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The Role of Women in Civil Struggle, Leadership and Peace-Building Network in Africa

By

Sambo Johnson Madigwe

Department of History,

Isaac Jasper Boro College of Education,

Sagbama, Bayelsa State, Nigeria

Email Address: johnsonsambo080@gmail.com

Mobile Phone: 08064369822

 

Abstract

Women all over the world are recognized as agents of change. This is as a result of their roles in the development process of their respective nations, regarding political leadership, communication world via internet revolution, business and entrepreneurial world, human rights activism or defender, world of intellectuals, and mining and manufacturing industries, and as well as Africa’s legal advocate and problem-solver. Women’s roles have been shaped to a large extend by how they are perceived in their societies. Other enable factors which have inspired Africa’s women to be more active in politics, economics, and socio-cultural development of their countries include; International Development Agencies, the United Nations and the fore-runners of mid-twentieth century Africa’s women such as Chief Olufunmilayo Ransome-Kuti, “a champion of women’s rights and social welfare initiative for market women”, Empress Taitu Betul “an influential figure in the Ethiopian politics”, and Kudjoe Hannah Esi Badu “a co-agitator and advocate of Kwame Nkrumah in the youth and women organizations under both parties the United Gold Coast Convention and the Convention Peoples Party.” Arising from the mind-blowing innovations, caused by women, women’s political participation and women’s advocacy on human rights, the status of women in Africa, the value of African women in capacity building and the impact of women’s political leadership and civil right in Africa are what revolves around the discussion of this paper. We therefore, posit that the African continent can no longer afford to do without the contributions of Africa’s women if we desire to achieve collective progress. Despite, the lack of sufficient number of women in key positions such as political office, industries, parliamentary leadership seat, and national institutions, yet with their capacity to listen, their participatory approach, and ability to lead by example has being a vital factor in the achievements of balance and efficiency. 

 

Key Words: Women, Africa’s Women, Political Leadership, Capacity Building, Civil Rights.

 

Introduction

           In all levels of society as a whole there exist the biologically, determined feminine gender whose services to humanity remain undistracted. They are known for possessing an incubated power of nurturing ideas, plans and family responsibilities through the in-build qualities of God’s given nature in them than their masculine counter parts (Catherine, 1976: 70-73).

These exceptional qualities which women possess are gift to human race, devoted patiently to ensure that society becomes a better place. Some of which are the natural affection of peace loving, compassion and with great tenderness over humanity. These are regardless of life’s circumstances. In as much as women are inherently different from their masculine gender in ways that distinguish their contributions to political leadership, peace-building initiatives, civil struggle and programmes associated with socio-cultural foundation network differ greatly. In fact, it is this differences that makes them think and behave differently in ways that affect relations positively across national frontiers (Christine, 2002: 67).

Over time women in the African continent have being known for spearheading socio-economic and political change, boundary pushers, money makers and as well as trend setters. Across the five regions in the continent of Africa there are women who are known for pushing their way through the corridor of power from courageous political decision makers to cultural trend setters and as well pioneering several social organizational programmes and civil right struggles.

African women who have being showcasing their art of possibility and inspiring new generations to take control of their destiny are such as; Africa’s first and only female former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf who flow the flag for women’s political ambition in the continent. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, twice Nigeria’s female Minister of Finance and one of the few female senior World Bank Officials in Washington D.C. willing to go head-to-head with her masculine counterpart on issue about toughness, independent thinking and reformation of financial institutions. Joyce Bamford-Addo, the first African female to be appointed West Africa’s Parliamentary Speaker from Ghana, a former supreme court judge in 2009. Navanethem Pillay, an Anti-apartheid Veteran known for her active voice against human rights abuses globally, she was once a United Nations Human Rights Commissioner. Most recently she got the mandate of the United Nations as a prominent reminder of the strength of South Africa’s justice system that was extended to September, 2014. And Fatou Bensouda of Gambia, the first female African to be the Chief African Prosecutor for African crimes at the International Criminal Court (ICC) (Thano, The African Report, 2012).

Those breaking new ground in their field such as improvement of lives of women and girl child in Africa through Women Cultural Leadership Network, Civil Right Struggle, Practical Solutions for Social Entrepreneurs Developments for African Women and Science related field. These women are Queen Nnabagereka Sylvia Nagginda of the Buganda Kingdom, Obiageli Ezekwesili of Nigeria, Marieme Jamme of Senegal, Noella Musunka Coursaris of Democratic Republic of Congo, Leymah Gbowee of Liberia and Francisca Nneka Okeke of Nigeria, Quarraisha Abdool Karim of South Africa and Diezani Madueka of Nigeria (Petina, The African Report, 2011: 24-32).

