By Paul Ndiho

African women are facing enormous challenges to reach their political goals. Their stories of resilience and their ability to succeed, despite repeated hardships are remarkable. diane-shima-rwigara1538735414314_aspr_1.489_w938_h630_e

Women are slowly breaking into the historically male-dominated political domain of becoming an African president.   For decades, women have been calling for equality. And today, they are shaking the pillars of government patriarchy.  Many women are now telling their stories and sparking essential and necessary dialog as they strive to reach the political mountaintop of their countries.

“For generations, women have been fighting for their right. We need to continue until we have won our victories.”

In October 2018, the Ethiopian parliament approved Sahle-Work Zewde as the country’s first female president. While the president’s post is a ceremonial one, her appointment marks another shift in Ethiopia’s political system – under the leadership of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

Former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, became the first democratically-elected female president in Africa, when she won the West African nation’s presidential poll in 2005. She rose to power vowing to empower Liberian women.  Her achievements as president, made her an excellent role model for women across the continent.

“I have an opportunity to open the doors for more African women to hold high-level political positions, challenging because I represent the aspirations and expectations of Liberian African women, maybe women all over the world and therefore the pressure is on me to make sure that I succeed.”

As a trailblazer for women, Sirleaf has inspired more women to join politics and change the mindset that only men can aspire to become their nation’s head of state.

The rise of former Malawian President Joyce Banda did not come easy.  Her ability to reach her nation’s highest office, despite repeated hardships is remarkable. She rose through ranks to become Malawi’s first female president and she says any African girl can now grow up to be a leader.

“The first recommendation I make is to enhance political will to empower girls and appoint qualified women to leadership positions.”

Another woman who reached the pinnacle of her country’s political ladder is former Central African Republic President Catherine Samba-Panza, who served as interim president of the C-A-R from 2014 to 2016. She was the first woman to become head of state in that country.

Another female politician on the rise is Gambian Vice-President Fatoumata Tambajang, appointed in 2017, she is a strong advocate for women and a staunch human rights defender.

Political observers say despite these success stories, discrimination remains, but the pool of qualified women is growing as more women vie for political office.

Former long-time Zimbabwean vice president Joice Mujuru was considered a potential successor to Robert Mugabe until he fired her in 2014, accusing her of leading a plot to oust him.

Young, energetic and ambitious African women are now entering the political arena on a regular basis. Diane Rwigara rose to fame after she announced that she was challenging Rwanda’s Paul Kagame in the country’s July 2017 presidential election.  However, Rwigara was not allowed to run — and later thrown into jail for allegedly “inciting insurrection” among other charges.

Rwanda’s high court later acquitted her and all charges dropped. But Rwigara continues to be a beckon of hope for many young women across the region.

Obiageli Ezekwesili, Nigeria’s leading female presidential candidate recently withdrew from the crowded field of candidates running in the February 16th presidential election, citing differences in values and visions within her political party, the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria.

The former government minister and World Bank vice president, led the “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign that raised awareness of the 270 girls who were kidnapped from their school in the northwest town of Chibok in 2014 by the Boko Haram terrorist group. She is also a co-founder of the anti-corruption group Transparency International.

Women across Africa are putting the government establishment on notice, that they are now a political force to be reckoned with.


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