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SPECIAL EDITION: African Women You Should Know


"May the spirit of our ancestors be a constant guide that ushers us to new heights, that make way for audacious achievements, for the betterment of our people."

- Tammy Darmel Moore, Founder of Footprints in Africa


Right off the heels of Black History Month, we sashayed into Women's History Month (the irony of it all), with everyone everywhere providing daily posts about phenomenal women, which was warranted. However, we ask that you keep that same energy long after the month of March, which is the basis for our special edition hitting your inbox today.

Here at Footprints in Africa's Connecting the Dots, we're a big fan of female leaders as a whole, movers-and-shakers, and history makers. And not because our Founder is a woman, but because we believe that when the doors of opportunity open for one woman, the possibilities of getting more women in the door are limitless. To plainly put it, if you're a woman of any race, but especially a black woman, there are just some African women you should be familiar with; because these extra-extraordinary women have done what most of us couldn't even fathom, thus paving the way for so many other sistahs to go down in history books.

In the spirit of holding women in the light and leaving them there, long after Women's History Month, we're unveiling many audacious truths, as it relates to women in power in Africa. For starters, unlike here in the states, did you know that there have been many female presidents in Africa? There's been eleven, to be exact, not one, not two, but eleven. But that's not it; did you know that an African woman was the military leader of what is known as the Yaa Asantewa War, which was the last war between the Asante and the British? Well, keep reading, and you'll learn so much more.

We've taken the liberty of denoting their names and providing a smidgen of what African women have contributed to the world and humanity as a race of people, in hopes that you will take the time to get to know their stories and their triumphs. In addition to the women presidents, we've added some bad-ass revolt historians to the list and then doused the fire with a list of 50 extraordinary women making things happen in Africa today!

Yeah, we'll say it again, if you're a woman of African descent, you need to know these names. Respectfully, let's get started.

The names are as follows; say them aloud.

  1. Sylvie Kiningi, Acting President of Burundi (February - October 1993)

  2. Ivy Matsepe-Cassaburi, Acting President of South Africa (September 2005)

  3. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia ( January 2006 - January 2018)

  4. Rose Francine Rogombe, Interim President of Gabon (June 2009 - October 2009)

  5. Agnes Monique Ohsan Bellepeau, Acting President of Mauritius (March -July 2012 and May - June 2015)

  6. Joyce Hilda Banda, President of Malawi (April 2012 - May 2014)

  7. Catherine Samba, Acting President of Central African Republic (January 2014 - March 2016)

  8. Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, President of Mauritius (June 2015 - March 2018)

  9. Sahle-Work Zewde, President of Ethiopia ( October 2018 - Present)

  10. Prime Minister Rose Christiane Ossouka, President of Gabon (July 2020 - Present)

  11. Prime Minister Dogbé Tomegah, Togo (September 2020 - Present)

Sylvie Kiningi, Acting President of Burundi (February - October 1993)

"We cannot succeed when half of us is held back."

Photo: Motivation.Africa

Source: The Elections Management and Consulting Agency (EMCA of Africa)

"Having begun her career in the banking sector and rising to advising the then Prime Minister of Burundi, Sylvie Kanigi is the only woman to have held the positions of Prime Minister and President. She navigated the volatile ethnic terrain between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes, ensuring that a government functions amidst the civil war. Kinigi, was tasked with the sensitive task of reconciliation in an administration and state that was marred with ethnic conflict that bordered on genocide.

As an economist, it was her belief that addressing this ill could lead to a consented effort of national building that would translate to economic development for the state. One may note that her power was publicly displayed when she addressed the nation during the 1993 war promising “severe punishment” to perpetrators of the coup and also vowing to institute a commission of enquiry that would bring the culprits to justice. This show of force gained her the support of army generals who threw their weight behind her, thereby bringing a semblance of leadership in an embattled country.

Kinigi portrayed calm and leadership at a time when the nation needed immediate guidance. She put herself at the fore in trying to build up Burundi and ultimately resigned her political office to join the United Nations."

Ivy Matsepe-Cassaburi, Acting President of South Africa (September 2005)

"... impacts more severely on the poorer sections of the population, especially those dependent on agriculture,"

Photo: TechCentral

Source: Wikipedia

"Ivy Florence Matsepe-Casaburri was a South African politician. She was the second Premier of the Free State and South Africa's Minister of Communications from 1999 until her death.

She served briefly as South Africa's acting president in 2005, when both President Thabo Mbeki and the Deputy President were outside the country. Furthermore, she was chosen by the cabinet to be the constitutional and official head of state in an interim capacity for 14 hours on 25 September 2008, between the resignation of Thabo Mbeki and the taking of office by Kgalema Motlanthe. She was the first, and to date, only woman to have held the post of President in South Africa and the first woman to be head of state of South Africa since Elizabeth II's reign as Queen of South Africa in 1961."