All of their pioneering activities which cut-across national boundaries were against the bleak background of sexual slavery against women, the social class status of women in their respective society, the inequality which exist among governments of African States and as well the illusion that women are the weaker sex. All of these have fostered gender division of labour which has relegated women to traditional duties (Bunster and Chaney, 1985: 7).

Based on this backdrop this paper intend to examine a historical overview of women’s status in Africa, value centeredness of African women in capacity building and the impact of African women in political participation.

 

A Historical Overview of the Status of Women in Africa 

Ninety-five percent (95%) of women in most African societies are generally occupying the lower status than their masculine counter-parts. To certain degree this is as well applicable to the two other continents of the world, Latin America and Asia. This is a true fact because over the years the link determiner between power mechanism and those that determine race, class and gender relations are the patriarchs. Noticeably, in most societies in Africa they are visible seen to be part of the system which exploits its people requiring a complete overhaul violent or mild violent (Balaam and Bradford, 2011: 123).

The outcome of a disproportionate number of women of low status was as a result of various existing cultures reinforced by religious revivals, existing social classes and the neoliberal economic conditions which exist within and between societies in the continent of Africa. In Africa Kingdoms where the oldest political institution which emerged from times even before time began. Kings thus, were embodied in their persons the divine power that came from God by way or wishes of the divinely appointed ancestors. Having that power, Kings were expected to maintain harmony between society and its natural environment and as well ensuring that the rules are in line with the wishes of their divinely-appointed ancestors.

Just as Basil Davidson had rightly observed, African societies and political structures have been built basically on a social stratum were Kings and Rulers were the first, seconded by the civic fathers, te Chiefs whose duties were to take care of their city or villages, and maintain law and order. The third and fourth social strata are those who acquired a great reputation or inheritance by their riches or trade and farmers and fishermen. Whereas the fifth were slaves, however he acknowledged the fact that the services offered by both free and un-freed vassals to their lords was in return of their emperors, kings or lords protection which was in exchange for taxes or regular payments of one kind or another. This was an indication that the two-way system of services that was operational in many African political systems of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries never gave women opportunity in making decisions regarding the state of affairs of their states or kingdoms. But rather they were often pushed down into very humble positions in society, tied to a certain place and occupation and as well forbidden to move away or change their work (Basil, 1965: 182).

Very important determiner of women status in Africa and most third world nations are traditional laws, socio-religious beliefs and to a greater extend economics determine the status of women in such societies. In present day Africa where almost sixty countries exist as an independent state with variety of languages, customs, traditions and religions, traditional laws and social policies that were deeply rooted in all aspect of societies had enhanced the ideology and institutions of male dominated, privileged, well positioned, concentrated authority on the male folks and female subordination. These rights and opportunities had augmented the social construction of gender in a manner that has associated men with the public sphere of politics and well paid labour, and women with the lowest concentrated low-end jobs and house hold work (Kathleen, 2008: 149).

From pre-colonial to post-colonial era state policies and socio-religious laws regarding male dominance have been institutionalized as tools, ideology and machinery. It is this gender baggage construction that intoxicated former South African President Jacob Zuma to use the Zulu masculine culture as a justification pleading not guilty at the trial in 2006, having raped a young Zulu woman. This incident stimulated, organized female parliamentarians in South Africa to pass stronger sexual laws. The act of exploiting, violating and brutal as well as harsh policies and oppressive nature of male dominated governments in Africa have encouraged intolerance and the abuses that stem from complains and challenges put up by women over the exorbitant prices set up by governments in most African societies. As a result of their protest and complains most of the female traders were beaten up and their markets burnt (Dayo, 2006: 212-213).

Women being the largest of all minority demographic groups (Rourke and Mark, 2002: 370) over time in Africa have organized broad range of women’s developmental projects to better the wages and working conditions of women, but were brutally crushed and forced out of positions (Stride and Ifeka, 1971: 270). During the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries when economic restructuring and democratization were on full swing their patriarchy counter-parts have denied them of their benefits and rights despite promising to serve their interests. From the period of colonialism to when African states began witnessing conflicts among themselves in 1970s and 1980s. Women, in almost all societies in Africa and other third world countries were referred to as the weaker gender. A classification which placed women as a beggar given the crumbs from the masters tables. It was on the basis of this the use of the phrase “she is always a tool, never a person” was used as a summation on the study of “Roots of Oppression of Women of Africa” (Cutrufelli, 1983: 2).

The vulnerability of high-level violence, all forms of discrimination and sexual abuses women are trapped in societies and as well the errors of our ancestors, relegating to men a supervisor position in African societies. While women were regarded, in congenital sense as being an inferior form of human life even up to contemporary times. This enormous challenges have prevented most women in African society from engaging in important political and socio-economic activities despite that they are naturally imbued with salient qualities such as being industrious, meticulous, economy, risk management, peace-loving, shrewdness, leadership skills, perseverance, organizational skills, human and material management skills and shock absorbing (Emily, 2014: 160-161).

