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The rise of Suluhu and 10 other female leaders in Africa

By Rosa Agutu | March 18th 2021
Samia Suluhu Hassan at a past event. [Courtesy]

Samia Suluhu Hassan is set to be the latest woman to take the oath of office in Africa.

Suluhu, who became Tanzania's first female vice-president following her Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) ticket win with John Pombe Magufuli in 2015, joins three other women who assumed office upon the death of a president.

Before becoming vice-president, she served as the Member of Parliament for Makunduchi from 2010 to 2015 and was the Minister of State in the Vice-President's Office for Union Affairs from 2010 to 2015. She also served as a minister in the semi-autonomous region of Zanzibar during President Amani Karume's administration.

Samia Suluhu Hassan at a past event in Tanga, March 16, 2021.

The other three are:

Sylvie Kinigi

Sylvie Kinigi was the first woman prime minister of Burundi. The banker served as Prime Minister from February 10, 1993, to October 7, 1994, and was sworn in as the acting president following the assassination of President Melchior Ndadaye. 

Sylvie Kinigi. [Courtesy]

Rose Francine Rogombe

Rose Francine Rogombe served as acting President of Gabon for four months following the death of long-term President Omar Bongo.

As President of the Senate, Rogombe was constitutionally the designated successor and became president in an interim capacity from June 2009 to October 2009 while the country prepared for a general election. She died on April 10, 2015, while in France. She was 72.

Rose Francine Rogombe. [Courtesy]

Joyce Hilda Banda

Joyce Hilda Banda served as the first female vice president and later the first female president of Malawi from April 7, 2012, to May 31, 2014, following the death of President Bingu wa Mutharika.

The path to power was not easy for Banda following her fallout with President Mutharika, who had attempted to position his brother, Peter Mutharika, as his successor. Joyce was fired from the position of vice-president of the ruling party but continued to serve as the Vice-President of Malawi, as stipulated in the constitution.

Before joining politics Joyce founded the Joyce Banda Foundation, the National Association of Business Women (NABW), Young Women Leaders Network, and the Hunger Project.

Joyce Hilda Banda. [Courtesy]

In 2014, Forbes named President Banda as the 40th most powerful woman in the world and the most powerful woman in Africa. In October 2014, she was listed in the BBC's 100 Women. The 100 Women (BBC) is an annual multi-format series established in 2013 that examines the role of women in the 21st Century.

Apart from taking over power following the death of incumbents, Africa has had three elected female presidents:

Ellen Johnson –Sirleaf

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was the first elected female head of state in Africa. She was elected twice and ruled Liberia from 2006 to 2018.

From the beginning of her presidency, Sirleaf vowed to reduce the national debt, which stood at approximately US$4.9 billion in 2006.

She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 in recognition of her efforts to bring women into the peacekeeping process.

Ellen Johnson –Sirleaf. [Courtesy]

Dr. Ameenah Gurib-Fakim

Dr. Bibi Ameenah Firdaus Gurib-Fakim, a biodiversity scientist, served as the 6th president of Mauritius from 2015 to 2018. After the resignation of President Kailash Purryag on May 29, 2015, Dr. Ameenah Gurib-Fakim was unanimously approved by the National Assembly.

Dr. Ameenah Gurib-Fakim. [Courtesy]

Sahle-Work Zewde

Sahle-Work Zewde is the current President of Ethiopia. President Zewde was elected unanimously by members of the Federal Parliamentary Assembly on October 25, 2018.

She previously served as the Special Representative of United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres to the African Union and Head of the United Nations Office to the African Union at the level of Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Forbes, on its World's 100 Most Powerful Women, listed her as the 96th most powerful woman in the world, and the highest-ranking African woman on the list.

Sahle-Work Zewde. [Courtesy]

Zewde's role is, however, ceremonial with executive power vested in the office of the prime minister. She, among others, opens new sessions of parliament, receives the credentials of ambassadors and high commissioners, welcomes visiting heads of state, and participates in civil ceremonies.

Catherine Samba Panza

Catherine Samba Panza became acting Head of State of the Central African Republic (CAR) in 2014 when rebel leader, Michael Djotodia, resigned from self-appointed presidency.

Catherine Samba Panza. [Courtesy]

Samba was the mayor of the capital city Bangui from 2013 to 2014. Her appointment as interim president during the civil war in the Central African Republic (CAR) by rebels from the Séléka coalition and anti-balaka militias was due to her reputation for neutrality and incorruptibility

Monique Ohsan Bellepeau

From March 31, 2012, to July 21, 2012, Agnès Monique Ohsan Bellepeau was the acting president of Mauritius. 

The journalist and news anchor on Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation, who was the vice-president of Mauritius from November 2010 to April 2016, served as the head of state following the resignation of Sir Anerood Jugnauth.

Monique Ohsan Bellepeau. [Courtesy]

Ivy Matsepe-Cassaburi

Ivy Matsepe-Cassaburi was the shortest-serving president. She led her country for four days.

Matsepe-Cassaburi served temporarily as the acting president of South Africa when former President Thabo Mbeki and was out of the country with his vice-president for four days in September 2005.

When she was 28, she went into exile and undertook her postgraduate studies in the United States She returned to South Africa 25 years later and was the Minister for Communication until her death on April 6, 2009.

Ivy Matsepe-Cassaburi

Then there are prime ministers; Ossouka RapondaRose Christiane Ossouka Raponda of Gabon and Victoire Sidémého Dzidudu Dogbé Tomegah of Togo.

Rose Christiane Ossouka Raponda

Ossouka became the first female Prime Minister of Gabon on July 16, 2020. Before becoming Prime Minister, she served as the Mayor of Libreville and would later become the Minister for Defense from February 2019 to July 2020.

Rose Christiane Ossouka Raponda. [Courtesy]

Victoire Sidémého Dzidudu Dogbé Tomegah

Victoire became the first woman to become Prime Minister of Togo on September 28, 2020.

Victoire Sidémého Dzidudu Dogbé Tomegah. 

Before assuming office, Victoire was the Minister of Grassroots Development, Handicrafts, Youth and Youth Employment in the Komi Sélom Klassou Government and the Cabinet Director of President Faure Essozimna Gnassingbe.


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