Over the years African women across the continent have pushed beyond their own limitations and pushed the women’s emancipation movement a step further with their achievements, these women have emboldened every young girl across their mother countries to want more.
Today as we celebrate Women’s day, we want these women to reach the rest of the continent, they are achievers in their own right, from South African Athlete Caster Semenya whose bold decision will give Gay and lesbian couples across the continent to fight for more to Ethiopia’s Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu who is building a global brand out of a country more known for its starving people, We celebrate the women of Africa and we hope these mothers will inspire you to play your part in Africa’s rise.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (President of Liberia)
Born 29 October 1938, The 77 year old Ellen is the 24th and current President of Liberia, in office since 2006. She served as Minister of Finance under President William Tolbert from 1979 until the 1980 coup d’état, after which she left Liberia and held senior positions at various financial institutions. She won the 2005 presidential election and took office on 16 January 2006, and she was a successful candidate for re-election in 2011. Sirleaf is the first elected female head of state in Africa.
Sirleaf was jointly awarded the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize with Leymah Gbowee of Liberia and Tawakkol Karman of Yemen. The women were recognized “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.
She was also listed as the 70th most powerful woman in the world by Forbes in 2014
Nkozasana Dlamini Zuma, South African (African Union Commission Chairperson)
Born 27 January 1949 Ms Zuma is a South African politician and anti-apartheid activist. She was South Africa’s Minister of Health from 1994 to 1999, under President Nelson Mandela, then Minister of Foreign Affairs from 17 June 1999 to 10 May 2009, under presidents Thabo Mbeki and Kgalema Molanthe. She was moved to the position of Minister of Home Affairs in the Cabinet of President Jacob Zuma, her ex-husband, on 10 May 2009 a capacity in which she served until her resignation on 2 October 2012.
On 15 July 2012, Dlamini-Zuma was elected by the African Union Commission as its chairperson, making her the first woman to lead the organisation (including its predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity). She took office on 15 October 2012. She has been tipped as a future leader of the African National Congress.
Winnie Mandela (South African activist and Freedom Fighter)
Born Nomzamo Winifred Zanyiwe Madikizela on 26 September 1936, Winnie is a South African activist and politician who has held several government positions and headed the African National Congress Women’s League. She is a member of the ANC’s National Executive Committee.
She was married to Nelson Mandela for 38 years, including 27 years during which he was imprisoned. Although they were still married at the time of his becoming president of South Africa in May 1994, the couple had separated two years earlier. Their divorce was finalized on 19 March 1996.
Of all the major figures who came to global prominence during the South African liberation struggle, Ms. Madikizela-Mandela was seen as the most at home in the world of celebrity culture, and for many of the years just before Mr. Mandela’s release from 27 years in prison, she was his public face, bringing word of his thoughts and his state of mind.
A controversial activist, she remains popular among her supporters, who refer to her as the ‘Mother of the Nation’, yet reviled by others after the South African Truth and Reconciliation commission found that she had personally been responsible for the murder, torture, abduction and assault of numerous men, women and children, as well as indirectly responsible for an even larger number of such crimes.
However her supports have defended her actions as necessary and pointed to the fact that she was being used as a scape goat in order to make Nelson Mandela look saintly.
As unemployment, Income inequality and any other ills that dogged south africa during apartheid have continued to dog post apartheid south Africa, many young south Africans have turned to Mrs Mandela as the true Hero of the liberation movement, she was also the major rally call of the Fees Must fall Movement, even though she didn’t make an appearance
Winnie Byanyima, Ugandan (Executive Director Oxfam International)
Born 13 January 1959 Winifred “Winnie” Byanyima is a Ugandan-born aeronautical engineer, politician, and diplomat. She is the executive director of Oxfam International, to which she was appointed in May 2013. Before that, she served as the director of the Gender Team in the Bureau for Development Policy at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) from 2006.