Obviously, traditional laws, socio-political beliefs, cultural practices, colonialism and economics determine the status of women in Africa. However, in contemporary times traditional beliefs, cultural practices, and colonialism, adduced as a causal factor contributing to an enduring legacies for women’s low quality of life while, supporting male-dominated socio–cultural, economic and political organizations in the continent. No doubt gender division of labour and the socio-political inequalities and hindrances which exist between patriarchy and the feminine gender is what have led to the conclusion that was made by Rourke Mark that:

“A woman is no better than a dumb, driven chattel, who cares what happens to her? She can be sold, purchased, transferred and bargained off like cows, sheep, goats or some other property” (Rourke and Mark, 2002: 370).

Overwhelming evidence reveals that women’s status in all African society in general were neither comfortable nor advantageous from an economic, peace-building initiative and political point of view. Neither in the pre-colonial, colonial or post-colonial era had women gained full control of political and economic will and as well as breaking off from their precarious or helpless situations in their personal relations with their husbands or the inherent characteristic of the gender division of labour which exist in societies. Most importantly, pro-female institutions which were in existence in most African societies are gradually being destroyed due to traditional attitudes of the male dominated societies in holding back change (Ifi, 1987: 91,132, 140).

This deep historical analysis of male dominance in the political and economic system of African societies was further aided by colonial authorities. This happened as a result of the Europeans attempting to modernize Africa’s agricultural economies by delivering advice, training, introducing of cash crops and credit to men farmers bypassing the women. However, most male folks disdained agricultural work but rather sought wage labour in distant locales to which they migrated. Fortunately, this situation gave women especially those of Kenya opportunity to manage farm lands and grow food to feed their families. But unfortunately, women were not allowed to own lands neither were they ascribed any honour in society (Esther, 1989: 81).

Despite all of that women’s voice in most African societies are still virtually silent in male dominated political and economic machinery.

 

Value Centeredness of African Women in Capacity Building

The baseline from which we examine the active role of African women in civil struggle, capacity building initiatives and continues push in political decision-making positions as well as their political voices in the continent was in 2004. This was ten years after the United Nations had sponsored the Women’s Conference in Beijing in 1995. In regard to the report on Human Development published on gender, specifying women’s participation in political decision-making and political activism in a male monopolized political pyramid (Stromquist, 1998: 681).

Nevertheless, most African women in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries are fed up with the lower status they find themselves in the socio-economic and political hierarchy. In their thoughts, relying on their male counterparts has being problematic hence, they had to engage themselves in enormous and resourceful activities to better their lives, become self-supporting and to influence governments at all levels to enact laws that will protect them. Thus, these values and perceptions which helped to shape African women in determining their roles in African society was learnt from feminization of employment, through the media via a process of socialization, and the activities of some influential twentieth century African women such as Chief Mrs. Olufunmilayo Ransome-Kuti of Nigeria, Empress Taitus Betul Menelik of Ethiopia, Mrs. Kudjoe Hannah Esi Badu of Ghana, and Dr Mrs. Dora Shafik of Egypt and as well the way they were perceived in their societies. Thus, these African women were known for championing women’s rights both politically and socially, were active campaigner of women’s right to vote, and as well they became more passionate in the political activities of their respective nation’s, initiating programmes towards attaining equal rights for women with men (Gilbert, 1995: 56-57; Uwechue et al, 1991: 381,648,689,728). Equally, important economic necessity and the erosion of traditional values that rigidly defined women’s roles were all contributing factors to the growing number of women involving themselves in capacity building which intend to economically emancipate and empower African women in a transformative manner (Payne and Jamal, 2008: 164,172).

Against this bleak background of inequality, discrimination, negligence, and hardship suffered by Africa’s women, the gloomy picture of women status across the continent, policy marginalization and the inhospitable environment Africa’s women are in. We intend through this research present a shining beacon of possibility showcasing African women of talent and enterprise, of hard work and visionary thinking. Twenty-three years after the land-mark Beijing United Nations Women’s Conference in 1995. Thus, African continent have over fifty women who are changing and shaping Africa in no small and unheralded ways. With regards to some African women in capacity building whose fame rest on solid personal achievement such as; Dr Mrs. Inonge Mbikusita-Lewanika of the Republic of Zambia in Southern Africa. Inonge Mbikusita-Lewanika has being an active contributor to African Women Peace Movement since the 1970s and 1980s when Kenneth Kaunda chaired the Organization of African Unity (OAU) from 1970 to 1971 and 1987 to 1988. As the President of the Federation of African Women Peace Networks (FERFAP), Lewanika chaired the Organization of African Unity’s workshop on genderizing during which the first post-colonial Africa’s widest continental association of independent African States (OAU) was rebranded as the African Union (AU) on the 9th of July 2002, in Durban, South Africa. She successfully ensured gender balance within the leadership roles of the African Union (Ntomba, 2008: 52-53; Duodu, 2012: 16, 31).