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia (January 2006 - January 2018)

"Ethnicity should enrich us; it should make us a unique people in our diversity and not be used to divide us.”

Photo: ISS Africa

Source: She Is Africa

"Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was the first elected female head of state in Africa, serving as the 24th President of Liberia from 2006 to 2018. She was educated at the College of West Africa. She completed her education in the United States, where she studied at Madison Business College and Harvard University. She returned to Liberia to work in William Tolbert’s government as Deputy Minister of Finance from 1971 to 1974. Later she worked again in the West, for the World Bank in the Caribbean and Latin America. In 1979, she received a cabinet appointment as Minister of Finance, serving to 1980. After Samuel Doe seized power that year in a coup d’état and executed Tolbert, Sirleaf fled to the United States. She worked for Citibank and then the Equator Bank. She returned to Liberia to contest a senatorial seat for Montserrado County in 1985, an election that was disputed. Sirleaf continued to be involved in politics. She finished in second place at the 1997 presidential election, which was won by Charles Taylor. She won the 2005 presidential election and took office on 16 January 2006. She was re-elected in 2011. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011, in recognition of her efforts to bring women into the peacekeeping process. She has received numerous other awards for her leadership."

Rose Francine Rogombe, Interim President of Gabon (June 2009 - October 2009)

"I swear to devote all my strength to the good of the Gabonese people, with the aim of promoting its well-being and protecting it from all harm, to respect and defend the constitution and a state of law, and conscientiously carry out my duties and to be fair to all."

Photo: Wikipedia

Source: The Elections Management and Consulting Agency (EMCA of Africa)

"As acting President by virtue of being Speaker of the House, Rose Rogombé gained a reputation within Gabon of being an “iron lady.” Although it may be simple to view her as an automatic pick for the presidential vacuum, 90 from 99 senators voted for her to assume presidency with a constitutional check that she may not run for President but rather manages the process leading to Elections.

After her qualifications as a lawyer, Rogombe held positions as a magistrate, state prosecutor and ultimately speaker of the House. Her tenure as secretary of state advancing women’s rights remains a portfolio where change was not fully effected. Gabon as a country has adopted transformative legislature regarding gender empowerment however, limitations towards women still exist such as holding certain ranks in the army exist over and above the dread among women of reporting sexual abuse to the authorities.

Arguably, had women’s rights been adequately championed, there would have been reporting, trial and punishment of perpetrators of this form of rights abuse. The continued neglect and sustained narrative that follows the country, of there being law but no enforcement is testament of insufficient action in advancing equality.

Without losing her mandate as speaker of the house and interim President, Rose Rogombé managed to maintain calm in a volatile Gabon in the period of Presidential mourning. During that time, key institutions had to be guarded by the armed forces based on fears of an anticipated civil unrest given the manifold Presidential aspirants.

It is plausible to assert that her iron lady appellation was entrenched in this time of social uncertainty and such placed her among the few women Heads of State in Africa."

Agnes Monique Ohsan Bellepeau, Acting President of Mauritius (March -July 2012 and May - June 2015)

"The adverse impact of the AIDS epidemic on the socioeconomic progress, particularly in the developing countries, dictates that there is no time for complacency."

Photo: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

"A Mauritian politician and was Vice President of Mauritius from November 2010 to April 2016. She was acting President of Mauritius from 31 March 2012 to 21 July 2012 when Sir Anerood Jugnauth resigned up to the inauguration of Kailash Purryag to the office. She was again acting President from 29 May 2015 to 5 June 2015 when Kailash Purryag resigned up to the inauguration of Ameenah Gurib to the office.

Monique Ohsan Bellepeau was a journalist and a news announcer on the national TV channel, the Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation.

She won the parliamentary elections and was appointed as Vice President on 12 November 2010 following the death of Vice President Angidi Chettiar. She was elected unanimously by all members of the National Assembly to be become the first female Vice President of Mauritius. Ohsan Bellepeau was a member of the Mauritian Labor Party and later became the President of the Party."

Joyce Hilda Banda, President of Malawi (April 2012 - May 2014)

"The seeds of success in every nation on Earth are best planted in women and children.”


Source: Influential Women in Politics

"Joyce Hilda Banda is an educator, women’s rights activist, and politician. She served as Malawi’s Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2006 to 2009 and as Vice President of Malawi from 2009 to 2014. She founded the People’s Party in 2011 and was the President of Malawi from 2012 until 2014. She was the country’s first female VP and President.

