African Women in Politics: An International Women’s Day Celebration

| March 8, 2012

Written by N. Amma Twum-Baah and AdeOla Fadumiye

Africa’s women have always been strong pillars in the community even though they are often lacking where it counts the most – on the state and national stage, helping to shape policies that affect their lives. However, in recent years, it has become increasing reassuring to see women braving the storm against their male counterparts on the political stage. These women can best be described as passionate, fearless and determined, and Afrikan Goddess Magazine is proud to list just a few as part of our celebration of African women as part of our International Women’s Day feature.

Marie-Elise Akouavi Gbèdo is the first woman to run for president in the Federal Republic of Benin. She ran in both the 2001 and 2006 elections. Her political career began in 1998 when she was appointed as Minister of Commerce, Crafts, and Tourism. She resigned in 2000 after she was accused of allowing too much transparency when it came to political and economic issues. She is currently the vice president of the Beninese Women Lawyers Association. In her current position, she and other female intellectuals are working hard to create influence legislation that would make polygamy unlawful.  Aside from polygamy, Ms. Gbèdo is also leading the fight against female genital mutilation and abuse against women. Her office in Cotonou, Benin, welcomes female victims of rape and other abuses and offers free legal services.

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is the current Nigerian Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, and has been slated as the woman to change Africa’s economic future. There is no doubt that Dr. Okonjo-Iweala is gifted when it comes to money matters. She was once the Managing Director of the World Bank, and the first woman to be appointed to the roles of Finance Minister and Foreign Minister in Nigeria. A Harvard graduate, her successes are numerous and she puts to shame the myth that men are smarter when it comes to economic matters. Her greatest feat in office in October 2005 was her influential role in working out a deal which led to an $18 billion debt write-off for Nigeria.

Rosine Vierra Soglo is the wife of former Benin President Nicéphore Dieudonné Sogloand who was the leader of the la Renaissance du Bénin political party, a party which boasted the largest number of female parliamentarians during the legislative elections of 1996. In 2002, Rosine Vierra Soglo introduced an amendment to the Family Code that allowed women to inherit their parents’ estate, for the first time in the country’s history. The amendment also provided that widows are no longer obligated to marry their late husband’s sons or brothers. Through her NGO, VIDOLE, Rosine Vierra Soglo supports girls’ primary education and lends money to poor women in rural areas. She worked alongside other Benin female politicians, including Marie-Elise Akouavi Gbèdo, to make polygamy unlawful in Benin.

Zanele kaMagwaza-Msibi is the national chairperson of South Africa’s Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and the Mayor of Zululand District Municipality in KwaZulu-Natal. She is also the first female chairperson of the IFP, which is mostly a male-dominated party. Her work with the party helped open doors for other women as she implemented projects to improve the financial well-being of women in the Zululand Municipality. Zanele KaMagwaza-Msibi is well known to embrace her feminine virtues while striking deals in smoked-filled rooms promoting the economic and social causes of women. Despite her desire to see women well represented in the political arena, Zanele KaMagwaza-Msibi believes firmly that women must fight for their rights and secure elections on their own merits, and not on some gender quota system.

Baleka Mbete-Kgositsile was the Deputy President of South Africa under Thabo Mbeki, and before then, she was the speaker of the National Assembly of South Africa, from 2004 to 2008. The African National Congress (ANC) recently announced that she would be deployed to Luthuli House to be the link between the ruling party and the government. Baleka Mbete-Kgositsile has played several prominent roles in South Africa and has been very vocal about women’s issues.  She was the secretary-general for the ANC Women’s League from 1991 to 1993, and served at the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly of South Africa from 1996 to 2004. She is still involved with the ANC party.

Adiato Djaló Nandigna is the Acting Prime Minister of Guinea-Bissau. She was elected in February 2012 by former Prime Minister Carlos Gomes, who resigned to run for president. Adiato Djalo Nandigna served as the government spokeswoman before her recent appointment and is now the first female prime minister of Guinea-Bissau, and also the first prime minister to be appointed by a predecessor. In 2007, she was among 5 women appointed to the president’s cabinet of ministers where she served as the minister of culture, youth and sports.

Edith Kah Walla was a seasoned entrepreneur before she ventured into the political realm in 2007. In 2011, she was a presidential aspirant for the Cameroonian presidency.  Edith Kah Walla is internationally recognized for her expertise in management, understanding of development issues, and for her strong stance on Africa and its women and youths. In 2008, she was one of seven women entrepreneurs recognized by the World Bank for having a voice at the national level. Her work focuses its efforts on helping grassroots organizations to defend their interests and to have a voice in defining and implementing policies at the national level. She believes strongly in the inclusion of everyone when it comes to designing and implementing policies.