In addition, to her enormous efforts in improving and empowering women and children developmental initiatives, Inonge Mbikusita-Lewanika used her expertise skills while she worked with the United Nations for over twenty years in various departments, committees, and agencies such as UNDP, UNESCO, UNICEF, WHO, UNFPA, and UNIFEM from 1980 to 2008, initiating developmental centers for women and children. As a princess of the Barotse Royal Family in the Western Province of Zambia, Lewanika served as Queen Mother of the then established Barotse Royal Family stool for nine years from 1968 to 1977. This experience earned her an outstanding leadership quality which she learnt as way of service in improving the lives of women and children of Zambia. Like Chief Mrs. Olufunmilayo Ransome-Kuti of Nigeria, Dr Mrs. Inonge Mbikusita-Lewanika was very much enthusiastic in political activism and the right of women to vote, thus she was entrusted with responsible leadership roles both at the national, and regional levels which she served effectively and was described as the “heroine of all African women” (Kelowna, 2008).

Another outstanding woman in the recent history of Africa is Mrs. Ory Okolloh Mwangi of Kenya. A champion and firm believer in the power of technology ideas who has being vocal about Africa’s women representation in ICT. Ory Okolloh Mwangi is one of Africa’s best known tech personalities. As a pioneer of the Africa’s internet revolution, she endeavoured to promote the crowd-sourcing web site Ushahidia (testimony in Kiswahili) which sort information from recorded eyewitness via text messages at a time when Kenya was engulfed in post-election violence in early 2008. Over the years the technology Ushahidia has been adapted for other purposes such as monitoring of elections and tracking pharmaceutical availability in Africa, Haiti and Russia. She has being a regular peaker on youth activism, technology empowerment for Africa’s women and citizenship journalism. Ory Okolloh, being a respected figure within Africa and global technology circles, Ory is widely acknowledged as one of the most influential women in global technology who has promoted internet access for African users, especially women and African students (Gappah, 2011: 34).

Ory Okolloh Mwangi had as well encouraged content creation as she vocally spoke about women representation in ICT as an Executive Director of Ushahidia in 2010, Director of Investments at Omidyar Network, Google’s Policy Manager for Africa, and as well a Legal Consultant for NGOs, and Kenya’s National Commission on Human Rights and World Bank. Another industrious African woman whose determination and mental ability spurred her ambition at the University of Stellenbosch by changing her field of discipline from chemical engineering to Oenology- the study of wine and viticulture was Mrs. Ntsiki Biyela. Ntsiki’s ambition of becoming a winemaker was to prove women’s potentiality in a white male-dominated winemaking industry, a multimillion Dollar business owned by families of the Western wolrd or companies in South Africa, which bottles over 400m liters a year. As the first African black female winemaker, Mrs. Ntsiki Biyela created her own wine industry and also collaborated with the Californian winemaker, Helen Kiplinger and Winemakers of Bordeaux to institute Wine for Global Initiative. Beside her recognition as South Africa’s woman winemaker of the year 2009, Ntsiki sits as the Chairperson of the Board of Directors for Pinotage Youth Development Academy, providing technical training and entrepreneurial development for South African women and youth in Cape Town. Her wine industry offers women and young South African youths an entrepreneurial skills and as well unique opportunity in business and governance at their regional and local setting (Valen, 2011: 32).

Another African woman heavyweight in the corporate world with the title “Queen of Diamonds” is Barrister Inge Zaamwani-Kamwi of Namibia. Zaamwani-Kamwi’s vast knowledge in development studies, leadership training, and business and public values places her on a better footing when compared to her masculine counterparts regarding leadership and public values of a nation like hers, Namibia. The positions she had occupied, experiences gotten from the various corporate and business world roles played at different institutions, and organizations such as SWAPO’s Women’s Council in Lusaka in 1984 enabled her to weather the storm in global diamond markets, yielding profit in 2011 while she remained the managing director of Namdeb Mining Joint Venture between the Namibia’s Government and De Beers Corporation since 1999 (Kantai et al, 2012).

Today Zaamwani-Kamwi is an inspiration for most African women in business. In her words she acclaimed;

“At Namdeb, we are unapologetic about targeted interventions that specifically promotes women into jobs traditionally held by men in our society” (Ware and Smith, 2012: 25).

The extreme inner corner of the Gulf of Guinea where the largest geo-political units in West Africa lays is what is known today as Nigeria. A nation where certain professions such as auto mechanic, welding including marine welding, goldsmith, and sculpture were tradionally dominated by the masculine gender. Mrs. Sandra Aguebor of Nigeria over the years have being creating new opportunities for economic and social independence for Nigerian women by helping them join professions traditionally dominated by men through an institution of a national network of auto mechanic training programmes. Her ambition of this national network is to promote sustainable positive change in the socio-economic circumstances of the poor and vulnerable people in Nigeria. Its aim is to demonstrate the ability of women mastering difficult skills, simultaneously securing women’s economic future and as well building their self-esteem life even at their marital home (Thuin, 2008: 20).

Another outstanding African woman with an international prestige in legal and trade experience is Mrs. Hannah Tetteh of Ghana. As an established business expert and an energetic minister of trade and industry as well as a close political ally of Ghana’s former President John Atta Mills at a time, when development issues was at its center stage. With a firm determination she secured a Trade and Investment deal with a Chinese Investment Company which engaged youths and women in the aluminium industry using locally-mined clay-like mineral mixture of hydrated oxides and hydroxides (bauxite). An initiative, that dates back to the early days when Kwame Nkrumah was leader of Government Business in his first elected government in 1951 (Sambo, 2018: 3).

Furthermore, another African woman considered as a social entrepreneur and one of South Africa’s prominent visionary and pioneering women into entrepreneurial venture is Mrs. Wendy Ackerman Mbhazima Luhabe of South Africa. As an expert in Marketing, Wendy Luhabe instituted her first enterprise in Human Resources, specializing in Bridging the Gap. She is known for her vision in the founding of Women Investment Portfolio Holdings in 1993, an initiative that revolutionized the participation of women in the economic landscape of Southern African nations. As an expert in Marketing and Industrial Development with different portfolios at the age of thirty-six, being the first South African, Wendy Luhabe spearheaded the launch of a R120 Million private equity fund for women-owned enterprises. An important contribution of Wendy Luhabe which outweighed that of her opposite masculine counterpart to society despite her position as an international trustee of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award International Foundation and member of the Helsinki Process on Globalization and Democracy, she has continued to use the Wendy Luhabe Foundation’s proceeds to educate young disadvantaged black women, particularly from the rural areas (Thuin, 2008: 17).

 

Impacts of Women’s Leadership Commitment and Civil Struggle in Africa

In this twenty-first century, only but two African women have risen to become chief executive in democratic governments; the Liberians, and Malawi are the only two African countries to have elected two different women as chief executives. In 2005, Liberia was the first African nation to massively vote in Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf who won the first post-conflict elections against George Weah her successor in 2018. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf been the first female chief executive in an African country, her election in 2005 set an important precedents to other African countries. Not quite seven years after Malawians throw her voting strength on her first female president, Mrs. Joyce Banda of Malawi in April, 2012.

Over time women in Africa have continuously tried to prevail and influence change to a large extent over societal perceptions of women’s role and status, and as well their country’s level of economic and political development. Beside political marginalization, and the notion that politics is an exclusive game for the patriarchy to fraternize, historically since it has been the province of a brotherhood of men, thus women’s participation in political leadership were influenced by all of these globally (Najma and Barbara, 1994: 16).

 

Statistics of Female Presidents and Prime Ministers of different Continent of the World

