African Women Striving to be Heads of State

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf paved the way in 2006 when she was elected President of Liberia, the first African woman to reach the top level position. Since then, several other African women have decided to run for presidency, most recently in Benin, Cameroon, Ghana, Guinea, Democratic Republic of Congo and Niger. The outcomes of their campaigns have had various degrees of success so far, although not many expect them to follow in the footsteps of Johnson-Sirleaf just yet.

Yet many African countries are scheduled for elections in 2011-12 and the increase in female candidates is undoubtedly a step in the right direction for a continent that still struggles at times with fair representation of minorities in their political systems.

Clarisse Juompan-Yakam has written an in-depth article [fr] on the subject where she notes that the candidates share many similar traits: they are often highly educated, tenacious politicians who first got involved in the public debate as civil rights activists.


Juompan-Yakam writes that Mariama Bayard Gamatié, who lost in the recent Presidential elections in Niger, was unhappy with the lack of media coverage her campaign received:

Première Nigérienne à briguer la magistrature suprême, cette fonctionnaire des Nations unies attribue en partie à l’indifférence des médias sa contre-performance à la présidentielle de janvier dernier : 0,38 % des voix au premier tour, le pire score du scrutin.

First Nigerienne women to run for commander in chief, this United Nations staffer believes that her low score in the January Presidential elections (0.38% of votes, lowest of all candidates) is due to the lack of media coverage.

Gamatié views her candidacy as a stepping stone for other women in the region to follow.


Marie-elise Gbedo, presidential candidate in Bénin. Image by

Marie-elise Gbedo, presidential candidate in Bénin. Image by

One of them was Marie-Élise Akouavi Gbèdo in Bénin whom Mrs Gamatié joined on the campaign trail earlier this year to show her support. Mrs Akouavi Gbèdo did not win the election but she is now Minister of Justice. She helped make polygamy unlawful in Bénin.


In Madagascar, the actual date for the Presidential elections is not yet set. However, Mrs Saraha Georget Rabeharisoa is one of the first to submit her candidacy. Mrs Rabeharisoa is the head of the Green Party in Madagascar. The uncertainty about the electoral calendar [fr] does not agree with her:

L’Etat a fait des dépenses faramineuses pour les membres du gouvernement qui étaient descendus sur le terrain pour sensibiliser les gens à s’inscrire dans les listes électorales… Si actuellement, on décide de ne pas procéder aux élections pour permettre aux citoyens d’exprimer leur choix, on a fait des dépenses pour rien.

The government is currently spending a great deal of money for the members of the government to ask people to register for the elections… If we finally decide not to have elections for the people to express themselves, then we would have spent the money for nothing.
Saraha Georget Rabeharisoa, head of the Green Party in Madagascar. Image by

Saraha Georget Rabeharisoa, head of the Green Party in Madagascar. Image by

The environment, evidently one of the main themes for her political party, is one of the main headlines in Madagascar because of the infamous illegal logging of rosewood from the rain forests. Mrs Rabearisoa weighs in on the scandal [mg]:

Tsy ekena ny fitrandrahana tsy manara-dalàna rehetra eto madagasikara. Mikasika ny fitrandrahana ny andramena, dia efa nanomboka ny taona 2001 no nisian’izany voalohany. Tokony hisy hatrany ny fandraisana andraikitra manoloana izany

All the illegal traffic that is going on in Madagascar is not acceptable. About the rosewood logging, it had already started back in 2001. It's high time we put measures in place to deal with this

Democratic Republic of Congo

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angèle Makombo-Eboum is running for the presidential elections of November 2011. She explains that if a woman is good enough to run a household, she ought to be good enough to run the country [fr]. She boasts a Master of Law from the Sorbonne.

Pourquoi le Congo ne ferait-elle comme le Liberia, la Thaïlande, le Brésil ou l'Allemagne où le pouvoir d'Etat est exercé des femmes. Les femmes sont capables de changement . La vie à Kinshasa donne bien l'illustration la plus patente…Ce sont les femmes qui nourrissent les familles. Elles font étudier les enfants.

Why can't Congo go the way of Liberia, Thailand, Brazil or Germany, countries where women are at the highest level of power. Women are capable of bringing change. Life in Kinshasa is the best example of that.. It is the women who feed the families. They also make sure that the children get an education.


Cameroonian Édith Kah Walla believes women have to overcome higher hurdles to convince their countrymen that they are competent for the job. Owona Nguini agrees with her [fr] but he also thinks that being a woman can be an important asset:

Le fait que Mme Kah Walla soit une femme peut jouer dans les deux sens..parce que c’est la première fois qu’une femme se présente et c’est rare d’aller jusqu’au bout de la compétition électorale. Ça peut aussi être un handicap compte tenu de la prévalence d’un certain machisme politique qui fait que la grande partie de la société ne voit pas nécessairement une femme à sa tête.

That Mrs Kah Walla is a woman can work both ways… it would be a first that a woman runs and goes all the way to election day. It can also be a handicap because there is still a certain machismo in the political field that makes an important part of the society not picture a woman at the top of the nation just yet.


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