Mariama Bayard Gamatié lost the recent Niger presidential elections, but she will still go down in history as the first Nigerien woman to run for commander-in-chief. She attributed her low voter turnout in the January presidential elections to the failure of the media to cover her campaign. Her score was the lowest of all candidates. However, Gamatié views her candidacy as a stepping-stone for other women in the region to follow. She served as the Minister of Civil Society before her attempt at the presidency. We hope she will try again, and find ways to steer clear of excuses for her failure to garner voter support.

Angèle Makombo-Eboum took her first shot at a presidential run in 2011 in the Democratic Republic of Congo. She is the founder of the Political Party League of Congolese Democrats (LIDEC), the party under which she ran for office. Her campaign which emphasized the need for women’s involvement in the political process run on the basic idea that is a woman is good enough to run a household, then she ought to be good enough to run the country. She has actively called on all women to get involved outside the home and to take their voices into the communities. We have a feeling we will be hearing a lot more from this fierce and vocal women’s advocate in the months and years to come.

Odette Nyiramilimor a Rwandan physician and senator served as Minister of State for Social Affairs in the Paul Kagame government from March 2000 to October 2003. Amidst a power struggle that ensured after Rwanda’s independence, Odette Nyiramilimor watched helplessly as members of her family were slaughtered. Her experiences have shaped and her resolve to get involved in politics because she knows that effective change begins with policies. She has been a senator in Rwanda’s parliament since 2003, and has vowed to continuously work for the good of all Rwandans.  

Nana Konadu Agyeman Rawlings was first lady of Ghana during her husband, Jerry John Rawlings’ rule as the nation’s head of state, and later as the first democratically elected president of Ghana. But, she is most politically noted for her work with the 31st December Women’s Movement, an organization which empowers women and promotes their welfare at both the local and national levels. Nana Konadu Rawlings believes the role of women is vital to promoting peace in the family, the country and the world at large and must be acknowledged. Her political future in recent months however has been rife with speculation. After she lost a bid to run on her party’s platform (National Democratic Congress) in the 2012 presidential elections, it is now rumored that she will run against the current sitting president Mills as an independent candidate.  

Samia Nkrumah is the current chairwoman of the Convention People’s Party, Ghana. Following in the footsteps of her late father, Dr. Kwame Nkruma, Samia Nkrumah entered into politics with the desire to effect real change and to see the values of her father and the CPP party restored. She won the Jomoro constituency seat in the Western Region of Ghana to become a Minister of Parliament for the region, and in September 2011, she became the first woman chairperson of the Convention People’s Party. This new position also makes her the first woman to ever head a major political party in Ghana. Since winning the parliamentary seat, Samia Nkrumah has turned her attention to fighting poverty, promoting women’s rights, and leading the debate on African unity. It will be interesting to see where her new leadership role leads her in the coming years.

Other female politicians Afrikan Goddess has featured in previous issues include:

Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson, current Liberian president and the first female elected to lead an African nation.

Winnie Mandela, former wife of Nelson Mandela and leader of the ANC Women’s League in South Africa. She was also instrumental in the fight against apartheid in South Africa.

Leymah Gbowee, leader of the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace Movement, an organization which was instrumental in the election of the country’s first female president. She is also a recent Nobel peace prize recipient.

Martha Karua, a former Member of Parliament for Gichugu Constituency and an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya. She was the Minister of Justice until she resigned from that position in April 2009. She is currently running for the Kenyan presidency.

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AFRIKAN GODDESS MAGAZINE is a subsidiary of Afrikan Goddess Media, LLC. Our content is designed with the educated, professional, classy, charming and sassy African woman in mind. We encourage women to express their creativity and ideas through writing, and also serve as a platform for meaningful discussions and exchange of ideas.

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  1. Female goddess | Merlinsquest | March 12, 2012
  1. amanda says:

    i thought i would read something about Zimbabwes first Vice President who happens to be a woman…

    • AG Magazine AG Magazine says:

      Thanks for bringing this to our attention, Amanda. This is why we rely on readers like you to keep us informed and updated. We will do a feature on the honorable J.T.R. Muguru in the March issue. Thanks again for bringing her to our attention. We all learn something new everyday.