So on the 7th of December 2016, Elle published an online story claiming that Nana Rawlings was the first woman to run for president in West Africa. They have since changed that West Africa to Ghana. Those who know me well, may freely imagine how incensed I was. I suspect the meteorological centres of the world reported a sudden heat flare somewhere in southern England. Anyone can make mistakes. However, the failure to fact-check this obviously false fact, arises from the unsubstantiated and ahistorical stereotypes of the feeble Black African Woman. A simple two-fingered search on google would have produced at the very least, Ellen Sirleaf Johnson. Just because the ‘Great’ United States of America has been unable to produce a female president, does not mean the rest of the world is so hindered. It is this type of thinking about Africa that produced both Hearts of Darkness. The stereotypes persist in silencing Africa, erasing her women, and their achievements.
So Elle, I am going to introduce to some actual West African women leaders (not people who have run for office, actual leaders), who you should have heard of. (Some of this research was done by buzzfeed. Elle, you fall your own hand o!)
Ellen Sirleaf Johnson (President of Liberia since 2006. Joint Winner of a Nobel Peace Prize.)
Mame Madior Boye Prime Minister of Senegal from 2001 to 2002.
Aminata Touré (Prime Minister of Senegal 2013-2014)
Cissé Mariam Kaïdama Sidibé (Prime Minister of Mali from 2011 to 2012)
Adiato Djaló Nandigna (acting Prime Minister of Guinea-Bissau 2012)
Carmen Pereira (acting President Guinea-Bissau in 1984)
And because I do not consider myself bound by colonial demarcations (regular readers will know this) I will add some precolonial leaders/non-colonial leaders to my list.
Amina of Zaria (Hausa Muslim Warrior Queen of Zazzau died in about 1610): ‘Queen Amina is a legend among the Hausa people for her military exploits. She controlled the trade routes in the region, erecting a network of commerce within the great earthen walls that surrounded Hausa cities within her dominion. According to the Kano Chronicle, she conquered as far as Nupe and Kwarafa, ruling for 34 years.’
Also Aba Women’s Riots/Women’s War (November-December 1929): Thousands of Igbo women organized a massive revolt against the policies imposed by British colonial administrators in southeastern Nigeria, touching off the most serious challenge to British rule in the history of the colony. The “Women’s War” took months for the government to suppress and became a historic example of feminist and anti-colonial protest.
The N’Nonmiton of Dahomey also known as the Dahomey ‘Amazons’ (because we must always be compared to someone external, like saying the ‘Hilary Clinton of Ghana’): the only documented frontline female troops in modern warfare history. Swift decapitation was their trademark.
And this is just in West Africa! There have been women leaders across Africa, both postcolonially and precolonially – Malawi, Central African Republic, Rwanda, Burundi, Sao Tome & Principe, Mozambique, Madagascar, Namibia etc. There have also been people such as Cleopatra, Moremi Ajasoro, Iyeki Emotan Uwaraye, