African Trailblazers Demystifying Myths, Awakening Dreams

The African continent, known for her strong patriarchal culture, has stepped up its conquest of this bondage ahead of the largest and oldest world democracies, albeit slowly.

In 2006, Liberia elected her first female president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the trailblazer who set high standards for women leadership.

Besides, her election, and re-election for a second and final term, showed that African women are ripe for the biggest political offices in the land.

Indeed, other African countries have set an example by entrusting women leadership.

Burundi was the first to show the way by having the first female Prime Minister, Slyvie Kiningi, in 1993 and as acting president in 1994.

South Africa also had Ivy Matsepe-Cassaburi as acting President in September 2005 and later in 2008.

The following year, Gabon had Rose Rogombe as interim president. Mauritius’ Agnes Bellepeau was acting president twice in 2012 and 2015, while Joyce Banda was President of Malawi from 2012 to 2014.

Central African Republic’s Catherine Samba was acting President from 2014 to 2016 and before then, she was mayor of Bangui. Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, the first female President of Mauritius ruled for three years from 2015.

In October 2018, Ethiopia got her first female president, Sahle-Work Zewde, who will serve in that capacity for six years. And in July 2020, Gabon appointed the first female Prime Minister Rose Raponda.

First female Prime Minister

Two months later, Togo got her first female Prime Minister, Dogbé Tomegah.

There are tremendous benefits that come with a female presidency – whether elected or in acting capacity – on other women downstream.

One Earth Future Foundation, an organisation that fosters peace, analysed this impact and established that once a woman occupies the highest office, other women are confident to try their luck in other leadership positions. In the process, more women become visible in various political leadership roles.

The effect goes further to school children who automatically get role models and are inspired that they too, can become such powerful leaders one day and boys grow up knowing that women are as effective as men.

A country that elects female leaders reaps dividends because women’s priorities are peace and human rights.

Peace comes with huge reduction of the obscene defence budgets releasing the money to take care of crucial dockets such as education and economic revival.

A country at war focuses its energies on artillery and keeping the country safe from attack, which eats into the national budget.

A look at Sirleaf’s presidency gives a good picture of the benefits of having a female at the apex.

First female president

After 14 years of a bloody civil war that left Liberia basically a skeleton with hunger, illiteracy and chronic unemployment as its identity, the country cast its hope in a woman to lead them out of the abyss.

Sirleaf, 82, took over one of the poorest nations in the world in 2006 as Africa’s first female president. She held that seat for the 12 years the Constitution prescribes and peacefully handed over to another democratically elected president, George Weah, in 2018.

She approached her mammoth role with the eyes of a woman. Among her first actions was the signing of executive orders to establish the right to free universal primary education and enforcing equal rights for women.

Besides rebuilding schools from scratch – institutions were destroyed during the civil war – she ensured education also catered to the special needs of former child soldiers who were much older than their classmates.

She nurtured peace in her country and with neighbours.

In fighting the corruption dragon, she suspended her son who was the Central Bank Deputy Governor when he refused to declare his assets publicly as required by the law.

From the recognitions and awards she got including the Nobel Peace Prize for ‘securing peace in Liberia, to promoting economic and social development and to strengthening the position of women’ in 2011 and the Mo Ibrahim Foundation Prize for Achievement in Africa Leadership, shows her style of leadership was different – and she made a difference.