South African Interior Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has been elected as the head of the African Union Commission. The former wife of South Africa's president, she becomes the first female to hold the position.
The contest to head the 54-member commission had been deadlocked since last year, with French states largely supportive of an extension of tenure for the incumbent, Jean Ping of Gabon.
In all, Dlamini-Zuma had to go through three rounds of voting before Ping, who has been at the helm since 2008, was finally eliminated.
A final confidence vote of 37 in favor gave her the necessary majority of 60 percent.
The impasse had prompted the rotating chairperson of the AU, Benin's President Boni Yayi, to warn that the credibility of the continental bloc was on the line.
Critics of the AU say that it has proved too hesitant in the past to act in situations such as that in Libya, where the West and Arab states took a more leading role.
"A new failure will signify the division of the continent," Yayi warned.
Congratulations from ex-husband
South African President Jacob Zuma was among the first to congratulate his ex-spouse after the vote in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
"It means a lot for Africa... for the continent, unity and the empowerment of women - very important," Zuma said.
A veteran of the fight against apartheid, Dlamini-Zuma has also served as health and foreign minister in South Africa. She was formerly married to South African President Jacob Zuma.
Some smaller countries have argued that Zuma's candidacy broke an unwritten rule that larger African powers should not field candidates. Ahead of the vote, Dlamini-Zuma said that she was standing "as an AU candidate, not as a representative of South Africa."
rc/av (AFP, dpa, Reuters)