Between 1985 and 1997, Joyce Banda established and oversaw various businesses and organizations. She founded the Joyce Banda Foundation, a non-profit that helps Malawian children and orphans through education. It includes a network of primary and secondary schools and an orphan care center. She also founded the National Association of Businesswomen in Malawi, the goal of which is to empower women economically, help them escape abusive relationships, and break the cycle of poverty."

Catherine Samba, Acting President of Central African Republic (January 2014 - March 2016)

"I have accomplished my mission."

Photo: ISS Africa

Source: The Elections Management and Consulting Agency (EMCA of Africa)

"Samba-Panza’s acting presidency was welcomed by many and predicted to bring change in C.A.R. Having gained a ministerial moniker of being “incorruptible” she was well placed by merit to administer the country. Further than that, in a country where men have been seen as perpetrators of violence, she evaded such stigmatization as a woman and relied on her activist grooming to fully effect change.

The interim Presidency of Catherine Samba-Panza not only demonstrated the importance of having women in positions of leadership but also giving women a platform and a voice to play major roles in conflict resolution because it is women who bear the brunt of wars and conflicts in countries. Allowing them to be part of peacebuilding offers a new perspective in peacebuilding and nation building that previously did not exist.

Although Samba-Panza is a woman who promised to advance the inclusion of women, the promotion of rights and justice of women and children, her efforts in doing so leave much to be desired as she drove a peacebuilding and anti-corruption mandate more viciously.

Her Christianity as well as her political neutrality has ensured that she receives respect from both parties of the religious spectrum, especially from within the Christian majority. She embodied her feminism in that she did not only use her position and status as interim head of state to advance her career in politics but she also had a huge influence within the association of women jurist in CAR and she specifically fought against genital mutilations as well as other forms of unfair practice and violence against women in CAR."

Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, President of Mauritius (June 2015 - March 2018)

“For me, a better democracy is a democracy where women do not only have the right to vote and to elect, but to be elected.”

Photo: Council of Women World Leaders

Source: Wikipedia

"Dr. Bibi Ameenah Firdaus Gurib-Fakim is a Mauritian politician and biodiversity scientist who served as the 6th President of Mauritius from 2015 to 2018. In December 2014, she was selected to be the presidential candidate of the Alliance Lepep. After Kailash Purryag resigned on 29 May 2015, both Prime Minister Sir Anerood Jugnauth and Leader of the Opposition Paul Berenger positively welcomed her nomination, which was unanimously approved in a vote in the National Assembly.

Gurib-Fakim is the first woman elected as president of the country and is the third woman to have served as Head of State following Queen Elizabeth II and Monique Ohsan Bellepeau, who acted as President in 2012 following the resignation of President Anerood Jugnauth, and again in 2015 following the resignation of President Kailash Purryag. She served as a 2019 keynote speaker of Cambridge University's conference "Africa Together: Which Way Forward?" hosted by the African Society of Cambridge University."

Sahle-Work Zewde, President of Ethiopia (October 2018 - Present)

”If the history of Africa was written by Africans and by women, I think we would find many unsung heroes.”


Source: She Is Africa

"Madam President is a seasoned diplomat. President Sahle-Work Zewde has served as an ambassador for Ethiopia in Senegal, Djibouti and France. She has also held a number of UN positions. Zewde served as Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in the Central African Republic (BINUCA). She was also the Director-General for African Affairs in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia.In 2011, Zewde was appointed to the position of Director-General of the United Nations Office at Nairobi (UNON) by the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. She was the first person to hold the post at the level of Under-Secretary-General. President Sahle-Work Zewde also served as the UN representative at the African Union. Madam President studied natural science at the University of Montpellier, France. She is fluent in Amharic, French and English."

Prime Minister Rose Christiane Ossouka, President of Gabon (July 2020 - Present)

"It was time to strengthen this protection for women by progressively eliminating the discrimination and violence against them."

Photo: Pendect

Source: She Is Africa

"RapondaRose Christiane Ossouka Raponda is the first woman Prime Minister of Gabon (16 July 2020). Prime Minister Raponda was born in 1964 in Libreville. She is an economist by training. She received a degree in economics and public finance from the Gabonese Institute of Economy and Finance. She has served Gabon for decades. Raponda worked as Director General of the Economy and Deputy Director General the Housing Bank of Gabon. She served as Budget Minister from February 2012 until January 2014. Following that, she was elected Mayor of the capital city Libreville on 26 January 2014, representing the ruling Gabonese Democratic Party. She was the first woman to hold the position since 1956 and she served until 2019. She also became President of United Cities and Local Governments Africa. Raponda has played a vital role in Africa’s peace and security. She served as the country’s Defense Minister from February 2019 to July 2020."

