she will be remembered for on the global and regional stage.
First, she drove and delivered Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want which articulates a 50-year vision for a prosperous and winning Africa at peace with itself and the world at large.
Africa has never had such a compelling and comprehensive long-term strategic vision which addresses a mosaic of key issues such as education and skills development, innovation and research and development, science and technology, infrastructure and energy, industrialisation and beneficiation, agribusiness and food security, as well as youth and woman empowerment.
The 50-year planning horizon in Agenda 63 marks a long overdue paradigm shift by Africa in planning, which is well established in countries like China.
Second, Dlamini Zuma initiated a continent-wide campaign to “silence the guns” by 2020.
This is central to her vision of a stable and prosperous Africa. Prosperity is the key to stability and vice versa.
The fact that most of the UN peace-keeping operations are in Africa indicates the magnitude of the challenge still facing the continent.
It is now up to her successor to take this agenda forward and deliver the promise of a stable and prosperous Africa.
Third, Dlamini Zuma has elevated the issue of education and skills development to a much higher level than hitherto.
She has gone further to facilitate the setting up of continental centres of excellence in various parts of the continent to institutionalise collaboration among African countries.
East Africa, for example, hosts the Centre of Excellence in Information and Communications Technology (ICT), Southern Africa hosts Space and West Africa has Agribusiness.
Africa needs to equip its sons and daughters with the skills and capabilities that will position them to be active and winning players in the increasingly knowledge-intense globally competitive economy of the 21st century.
Fourth, she has also been an active champion of the need for Africa to beneficiate its resources and products.
Africa needs to build and continuously enhance its domestic capabilities to beneficiate its mineral resources and other products as part of a comprehensive industrialisation strategy that should lead to the creation of new industries and companies, which in turn should lead to the creation of massive jobs and prosperity for generations.
South Africa needs to leverage Dlamini Zuma’s tenure at the apex of the AU Commission and the legacy she has left to deepen its engagement and collaboration with Africa.
Now, more than ever, South Africa and Africa need to actively and closely engage and collaborate to maximize their bargaining power in a global era marked by the rise of economic nationalism and political populism, especially in the West.
* Dlamini is a member of the national council of the SA Institute of International Affairs.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.