It’s been eleven series since we first featured our first African First Lady at the beginning of 2012. Since then, we have garnered quite an impressive list of stories into the private and public lives of some of Africa’s most powerful women, including the causes that are dear to their hearts. What we have found is that while the roles of African First Ladies are somewhat restricted to charities and public appearances in support roles, many of them are dedicated forces who have owned their own limited spaces and are using the little at their disposal to the advantage of many – especially women, children and the disadvantaged and voiceless.
African First Ladies have long been symbols of grace, compassion and female leadership and very few have lived exceptionally scandalous and corrupt lives. And although many are still criticized mainly for their glitz and glamour, most of them have acquired the respect and admiration of their people for the causes they represent.
Rwanda’s First Lady, Jeannette Kagame is best known for her work with the Organization of African first Ladies against HIV/AIDS (known as OALFA), of which forty-two countries are currently members. She co-founded the organization in 2002 and served as its president from 2004 until 2006. Jeannette Kagame is also known for her fierce dedication to her family, and her ability to balance her family, social and philanthropic work has gained her the admiration of not only the people of Rwanda, but of those on the continent of Africa and beyond.
In 2001, she founded the Protection and Care of Families against HIV/AIDS (PACFA), an initiative primarily focused in providing a holistic approach to HIV/AIDS prevention and care for the whole family. PACFA later became known as the Imbuto Foundation, an organization engaging, empowering and educating Rwanda’s young generation to become change makers. The First Lady’s personal creed is
“A seed well planted, watered, nurtured and given all the necessary support successfully grows into a healthy plant – one that reaches high and stands tall.”
Through the Imbuto Foundation, the First Lady encourages young girls to pursue an education through the granting of scholarships. The foundation also provides health care and training tailored towards economic independence through income generating programs.
Outside of her work with OALFA and PACFA, Jeannette Kagame is also known to be an active, relentless and passionate devotee of uplifting the lives of vulnerable populations in Rwanda, especially widows, orphans of the genocide and impoverished families.
Jeannette Kagame was born Jeannette Nyiramongi on August 10, 1962 in Burundi. She met her husband, President Kagame during his years of hardship and exile in Uganda. At the time, she lived in Nairobi, Kenya. The meeting which was arranged by relatives quickly grew into a strong alliance built on mutual respect and led to marriage in 1989. The couple is known to share an interest in serving people and have been married and deeply devoted to each other over the last 24 years.
Jeannette Kagame is definitely a very busy woman as Rwanda’s First Lady. In 2007, she was appointed by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the High Representative of the Africa AIDS Vaccine Program (AAVP) with the responsibility of ensuring the active participation of African stakeholders in all areas of HIV and AIDS vaccine research and development. In 2010, she was appointed as the Special Representative on Child Nutrition by the World Food Program (WFP). She has also served on the boards of numerous international organizations, including the Friends of the Global Fund Africa, the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise and the Global Coalition of Women against HIV and AIDS. She holds an Honorary Doctorate, Doctor of Laws degree from the Oklahoma Christian University for her significant contributions to the worldwide fight against HIV/AIDS and poverty. The First Lady and her husband are parents to four well-rounded children.