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The snakes and ladders of gender in African politics

By Oheneba Ama Nti Osei
Posted on Friday, 14 December 2018 16:53, updated on Thursday, 21 March 2019 11:18

Ethiopia’s Sahle-Work Zewde. Tiksa Negeri/Reuters

The historic wins for women in the 2018 US midterms suggest the tides are turning for women in politics around the world, and Africa will not be left behind. “Our women ministers will disprove the adage that women can’t lead,” said Ethiopia’s Premier Ahmed Abiy in October.

His cabinet is 50% women, including defence minister Aisha Mohammed Musa and former house speaker Muferiat Kamil, who heads up the new peace ministry. In appointing UN veteran Sahle-Work Zewde (pictured) as its first female president, Ethiopia’s parliament also produced the continent’s only current female head of state, albeit in a largely ceremonial role.

If Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame is unwilling to give his seat up for anyone, woman or man, his country leads the world in the representation of women in parliament with more than 61%.

Namibia also scores highly with 46%, and as the first female vice-president of the ruling party, SWAPO, its deputy prime minister Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah is well positioned to become the country’s leader in a future election.

Rwanda leads the world in the representation of women in parliament with more than 61%

Consultants McKinsey warn that gender in politics is not a mere game of numbers, however, any more than it is in the workplace. “In the [African] public sector, approximately half of women cabinet ministers hold social welfare portfolios, with arguably limited political influence, that do not open doors to top leadership roles,” says a 2017 report from the firm.

In Nigeria the problem lies not so much in cabinet roles as in the governorship of the country’s 36 states – where serious power resides.

Oby Ezekwesili, a chartered accountant and prominent activist who championed the #BringBackOurGirls campaign in 2014 is one of three women among over 30 candidates vying for the top job in the upcoming February 2019 presidential elections.

It is certainly encouraging, but with no woman ever having been elected as a state governor the idea that the country will rally behind the former World Bank official as their president seems far-fetched.

Nonetheless, Ezekwesili’s candidature raises hope that women are increasingly challenging the male monopoly and creating their own seats at the table of African politics.

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