Sunday, June 30, 2019

Celebrating African First Ladies: Senegal's Marieme Faye Sall
Africa News

Often described as mothers to the nations their husbands lead, Africa’s first ladies are often expected to be unifying figures, serving the president of the nation and the voters who entrusted him the mandate to lead.

A first lady by definition is the wife of the head of state, and it therefore follows that most African nations led by a male president, has a first lady.

As of March 2019, all African countries have male heads of state. The last female head of state who led an African nation was Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, whose tenure expired in January 2018.

Across the continent, several first ladies have been recognised, applauded and sometimes vilified for the roles they play to support the politics of their husbands.

As we celebrate women in the month of March and beyond, Africanews shall publish the profiles and work of different African first ladies, highlighting their politics and activism among other issues.

The the Serve Senegal Foundation among others, helps patients who urgently need the chance to receive hemodialysis and renal care, as well as the populations in distress in the flooded bottomlands, the most impoverished fisherwomen, and the most needy pilgrims traveling to the Holy Places of Islam.

Mary fought alongside her husband for two decades in the guerilla war that sought self-determination for the people of South Sudan. She was last year promoted to the rank of Major General in the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA).

“The promoted female officers are from Shield One and Shied two in the SPLA. They actually joined the movement since 1983 and they are from the Women’s Battalion known as Katiba Banat,” SPLA army spokesman Lul Ruai Koang said of the promotion.

Since 2006, Mary’s CWC foundation has championed human rights advocacy, HIV/AIDS prevention, maternal and infant health and education.

Antoinette was also first lady of the Republic of Congo during her husband’s first presidential term, between February 5, 1979 and August 31, 1992. She has therefore cumulatively served as First Lady for 35 years as of 2019.

Antoinette, along with several other members of the president’s family have been investigated several times by authorities in the United States and France, over suspected involvement in money laundering among other crimes.

Prevention in May 2001 in Kigali, Rwanda, and co-founded the Organisation of African First Ladies against HIV/AIDS (OAFLA) in 2002. She served as the OAFLA president from 2004 until 2006.

The Imbuto Foundation – which means “seed” in Kinyarwanda, established in 2007, extends basic care and economic support to HIV affected families and has various programmes in health, education, youth and economic empowerment.

Janet has consistently supported her husband’s political ambitions, and lived in exile from 1971 until 1979, and again from 1981 until Museveni’s resistance movement captured power in 1986.

In 2005, Janet expressed her ambition to join active politics and won a parliamentary seat in the 2006 general elections. She was re-elected in 2011, but did not seek re-election in 2016.

Zinash told her fellow first ladies at a meeting in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa in February that she was planning to build 20 high schools, 15 of which are under construction.

‘‘I have planned to construct boarding schools for the blind and the disabled. I also support institutions for the elderly and work on similar issues,’‘ Zinash said.

The Office of the First Lady says through her charity work that includes providing support to the ‘disabled and special needs communities’, Zinash has become ‘a hope for so many’.

Prior to taking up her role as First Lady, Zinash lived with her three daughters, in the United States.

Margaret is liked by many Kenyans for her simplicity in regard to her dressing, nature and manner.

“She is my friend, partner and strong supporter. Strong and successful women make a strong and successful Kenya,’‘ president Kenyatta said of the first lady in 2018.

The office of First Lady

While the position of first lady is not legally or constitutionally provided for in many countries, many presidencies cater for the Office of the First Lady, through which the holder is facilitated to implement projects towards social causes, and often influence policy.

The Organisation of African First Ladies for Development (OAFLAD), created in 2002, brings together First Ladies of Africa ‘to advocate for policies that make health services accessible and laws that boost women and youth empowerment’.

‘‘First Ladies of Africa reinforce favorable policies and programs through advocacy, resource mobilization and development of partnerships with all stakeholders at all levels,’‘ reads part of the statement on the OAFLAD website.

OAFLAD is currently led by First Lady of Burkina Faso, Adjoavi Sika Kabore, who is deputised by her Kenyan counterpart Margaret Kenyatta.

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