Prime Minister Dogbé Tomegah, Togo (September 2020 - Present)

"This is what we want to say to the generations ... that anything is possible and that women are no longer being left behind for certain positions."

Photo: ClearView TV (Foreign News)

Source: She Is Africa and Africa.News

"Victoire Sidémého Dzidudu Dogbé Tomegah is the new Prime Minister of Togo (since 28 September 2020). She is the first woman to hold the office.

Prime Minister Dogbé Tomegah is respected and seasoned politician. Prior to 2008, she worked at the United Nations Development Programme. In 2008 Dogbé Tomégah served as the Cabinet Director of the President. Here she managed the portfolio of Minister Delegate to the Prime Minister in charge of development at the base which had just been created in Togo. In 2010, following the re-election of President Faure Gnassingbé, Tomegah Dogbé was appointed Minister of Grassroots Development, Youth Craft and Youth Employment in Gilbert Houngbo’s second mandate. She retained her ministerial functions in the 1st government of Kwesi Ahoomey-Zunu from 2012 to 2013 and the 2nd government of Ahoomey-Zunu from 2013 to 2015. After the presidential election of April 2015, Komi Sélom Klassou replaced Ahoomey-Zunu as prime minister on 5 June 2015. Klaassou formed his cabinet on 28 June 2015 in which Tomegah Dogbé still retained the Ministry of Development at the Base, crafts, youth and youth employment."

* Bonus: Other African women you should know.

Dr. Luísa Dias Diogo, First Prime Minister of Mozambique

(February 17, 2004 - January 16, 2010)

“It is no country’s destiny to be poor.”

Photo: African Union Foundation

Source: ONE

"The first female Prime Minister of Mozambique, Luisa Diogo fought the spread of HIV/AIDS and advocated for increased healthcare access in her country. She also is a strong supporter of gender equality, and sits on the Council of Women World Leaders to promote political participation of women."

Wangarĩ Muta Maathai, Kenyan Social, Environmental, and Political Activist

(April 1940 - September 25, 2011)

“It’s the little things citizens do. That’s what will make the difference.”

Photo: Brigitte Lacombe

Source: ONE

"Kenyan activist Wangari Maathai was the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. As an elected member of Parliament and former assistant Minister for Environment and Natural Resources, Maathai pursued her political passions such as environmental and gender justice. Best of all, she was once referred to as “too strong-minded for a woman.”

Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, The Woman Activist

(October 25, 1900 - April 13, 1978)

“Alake, for a long time you have used your penis as a mark of authority that you are our husband. Today we shall reverse the order and use our vagina to play the role of husband.”

Photo: Bella Africana

Source: Nigeria Galleria

"Years before the second wave of feminism began to take form in the West, there was a woman making activist waves in Nigeria. She was a woman nationalist named Funmilayo Anikulapo-Kuti. Her feminism and democratic socialism lead to the creation of The Abeokuta women’s union (AWU) and later Women’s International Democratic Federation (WIDF), organisations and movements that aided Kuti to promote women’s rights to education, employment and to political participation. When king Alake Ademola of Egbaland wanted to impose taxes on women, Kuti and the AWU clan went to protest using the slogan ‘no taxation without representation’. They were not equal members of society and were strongly opposed to paying taxes until the injustices were rectified. As the women protested outside the Alake’s house, they sang in Yoruba:

“Alake, for a long time you have used your penis as a mark of authority that you are our husband. Today we shall reverse the order and use our vagina to play the role of husband.”

Their unified actions resulted remarkably in the king’s abdication.

Yaa Asantewa - The Commander in Chief

(October 17, 1840 - October 17, 1921)

"I must say this: if you, the men of Asante will not go forward, then we will. We, the women, will. I shall call upon my fellow women. We will fight! We will fight till the last of us falls in the battlefields."

Photo: African Union Foundation

Source: ONE

"No woman is known in the history of the African reactions and responses to European power better than Nana Yaa Asantewa of the Asante state Edweso in Ghana. She was the military leader of what is known as the ‘Yaa Asantewa War’, which was the last war between the Asante and the British, and during which she became referred to by the British as the ‘Joan D’Arc of Africa’. Although she did not enter combat herself, the troops fought in her name and she gave orders and provided the troops with gun powder."

Just last year, the Forbes Africa publication highlighted the 50 most powerful and influential women in Africa today. It would be remissive of us not to share their list.

