The representation of female voices in government is vital for national unity and equality.
In March, a highly anticipated event came to fruition under unfortunate circumstances: Samia Suluhu Hassan became the first female president of Tanzania after the death of the late president, John Magufuli. Hassan followed three other women to become one of the current heads of state in Africa--Victoire Tomegah Dogbé, Rose Christiane Ossuka Raponda, and Sahle-Work Zewde.
1. Samia Suluhu Hassan - President of Tanzania
President Hassan is a native to Zanzibar, born in January 1960. She and John Magufuli were first elected as running mates in 2015. Magufuli was reelected in 2020 with Vice President Hassan. Hassan will continue to carry out the remainder of this five-year term, as per the
Tanzanian constitution. Hassan is the sixth president of Tanzania and part of the social-democrat Chama Cha Mapinduzi Party (CCM), which has held some form of power in the government since the country's independence from the British in 1961. Before being vice president, Hassan held the position of Vice-Chairperson of the Constituent Assembly, assembled to draft a new constitution in 2014. Her political career began in her home of Zanzibar; in 2005, as the Minister of Labour, Gender Development, and Children, she overturned a ban on mothers returning to school after giving birth.
The influence of the president's election is especially exciting since she is a practicing hijab Muslim in a country where Islam is a minority. Her perspective and presence as a woman in hijab will reshape the government of Tanzania and serve as inspiration to the Muslim women of Africa. President Hassan is affectionately called "Mama Samia" by her followers. The title "Mama" denotes respect in Tanzania. She is said to be effective in the face of crisis, and a willing rule-abider. January Makamba, a member of the parliament for the CCM party called her "the most underrated politician in Tanzania." Hassan has a powerful background in politics and a proactive work ethic. "She is a very capable leader," he said.
2. Victoire Tomegah Dogbé - Prime Minister of Togo
Prime Minister Dogbé has held her office since Sepetember 28, 2020, when she became the first female Prime Minister of Togo at 60 years old. The president of Togo, Faure
Essozimmna Gnassingbé, was reelected in this electection for a fourth term. The current heads of state are part of the ruling party Union Pou la République. After her election, Dogbé appointed her government composition, notably including 11 women out of 33 members. She appointed Marguerite Gnakadé as the Minister of Armed Forces, making her the first woman to hold the position in Togo and one of six women who have taken charge of defense in Africa.
In her policy speech on October 2, 2020, Dogbé announced her goal to launch a national development plan in consideration of coronavirus and economy struggles. She also wants to focus on the digital space as part of her ministerial duties; she hosts her own Facebook and
Twitter accounts and influences the digital image of the president and members of parliament. Dogbé's presence in the politics of Togo is especially lengthy and focused on grassroots development. She earned her qualification through her degree in Economic and Business Management. In 1998, she began working for the United Nations Development Program. There she met Gilbert Fossoun Houngbo, who later became Prime Minister and appointed her as Minister Delegate to the Prime Minister. While holding this position, she was in charge of grassroots development and in 2012 claimed the title of Minister of Grassroots Development, Youth Craft, Youth Emplyment. Dogbé held ministerial functions until she became Prime Minister. She was also chief of staff to President Faure Gnassingbé in 2009 and served under the ministers Arthème Ahoomey-Sunu and Komi Klassou.
3. Rose Christiane Ossuka Raponda - Prime Minister of Gabon
Rose Raponda has been Prime Minister of Gabon since July 16, 2020. She is the first woman in the country to be appointed to the office and the fifth minister under the Ali Bongo presidency. Raponda was elected as the Mayor of the capital city, Libreville on January 26, 2014 as a member of the ruling democratic party. She was the first woman to hold this position since 1956. She has also served as Director General of the Economy, Deputy Director of the Housing Bank of Gabon, Budget Minister, and Defense Minister.
Prime Minister Raponda was born in 1964 and grew up in Mpongwè, Libreville, one of two indeginous communities in the capital. She attended the Gabonese Institute of Economy and Finance and earned a degree in economics and public finance. Her education and experience in finance management made her a favorable candidate for the appointment by president Ali Bongo. Additionally, the President of the Constitutional Court, Marie-Madeleine Mborantsuo, is credited with persuading the president to consider a female candidate. Mborantsuo appreciated Raponda's expertise and saw her as a mentee.
4. Sahle-Work Zewde - President of Ethiopia
Sahle-Work Zewde, born February 21, 1950, is the first female president of Ethiopia. She was elected by a unanimous vote in parliament under the current Abiy Ahmed presidency in October, 2018. Although Zewde represents the traditionally symbolic role in Ethiopia of president, her election is a noteworthy, progressive action for the conservative country. At the time of her inauguration, Zewde was the only serving femal head of state in Africa. During her address, she declared her dedication to being a voice for women and noted the importance of femal leadership in the progression towards unity and collaboration.
The president studied Natural Science at the University of Montpellier in France and is fluent in Amharic, French, and English. Her previous positions in office demonstrate her worldly and expansive knowledge in politics. She was previously the Ambassador of Ethiopia for Senegal, Djibouti, and France. She played important rules in the United Nations. As part of the
Office of the Central African Republic, she was the Special Representative and Head of the
United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding. In 2011, she was appointed Director-General of the Uunited Nations Office at Nairobi, capital of Kenya, by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. As a member of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia, she was Director-General for African Affairs.
President Zewde has an influential voice and a strong media presence. After Samia Suluhu Hassan became the president of Tanzania, Zewde tweeted: "I had the opportunity and the great pleasure to warmly congratulate my sister President @SuluhuSamia over the phone as she makes history as the first woman president of Tanzania. I wished her every success and assured her of my full support." (@SahleWorkZewde, March 23)
The steps that these four countries are currently taking to appoint more female leaders are incredibly important and will contribute to the expansion of freedom and opportunities for women worldwide. As President Zewde implies, the advancement of one woman encourages the advancement of all women.