Do not be fooled by this list into thinking Africa has not had First ladies who stood for productive activism.
The weaker sex? Are you sure about that? The following women were near power, slept with power right in their beds and had chances to alter national policies during their pillow-talk. It has been said that when it comes to women, African women are simply bigger. The following ladies though at times villainous prove just what being made of steel means. Iron-man, take a cue and hide, these women are the real deal.
In 2002, rebels in the Cote d’Ivoire seized part of the country and effectively started controlling almost half of the country. Some men within the corridors of power wanted peace with fighters to which the Ivorian iron lady in Simone Gbagbo protested and in a feat of madness mixed with absolute conviction she declared a war on the men who supported peace. She called on the women to deny and deprive husbands who supported peace with the rebels. This sounds like a woman who was coming up with an empirically proved strategy to get men to capitulate. Who is the weaker sex now, gentlemen? Who? For her exploits and efforts, Mrs Gbagbo was nicknamed “Hillary Clinton des tropiques”.
In 2001, she was heard to say, “All the ministers respect me, and they often consider me above them. “All the ministers respect me, and they often consider me above them.” I’ve got what it takes to be a minister. I engaged in political struggle against the former regime alongside men. I spent six months in prison, I was beaten, molested, left for dead. After all those trials, it’s logical that people don’t mess with me.” Unfortunately as we speak, she is serving out her 20 year sentence for crimes against humanity. Cote d’Ivoire may have felt the best place where no one will mess with her in any way is a jail. Quite logical!
When talking about the powerful African women, it is an injustice to leave out Cecilia Kadzamira, the Hostess of Malawi. She was not married to President Hastings Kamuzu Banda but her power was immense and quite frankly frightening. At one point when their union was hitting hard times, she convinced Hastings Banda to ban a Simon and Garfunkel song named Cecilia in Malawi. This the premier did without question. Even after his death, the lady stood up for herself and inherited the multi-million dollar estate. In response to murmurings of how she had taken it all and left the relatives of the man with little to show for their relationship to the dictator, she said, “The relatives came and went but I was always there.”“The relatives came and went but I was always there.” Any further questions, world? Cecilia, her uncle John Tembo and Kamuzu Banda were dragged to court over the Mwanza four murder. They were acquitted due to lack of evidence but quite frankly messing with Mama Kadzamira would have been a death wish.
Agathe’s story may have started before her husband’s death but after his killing, it reached a climax. She had been known to be the power behind the Hutu presidency of her husband Juvenal. The climax is how she supported fighting in Rwanda after President Juvenal Habyarimana kicked the bucket…no, wait, was made to kick the bucket is the better way to put it. Her antics in the public arena earned her the name Kanjogera, a rough edged Rwandan queen of the 20th century who did not take nonsense from anyone, male or female alike. Fortunately for all the victims of her heavy hand, the new Kanjogera was arrested in 2010 in France. On that war-like note, one then remembers Ayesha Conneh, the self-professed king-maker in Liberia. One bad day, the lady called for a press conference and announced that contrary to popular belief that Sekou, her husband was boss, she “put him there as chairman”. She then said, “If you open a business and put your husband in charge, if you see that things are not going the right way, you step him aside and straighten him up.”“If you open a business and put your husband in charge, if you see that things are not going the right way, you step him aside and straighten him up.” In the very incisive Trump words, she was basically saying, “You are fired!” Now that is something to talk about! She later did not go through with the sacking but considering the political clout she had, she could have easily disposed of Sekou.
The Midwest Herald knows the story of Stella’s dark side all too well. After publishing a story with the damning headline; Greedy Stella (about the suspicious sales of government houses to her relatives), Stella did not wait to sue for defamation. That was too smart, too slow and too weak for her. She ordered a police raid at the company’s premises and the police allegedly said they had received orders from a higher power than the Commissioner. Stella died nipping and tucking in Spain, later in the year. She had banned wives of state governors from referring to themselves as “Her Excellency”, a title to be reserved for her and her alone. Greedy Stella was not willing to even share a title.Greedy Stella was not willing to even share the title, “Her Excellency”. What kind of greed is that?
If of late any woman has reigned in the African safari as much as the Zimbabwean First Lady has, it must be Virgin Mary herself. Grace Mugabe stormed into the political scene barely 2 years ago and orchestrated the ouster of Vice President Joyce Mujuru, a woman she claimed to have aided in her ascension to the Presidium. The First Lady was now just undoing what she had done before! The Zimbabwean First Lady has been accused of harbouring ambitions to be PresidentThe Zimbabwean First Lady has been accused of harbouring ambitions to be President and in a way establishing a monarchical state of affairs. To this she said she is Zimbabwean like everyone else and if she wants to run for presidency, what could stop her. Indeed, at this rate everyone knows nothing could. She is known to have a touch of aggression…wait, maybe two touches of aggression. Richard Jones of the Sunday Times knows he won’t try to photograph her again without her consent otherwise he will earn another neat knock-out punch. The Zimbabwean First Lady’s political career is just starting and the world is yet to see her become whatever she is trying to become. For now, the whole world knows she is no longer just a trophy wife but a power-broker in the Zimbabwean ruling party.
Do not be fooled by this list into thinking Africa has not had First ladies who stood for productive activism. In fact, some of the listed have carried out very successful philanthropic projects in their countries and everyone should applaud such initiatives. The class of Graca Machel and team is very much alive, advocates of femocracy and development. This is just not that class.
Header Image Credit: Reuters
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