Photo: Forbes Africa

Source: Forbes Africa

Pictured here is South African television presenter, radio personality, businesswoman, producer, model and philanthropist Bonang Matheba, alongside Ugandan diplomat and Executive Director of UNAIDS Winnie Byanyima, South African Businesswoman Irene Charnley, and Cameroonian Tech Entrepreneur Rebecca Enoncho.

  • Winnie Byanyima, Uganda: Executive Director at UNAIDS

  • Rebecca Enochong, Cameroon: Founder and CEO, AppsTech

  • Irene Charnley, South Africa: Founder, Smile Communications

  • Jennifer Riria, Kenya: Group CEO, Echo Network Africa and founding member, Kenya Women Finance Trust

  • Louise Mushikiwabo, Rwanda: Secretary General, Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF)

  • Charlize Theron, South Africa: Hollywood actor

  • Phuti Mahanyele-Dabengwa. South Africa: CEO, Naspers South Africa

  • Wendy Luhabe, South Africa: Co-founder of WIPHOLD

  • Angélique Kidjo, Benin: Four-time Grammy award winner and humanitarian

  • Clare Akamanzi, Rwanda: CEO, Rwanda Development Board

  • Lesly Kanza, Tanzania: Head of Africa and member of the executive committee, World Economic Forum

  • Ibukun Awosika, Nigeria: Founder and CEO, The Chair Centre Group

  • Judy Dlamini, South Africa: Founder, Mbekani Group

  • Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria: Chair, board of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI).

  • Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, South Africa: Executive Director, UN Women

  • Waris Dirie, Somalia: President and Founder, Desert Flower Foundation

  • Obiageli Ezekwesili, Nigeria: Senior economic advisor, Africa Economic Development Policy Initiative (AEDPI)

  • Glenda Gray, South Africa: President and CEO, South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC)

  • Ilwad Elman, Somalia: Founder, Elman Peace Centre

  • Wendy Applebaum, South Africa: Founder and Chairperson, De Morgezon Wine Estate

  • Folorunso Alakija, Nigeria: Executive vice-chair, FAMFA Oil

  • Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, Ethiopia: Founder and CEO, Solerebels footwear garden of coffee and Tefftastic

  • Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, South Africa: Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs

  • Wendy Ackerman, South Africa: Executive Director, Pick ‘n Pay

  • Caster Semenya, South Africa: Olympic champion

  • Rawya Mansour, Egypt: Founder and CEO, RAMSCO

  • Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberia: First female president of Liberia and Nobel Peace laureate

  • Yvonne Chaka Chaka, South Africa: Musician and humanitarian

  • Shale-Work Zewde, Ethiopia: President of Ethiopia

  • Fatou Bedsouda, Gambia: Prosecutor, International Criminal Court

  • Arunma Oteh, Nigeria: Academic scholar, University of Oxford and former treasurer and vice president, World Bank London Stock Exchange Africa Advisory Group Member

  • Hajer Sharief, Libya: Human Rights Advocate

  • Amina J. Mohammed, Nigeria: Deputy Secretary-General, United Nations

  • Precious Motsepe, South Africa: Founder, African Fashion International and Philanthropist

  • Vera Songwe, Cameroon: Executive Secretary, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa

  • Tara Fela-Durotoye, Nigeria: Founder, House of Tara International

  • Theresa Kachindamoto, Malawi: Chief od Dedza District, Malawi

  • Magda Wierzycka, South Africa: Founder, Sygnia

  • Manal Rostom, Egypt: Founder, Surviving Hijab and face of Nike Pro Hijab

  • Olajumoke Adenowo, Nigeria: Founder, Ad Consulting

  • Uchenna Pedro, Nigeria: Founder and CEO, Bella Naija

  • Lydia Nsekera, Burundi: President, National Olympic Committee (NOC) of Burundi and member of FIFA Council

  • Thuli Madonsela, South Africa: Law Trust Chair, Social Justice Research at Stellenbosch University

  • Fatma Samoura, Senegal: Secretary-General, FIFA

  • Mamokgethi Phakeng, South Africa: Vice-Chancellor, University of Cape Town

Prayerfully, we've made way for an overwhelming amount of inspiration, motivation, and encouragement by introducing you to these phenomenal women. More importantly, we hope that you now have the desire to move in a way that produces audacious accomplishments; because there's no limit to what you can achieve as a woman. Your innate abilities are limitless; own it, and go forth!

As always, thank you for your continued support and for joining us on this journey!

We look forward to connecting with you again soon!

Stay safe!

© 2020 Footprints in Africa | PO Box 5435 Greenville, SC 29606 | 864-881-9000

Footprints in Africa is a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization recognized by the IRS.

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