CONTINENT COUNTRY NAME YEARS IN OFFICE TOTAL
EUROPE Finland Tarja Halonen 2000 – 2012
Ireland Mary McAleese 1997 -2011
Kosovo Atifete Jahjaga 2011 –
Latvia (North-Eastern Europe) Vaira Vike-Freiberga 1999 – 2007
Lithuania (North-Eastern Europe) Dalia Grybauskaite 2009 – 2014
Republic of Malta Marie-Louis Coleiro Preca 2014 –
Bosnia and Herzegovina (South-Eastern Europe) Borjana Kristo 2007 – 2011
Serbia (South-Eastern Europe) Natasa Micic 2002 – 2004
Switzerland Micheline Calmy-Rey 2007 – 2011
Switzerland Eveline Widmer-Sclumpf 2012 –
Moldova Zinaida Grecianii (P.M) 2008 -2009
Demark Helle Thorning-Schmidt (P.M) 2003 –
Finland Mari Kiviniemi (P.M) 2010 -2011
Great Britain Margret Thatcher (P.M) 1979 – 1990
Republic of Iceland Johanna Siguroardottir (P.M) 2009 – 2013
Norway Erna Soldberg (P.M) 2013 –
Poland Ewa Kopacz (P.M) 2014 –
Republic of Slovakia Iveta Radicova (P.M) 2010 – 2012
Republic of Slovenia Alenka Bratusek (P.M) 2013 –
Thailand Yingluck Shinawatra (P.M) 2011 – 2014
Finland Anneli Jaatteenmaki (P.M) 2003 –
Ukraine Yuliya Tymoshenko (P.M) 2005 – 2010 22
ASIA Kyrgyzstan Roza Otunbayeva 2010 – 2012
Philippines Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo 2001 – 2010
South Korea Park Geun-hye 2013 –
Sri Lanka Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga 1994 – 2005
Bangladesh Begum Khaleda Zia (P.M) 2001 – 2006
South Korea Han Myung-sook (P.M) 2006 – 2007
India Pratibha Patil 2007 – 2012
Indonesia Megawati Sukamoputri 2001 – 2004 8
AFRICA Central African Republic Catherine Samba-Panza 2014 –
Mali Cisse Mariam Kaidama Sidibe (P.M) 2011 – 2012
Mozambique Luisa Dias Diogo (P.M) 2004 – 2010
Sao Tome and Principe Mariade Carvalho Silveira (P.M) 2005 – 2007
Senegal Aminata Toure (P.M) 2013 – 1014
Liberia Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf 2006 – 2018
Malawi Joyce Banda 2012 – 2014 7
SOUTH AMERICA Brazil Dilma Rousseff 2011 –
Costa-Rica Laura Chinchilla 2010 – 2014
Republic of Panama Mireya Moscoso Rodrigez 1999 – 2004
Haiti Michele Pierre-Louis (P.M) 2008 – 2009
Jamaica Portia Simpson-Lucero (P.M) 2012 –
Peru Beatriz Merino Lucero (P.M) 2003 –
Peru Rosario Delpilar Fermandez Figueroa (P.M) 2011 –
Peru Ana Rosario Jara Velasquez (P.M) 2014 –
Trinidad and Tobago Kamla Persad-Bissessar (P.M) 2010 –
Chile Michelle Bachelet 2006 – 2014
Argentina Cristina Fernandez Kirchner 2007 – 11
AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND Australia Julia Gillard (P.M) 2010 – 2013 1

24 Women around the World had held office as President since the beginning of the 21st Century, and 25 Women had held office as Prime Minister since the 20th Century to as at 14th October, 2014 (Al-Jazeera.tv.com.ctwd.2010).

Given the realists view of the World system Africa is best described a continent of continues traditional believe of the patriarch possessing an inherent urge of an animus dominandi. This notion was what emphasized the reason for the struggle for power and influence among World leaders acting in a rational and unitary manner in pursuit of their divergent interests. In similitude the Republic of Liberia before Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf Africa’s first female democratically elected President flowed the flag for women’s political ambition on the African continent in 2005 fits in the description. Liberia over two and half decades has been the epicenter of war and Monrovia a theater in which civil war and crime was exported with the intension of inflicting on neighbouring state and collapsing state structures (Konneh and Smith, 2006; Enuka, 2015: 116-117).

Having won the first post-conflict elections against George Weah in 2005, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s priorities was to rebuild Liberia’s shattered economy, carry on anti-corruption drive, put in place national reconciliation initiative and closely related to her priority list security and quick improvement of living conditions of Liberians. Considering, Ellen’s tremendous international good-will and vast experience as a former director of the United Nations Development Programmes both in Africa and as Vice-President of Citicorp in Nairobi in 1983 and 1992 to 1997 respectively. All of that contributed to the enormous impact she created on Liberia. First, her economic reform initiative brought about the Liberia’s Governance and Economic Management Assistance Programmes (GEMAP) which took into cognizance the rich natural resource such as iron ore, gold, and cultivable land mass in Liberia that attracted private investment to the order of $16 billion dollars and above. Liberia that was a major mining and agricultural nation in Sub-Sahara Africa became very impotent economically. But during Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s administration all that industries were revitalized, bringing in Chinese and Asian investors in the area of mining concessions, and Palm-oil production by Sime Darby Company from Malaysia, experts from Indonesian Company Golden Veroleum were as well engaged to set up social infrastructure works for nurseries activities in some rural counties. Equally, the rubber farms that want out of operation during the civil war era has as well been engaged by the Firestone Company of Indonesia and as well America’s bilateral partnership support in capacity building.

Secondly, security reforms and her strategies of turning a corrupt-riddled administration was another area of note. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf envisioned a stable region and crime-less state for Liberians, thus she consolidated the power of her government by dismantling the sixty-six thousand strong ill-disciplined government force replacing it with a professional police and military officers, trained to be loyal to the state and to remain unquestionable regarding the country’s constitution. However, the fight against corruption has been central to her economic strategy as she imposed tough fiscal and monetary controls. Ellen therefore initiated under the GEMAP plan, international comptrollers who will have binding co-signatory powers that will as well monitor all revenues and expenditures of key ministries such as finance and the offices of the ports, airport, customs, central bank and the forestry commission. She had as well commissioned, rigorous audit of the previous transitional government and ordered that no member should leave the country until the exercise was completed (New Africa, 2009: 39-40).