Ms Byanyima has a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering from the University of Manchester, becoming the first female Ugandan to become an aeronautical engineer. she also recieved a master’s degree in mechanical engineering, specializing in energy conservation from Cranfield University
Ms Byanyima is Married to Uganda’s leading opposition leader Kizza Besigye and the two have a son called Anselm.
Ms Byanyima co-chaired the World Economic Forum in Davos January 2015. She used the forum to press for action to narrow the gap between rich and poor. The charity’s research claims that the share of the world’s wealth owned by the richest 1 percent of the world population had increased to nearly 50 percent in 2014, whereas 99 percent shares the other half. Oxfam’s figures are strongly contested by several economists
Her work at Oxfam has seen a global push in trying to reduce inequality and a growing move away from Aid to trade between developed and Developing countries.
Castor Semenya (South African Professional Athlete and Olympian)
Born 7 January 1991,Mokgadi Caster Semenya is a South African middle-distance runner and world champion.Semenya won gold in the women’s 800 metres at the 2009 World Championships with a time of 1:55.45in the final. Semenya also won silver medals at the 2011 World Championships and the 2012 Summer Olympics, both in the 800 metres.
Following her victory at the 2009 World Championships, it was announced that she had been subjected to gender testing. She was withdrawn from international competition until 6 July 2010 when the IAAF cleared her to return to competition.
In an Africa where Gay Lesbian and transgender communities are constantly under attack from a populist or charlatan somewhere, it makes perfect sense that an Icon like caster makes News24 Africa’s list of women to look up to. She has suffered gender tests, she has been a cause of all kind of rumors and together with her girlfriend Violet Raseboya, they are a testament to what love can do.
Joyce Banda (Former President of Malawi)
Born 12 April 1950 Dr Joyce Hilda Banda is a Malawian politician who was the President of Malawi from 7 April 2012 to 31 May 2014. She is the founder and leader of the People’s Party, created in 2011.
An educator and grassroots women’s rights activist, she was Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2006 to 2009 and Vice-President of Malawi from May 2009 to April 2012.
Banda took office as president following the sudden death of President Bingu wa Mutharika. She was Malawi’s fourth president and its first female president. Before becoming president, she served as the country’s first female vice-president.
She was a member of parliament and Minister for Gender, Children’s Affairs and Community Services. Before her active career in politics she was the founder of the Joyce Banda Foundation, founder of the National Association of Business Women (NABW), Young Women Leaders Network and the Hunger Project.
In 2014, Forbes named President Banda as the 40th most powerful woman in the world and the most powerful woman in Africa
Folorunsho Alakija Nigeria (Africa’s Richest Woman)
Africa’s richest woman and the world’s richest black woman (yes she is richer than Oprah Winfrey )has enjoyed increased recognition since covered her wealth last year. She owns and runs Famfa Oil, a Nigerian oil company that owns a 60-percent stake in OML 127, one of Nigeria’s most prolific oil blocks.
As of 2015, she is listed as the second most powerful woman in Africa and the 87th most powerful woman in the world by Forbes
Alakija is also one of the biggest players in the Nigerian and European real estate markets. She purchased four apartments in One Hyde Park, known to be the single most expensive apartment building in the UK, if not the world. Alakija is very vocal about her Christian faith and prefers to focus attention on her philanthropic activities through her Rose of Sharon Foundation, which seeks to empower widows and orphans. She is also the vice chairperson of Nigeria’s National Heritage Council and Endowment for the Arts. The council, chaired by fellow Nigerian billionaire Igho Sanomi, is charged with ensuring the preservation and promotion of Nigerian places and objects of cultural and historical significance.
