The various over fancied men who for years have been entrusted with the running of their countries at various levels have not lived up to expectations. For more than three decades Africa has been let down by some of the most incompetent and ludicrous male politicians the world has ever seen. Their replacement with female blood could be the best alternative to efficiency. There are a number of sensible, peaceful and promising young women leaders across the African continent. The business and civil society is also awash with female talent that could be utilised to revive our decadent leadership and collapsing economies.
By Crisford Chogugudza (August 15, 2007)
The election of modern Africa’s first woman president Ms Ellen Johnson –Sirleaf of Liberia is huge testimony to the woman folk in Africa that there is no shortage of inspiration for the top job. In the 1990s, Charity Ngilu and Dr Wangari Maathai of Kenya headed political parties and participated unsuccessfully in the 1998 presidential elections. The new United Nation Deputy Secretary General, Law professor, Dr. Asha-Rose Migiro has become the First African Woman to hold this prestigious post. In Zimbabwe, combative opposition ZUD (Zimbabwe Union of Democrats) president participated unsuccessfully in the 1990s general elections but she galvanised women politicians in Zimbabwe in general. Today there is a woman vice president in Zimbabwe, Joyce Mujuru. The trend is on ascendancy as more women take up the leadership challenges than ever before. In South Africa, Winnie Madigizela-Mandela was a shining example of black women power for decades, today there is a woman vice president, Dr Nkosazana Zuma. These women have demystified the previously held view that top party and government posts were the preserve of men. There is an open competition for top party posts between men and women. Some analysts say that the elevation of women mostly through ascription rather than merit is a gimmick being carefully used by some crafty male politicians to alienate ambitious and in some cases threatening male contenders from the corridors of power, thereby consolidating their hold on power. This view is however subject to intense discourse.
Today, an escalating number of women continue to fight very hard for democracy, human and political rights, peace and justice across the African continent. The increase in educational opportunities for girls and women in post independence Africa has seen the emergence of a larger pool of capable women who are in strategic positions to vie for political office. The increase in educational opportunities has resulted in an increased awareness of issues of politics and governance amongst women in Africa.
The list of capable women in African politics is endless and these women have made great strides in fighting for equal rights as men and sometimes under very difficult and intimidating circumstances. In some African countries women have actually made greater inroads into mainstream politics which is again a formidable achievement. In Nigeria, Ms Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, became the first woman Finance Minister in a predominantly male dominated society. She demonstrated that she was indeed a special breed of the African woman. Ngozi’s triumph has motivated other African women of substance to fight for their place in top notch politics. The challenge from their men folk is huge but the women have not given up their struggle for greater say in politics and indeed in the business world.
It is well known that these prominent women belong to different political persuasions, social and business backgrounds, but their resolve to fight for recognition and power has kept them united. The truth is that women support each other in situations where it is clear that they have worked hard and deserve their posts. Those who are un-deserving and patronising do not always get the blessing of their female counterparts and often struggle to keep their heads above the water. Today’s African women do not just blindly invest their faith in another woman for power simply because of gender but for efficiency and accountability in return.
Women in the developing world including Africa find themselves underrepresented in politics and alienated from REAL decision making levels. The political playing field in most African countries remains critically uneven and not conducive to greater women participation in politics. This situation is due to a number of factors including the following; some women naturally consider themselves as weak and incapable and are therefore reticent to run for public office, some feel inferior to men, they just cannot believe in themselves albeit being highly educated and well informed. Some are afraid of the gruesome nature of politics; some just do not measure up and use family as an excuse for non participation in politics.
Unfortunately, general perceptions often suggest that women‘s ‘proper’ place is still in the home rather than in the annals of political activism. Subtly, prohibitive cultural attitudes against women’s involvement in politics persist among both men and women. These are usually reflected in the voting patterns and skewed media coverage of female candidates. In some cases women politicians especially the single ones are unjustifiably branded ‘loose women’ and unfit ‘mothers’. These comments are utterly undeserving and do not in any way help their quest for political ascendancy in leadership. Some women are just gullible and are used by daring men as window dressing candidates meant to gain votes for them.
Males dominate politics in terms of making rules as well as defining standards and this has the effect of discouraging women from entering active politics. In some cases women rights to vote remain restricted chiefly because most candidates to vote for are mostly men. Some women cannot afford to stand for office because they cannot get permission from their husbands who are either jealous or just cannot stand the challenge. However, research indicates that political structures rather than social factors play a more significant role in women’s participation in legislative politics.
The selection and nomination process within political parties is usually biased against women and this discourages them. Many women struggle to balance family life with the demands of political responsibilities that often involve late, unsocial hours, constant travel and constant contact with men. Some are so much afraid of the perception of politics as a dirty game. Literacy problems, lack of political experience, limited access to the media and political networks, the prevalence of double standards and difficulties in accessing resources have also been identified as impediments for some potentially capable and aspiring women politicians. Some women politicians have lamented the lack of adequate and consistent support from top leadership in some instances. In essence, the nature and magnitude of problems facing women politicians today is complicated.
It is also fair to state that some men are very supportive to female candidates for higher political office and this often raises the morale of those robust and well grilled women who have chosen politics for a career. However, it’s unfortunate that in the majority of times the wider political structures weigh heavily against them. It is ironic that most top female politicians in government in Africa today are appointed rather than elected office bearers. Elected or appointed, there is a strong realisation that the ascendancy of women to power is becoming not only threatening to their male counterparts but highly inevitable in most instances in Africa today.
Women who seek political office in Africa face an uphill task in terms of recognition in an inherent male dominated political scene. Tradition has been carefully used to disenfranchise any female contenders for power but not any more. However, if women in Africa today want to make a significant headway on the power front they need to have an increased presence in the legislature and other influential political institutions. Those who have made it to the top have become very visible, assertive, vocal and conspicuously influential. Ms Ellen Johnson –Sir leaf has become an iconic figure in African politics and has paved the way for more women to follow suit. There is no shortage of exemplary charismatic, visionary and strategic leaders amongst African women and these are the people who can change the fortunes of their respective countries.