Thirdly, a dynamic leader or a new type of leadership determined to bring good governance to the people of Liberia and ensure a high sense of respect for the rule of law and as well protect human rights, and dignity of all her citizens. This was another outstanding quality a post-conflict nation like Liberia was expecting. Thus, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a trailblazer in the field of political emancipation of African women and an epitome of essential feminism ideology of a political leader. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Africa’s most 21st century dynamic, visionary, and courageous leader who was strong enough to address the numerous challenges which faced Liberia. Due to her courageous nature and leadership style Ellen was able to de-emphasize parliamentary arithmetic against her government knowing that her party the Unity Party had only 25% of the 94 member bi-cameral legislature. Thus, Ellen was optimistic of her liberal feminism ideology that unique contribution in political leadership can be offered effectively by women as well, stressing the need for women’s entitlement, rights and responsibilities which men enjoy. By that philosophical leanings Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf became very mindful of her hopes and aspirations to achieve political height for African women, thereby faced squally the challenges of leadership which in Liberia today can be assessed against the backdrop of years of a system of centralized and dictatorial rule that subordinated the state to the whims of an imperial presidency with enormous power (Kaarbo and Lee Ray, 2011:20).

These were her words in January 2006 during her inaugural speech and 2011 when she choose to run for second term:

“I pledged to demystify the presidency, and decentralize the    governance system in a spirit of participatory democracy, which will ensure that every segment of Liberia’s society will an effective stakeholder, rather than a disinterested    bystander, in the governance of the country. However, the political emancipation of African women has compellingly been illustrated by our election in Liberia in 2005. I am very much hopeful of at least one or two more female presidents in our continent within the few decades. This is because many African women are now vying for the office of presidency of nation. It is on the basis of this I have chosen to run for another term because I don’t want Africa to return to the men’s club. We have built a solid foundation in getting our economy    and institutions functioning again. We don’t want to see any reversals and so we need continuity to put us on an irreversible path towards sustained peace and development.”  (The Africa Report, 2006: 53; The Africa Report, 2011: 38).

Another outstanding Africa’s great woman who understood the essence of rediscovering and reclaiming the sense of the sacred in the black body was Africa’s first female elected Commission Chair of the African Union in October 15 2012, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma of South Africa. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma a native of Natal who served as minister of health under Nelson Mandela’s government in 1994 to 1999, appointed foreign affairs minister from 1999 to 2009, and served as home affair minister from 2009 to 2012. From historical spectacle which stresses that history is the memory of human group experience. If it is forgotten or ignored, we cease in that measure to be human. This was what inspired Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma about Kwame Nkrumah’s ideology of Pan-Africanism as he pursued to link the destiny of Ghana to that of the continent. Thus, when she assumed office three key issues were her plans for the African Union. First, was Pan-Africanism which she emphasized was more important than ever. Secondly, sustainable development, and third was the empowerment of African women. The reason why women’s empowerment loom the largest in Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma plans for the African Union was because women’s rights activists in Africa were responsible in pressuring the authors of the African Union’s constitutive act in including women’s participation in the decision-making, regarding the central objectives of the African Union. Thus, she used those provisions to help women’s organizations to play leading role in the African Union’s development, diplomacy, and security work since they were also responsible in the effective lobbying for her election as Chair of the African Union Commission in July 2012 (Jobson and Kantai, 2013: 26).

Equally, important, was her leadership and coordinative role and solidarity call to sisters and brother nations of the African Union to the unfortunate situation of members states of the Mano River basin West Africa during the early days of the dreaded disease Ebola Virus in 2014. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s solidarity call to member states of the African Union to respond to the emergency situation resulting from the Ebola outbreak inspired member states of the African Union to pledge support of one thousand doctors from across the continent to assist in managing the disease. In addition, as part of her responsibilities she charged the African Union to release the sum of one million dollars from the Special Emergency Fund for Drought and Famine to address the Ebola crisis. However, African Union’s late response to the Ebola outbreak among her sister nations like Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone who were facing grave challenges underscores a poorly institutional capacity to respond as a regional body in the continent (Nyabola, 2014: 76-77).

