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Nkosazana-Dlamini-ZumaNkosazana Dlamini-Zuma was a force to be reckoned with during her tenure as South Africa’s home affairs minister, and her game-changing appointment as the first woman leader of the African Union speaks volumes about the sea change the continent is experiencing in terms of gender equality.
Characterised by a lack of funds and personnel, the AU is in need of a dramatic administrative overhaul and Dlamini-Zuma has her work cut out for her. But her vision of strengthening the organisation’s systems, financial management, capacity and culture will underpin her efforts to turn around Africa’s underdevelopment, poverty and unequal wealth distribution.
Since taking over as chairwoman in October 2012, she has repeatedly stressed the need to ensure that peace and security issues – which she believes take "a lot of time, a lot of energy and a lot of resources" – are balanced with development. As the Natal-born former anti-apartheid activist says: “If you don't develop your country, if people don't feel there is an equitable distribution of wealth, you are actually threatening peace."
Dlamini-Zuma is quick to point out that 60% of Africa’s over one billion residents are young people - 70% of sub-Saharan Africa is under 30 years old. The Arab Spring of late 2010 didn’t exist in a vacuum – the combination of youth unemployment, rapid urbanisation and Africa’s high demographic curve spells disaster if allowed to remain locked in a negative feedback loop.
1m new jobs on the continent are needed every month and Dlamini-Zuma is painfully aware of the consequences if Africa’s youth are disinvested of the right to education and the skill sets required for the job market.
Dlamini-Zuma asserts: "We have to get our transport on the high seas and we have to get telecommunications infrastructure – everybody's going broadband and Africa should not be left behind," This, she believes, will enable African states to trade among themselves and develop inter-continental tourism.
 At the same time, she'd like to see the continent explore ways of accelerating the process of industrialization, a view echoed by the executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, Dr. Carlos Lopes. "Our GDP is growing but it’s growing mainly on raw materials – and that's not sustainable growth," she says, adding that Africa needs to export more processed goods "so that we can get more value for our products".
Dlamini-Zuma’s mandate is clear: realising the balance between sustaining AU’s peace and security obligations and making strides in social and economic development, both of which depend entirely on available funds.
97% of the AU’s programs are paid for by external sources, and there is an obvious need to mobilise governments and the private sector to generate more resources for the organisation from within the continent.