Studying Mrs Folorunsho Alakija, and her family’s approach to the development of the opportunity they got, shows why they have been successful, in turning their business FAMFA Oil, into a great company. Her approach to mobilizing the capital, skills, and technical expertise, is text book stuff
Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, Ethiopia ( Founder of Africa’s fastest growing Footwear Company)
Born 1980,Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu is an Ethiopian businesswoman, founder and executive director of soleRebels, Africa’s fastest growing footwear company. At 36 Alemu has received a slew of honors and accolades for her business acumen, as well as her efforts to shift the discourse on Africa away from poverty alleviation by external actors and instead highlight the entrepreneurial spirit, social capitol, and vast economic potential of the continent, and Ethiopia in particular. Alemu recently launched a second company, The Republic of Leather, focusing on custom-designed sustainable luxury leather goods
The idea for footwear label sole Rebels popped into the brain of Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu in 2004. Looking around her native Addis Ababa, she caught sight of the ubiquitous simple sandals made from recycled tyres and decided to turn them into an international brand. Twelve months later, soleRebels was launched in a local workshop with just five staff.
Made from recycled content, and bringing work to the local community, who are then paid equitably, soleRebels is as ethical as it gets. It is the embodiment of the drive to use commerce to bring about social change, and Alemu is an articulate and passionate believer. (She has twice made the Forbes “outstanding African businesswomen” list.)
But if you think she wants to create a worthy product to sell at church fetes, think again. “Actually, I don’t even want to describe my brand in terms of Ethiopia. I want you to buy my shoe lines because they are fashionable and comfortable.”
No wonder soleRebels has earned the soubriquet, the Nike of Ethiopia. This year, it will turn over $2m and Alemu now employs 200 staff. Next month, soleRebels opens its first international store in Taiwan, and more are slated to follow. But Alemu has her eye on one place – New York. “If I can make it there, I can make it anywhere,” she laughs.
Ngozi Okonjo Iweala (Nigerian Economist and Politician)
Born 13 June 1954, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is a Nigerian economist best known for her two terms as Finance Minister of Nigeria and for her work at the World Bank, including several years as one of its Managing Directors (October 2007 – July 2011). She briefly held the position of Foreign Minister of Nigeria in 2006. She is now Senior Advisor at Lazard.
Okonjo-Iweala was educated at the International School Ibadan and Harvard University, graduating magna cum laudewith an AB in 1977, and earned her PhD in regional economic development from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1981. She received an International Fellowship from the American Association of University Women (AAUW) that supported her doctoral studies. She is married to Ikemba Iweala [and they have four children. The eldest, Onyinye Iweala received her PhD in Experimental Pathology from Harvard University in 2008 and graduated Harvard Medical School in 2010. Her son, Uzodinma Iweala, is the author of the novel Beasts of No Nation (2005) and the newly released thoughts on the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa [Our Kind of People] (2012).
In 2007, Okonjo-Iweala was considered as a possible replacement for former World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz. Subsequently, in 2012, she became one of three candidates in the race to replace World Bank PresidentRobert Zoellick at the end of his term of office in June 2012.
On 16 April 2012 it was announced that she had been unsuccessful in her bid for the World Bank presidency, having lost to the US nominee, Jim Yong Kim. This outcome had been widely anticipated.
However, this was the first contested election for World Bank president after the demise in 2010 of the Gentlemen’s agreement that the US would appoint the World Bank president and Europe would appoint the managing director of the International Monetary Fund and Ngozi was widely considered and even named by the Economist magazine as the most qualified candidate to run the world bank in the time of Africa’s rise.
Juliana Rotich, Kenyan ,( Founder of Ushindi, a Crisis reporting software)
Juliana Rotich is an information technology professional who has developed web tools for crowdsourcing crisis information and coverage of topics related to the environment. She is the Executive Director for Ushahidi, an Open-source software project which uses crowdsourced geolocation, mobile phone, and web reporting data to provide crisis reporting and information
Rotich is from Kenya. She has a degree in information technology from the University of Missouri, and has worked in the IT industry for over ten years.
She is the Executive Director for Ushahidi, an Open-source software project which uses crowdsourced geolocation, mobile phone, and web reporting data to provide crisis reporting and information.
“Ushahidi” is the Swahili word for “testimony.” Ushahidi was first put into practice during the Kenyan presidential election crisis of 2007-8;it has since been used in Chile, Japan, New Zealand,Australia, Pakistan, Tanzania, and Haiti