Nevertheless, it is important that at this point we examine very few influential African women who had engaged in civil activism in the continent. Prominent among Africa’s women civil right activist was late Mrs. Miriam Makeba popularly known as “Mother Africa or the Empress of African Song.” As a renowned South African singer and political activist she established herself as a powerful voice in the fight against apartheid, a practice of political, economic and social oppression along racial lines (Gwangwa and Miller, 1971: 34). Over time Miriam Makeba, have used music and pseudo-documentary controversial anti-apartheid film as a primary forum for her social concern, freedom, unity and fight for racial equality and against imperial racist policies in Southern Africa from 1959 to 1966.

With the end of apartheid rule in 1994 Makeba found new reasons to sing, continuing her activism by turning her attention to the AIDS epidemic in Africa. In her words she noted;

“In our society, we have always passed messages and expressed ourselves through song. This is why the former government was so scared of musicians. Hence, I am trying to see how I can fit in using this medium to fight against AIDS because I have lost countless friends to AIDS. This is the reason why I    have asked all those who write songs for me to compose a short song or poem to broadcast in order to broaden the whole thing” (Vershbow, 2010: 121-122).

Moreover, another influential African woman who had been on the spotlight regarding civil society and activism is Mrs. Obiageli Ezekwesili. A Nigerian who was once the African face of the World Bank since 2007, and former Vice President of the World Bank representing the African region, who in 2010 through her influence committed the bank to offer Africa $11.5 Billion as grants (Samuel et al, 2011: 31). Furthermore, in recent time Obiageli Ezekwesili, stepped-up her profile as a strong advocate for civil right struggle the moment she heard of the abducted school girls on the night of 14th-15th of April, 2014 by members of the dreaded Nigerian militant group Boko Haram in Chibok town in Borno State, Nigeria. Her solidarity call which she made at the UNESCO event in “Garden City” Port Harcourt south-south of Nigeria went viral as the public carried the phrase “bring back our girls.” Thus, Ezekwesili then officially formed Bring Back Our Girls and initiated a march to the Nigeria’s National Assembly at the capital territory Abuja with daily sit-ins at Unity Fountain.

Her aim was to project to the international community the inequality that still exist among African societies in the twenty-first century and that the continues existence of this unfair social class differences is a major factor of government’s poor response to civil rights like that of the abducted girls. In her words;

“These girls only suffered such aggravated anguish because of the social class they come from. If these girls were the children of the elite, including myself, it wouldn’t have    required and needed me having to go out on the street with other citizens for their anguish to be acknowledged. Thus, for me, it was basically a matter of voice because these people are voice. Hence I would not stop being a voice for these girls until there is positive closure on the matter.”(Otas, 2014: 24)

 

Conclusion and Recommendation

Against the bleak background of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, twenty-first century Africa’s women are projecting themselves as shining beacon of possibility, progress and inspiration to new generation who will take control of their destiny and as well the continent of Africa. Across Africa from Liberia, the oldest independent African country with President William Tubman in 1963, Ethiopia, the oldest free state with Emperor Ras Tafari in 1930, Idi Amin of Uganda in 1975, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt in 1989, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe in 1980, Ibrahim Babangida of Nigeria in 1986, and Muammar Al-Gaddafi of Libya from 1979 to 2012. Africa has being experiencing political leadership that has led states to a chaotic state.

In contrast women leadership have proven to be the best hope for the African continent, however progress has been slow, but many Africa’s women are pushing their way to the top. A classic example was that of the legacy of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf who successfully transformed a post-conflict nation like Liberia into a prosperous and peaceful country in the twenty-first century. Today her success story is emboldened in other African women’s ambitions. It will be a big boost for women’s drive to capture high political offices in their respective countries.

In spite of the few number of women that have held political position in Africa when compared to their masculine counterparts, women are not inferior to the men in any respect (Daminabo, 2006: 45).

The scarcity in Africa’s political leadership circle is due to the dictatorial nature of the male dominated leadership style with the belief that power belongs to them. This has scared so many from involving in the game of number. But few Africa’s women have being able to discern, knowing that this scarcity is neither a scarcity of hospitality or development nor of potential leaders; rather, it is a scarcity of visionary leader, leader who understands diplomatic relationships with their neighbours, and a leader with demonstrative commitment to put Africa on the map to develop. This should be a source of concern to all Africa’s women and as well their male counterpart since Africa awaits responsible leaders with committed heart to good governance and the establishment of strong institutions for the continent. African countries have a crop of leaders in the continent that can best be described as dictatorial-military leaders under democratic disguise.

As a result of this our position is that Africa’s women should keep pushing forward with strong determination to take up political leadership office in their respective countries and be responsible in managing the continent better, promote democracy, and human rights, establish institutions that will handle and resolve inter-ethnic Africa’s conflicts, account and manage their countries resources. Because Africa is in dear need of such leaders that will take the continent destiny into their own hands and push it on the part to development. We therefore reasoned that if we examine the development record of Africa over the past decades you will agree that the continent is still on a slow pace.

 

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