African leaders broke two precedents Sunday in electing Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma of South Africa as president of the African Union Commission, which runs the day-to-day affairs of the 54-member organization.
Ms. Dlamini-Zuma, 63, former health and foreign affairs minister for South Africa and now in charge of homeland affairs, is the first woman and first representative of a major African country to be elected to the AU's highest post. She defeated Jean Ping of French-speaking Gabon for the job, which was open for a year for lack of the two-thirds majority needed to fill the slot. The standoff was partly a result of rivalry between Africa's French and English-speaking countries.
The scrap's resolution was the centerpiece of the summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. That should not have been the case. Africa is bedeviled by matters of greater importance which were not resolved. These include the fate of Mali; hostilities between Sudan and 1-year-old South Sudan; jousting between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo with United Nations peacekeeping forces between them; and the continuing explosive problem of Somalia, which has been ungoverned since 1991.
Probably the most urgent of these messes is Mali. Its military carried out a coup against a democratically elected government this year. This was followed by the break-off of the northern two-thirds of the country, disputed between ethnic, nomadic Tuaregs and Islamic extremists who have been busily destroying Sufi Muslim shrines in Timbuktu. The Economic Community of West African States has pledged to bring matters in Mali under control but has not yet acted.
The problems between Rwanda and the DRC are clearly inter-African as are, now, the dangerous issues between Sudan and South Sudan. These include border questions, a running dispute over oil revenues, and religious differences between largely Muslim Sudan and mostly Christian and animist South Sudan.
It is good news that the AU finally succeeded after a year in electing a president, that it chose a woman for the first time and that she was selected not just because she was a former wife of South Africa's polygamist President Jacob Zuma but largely because of her professional competence. It is a pity, however, that the AU was not able to address the continent's pressing, dangerous dilemmas.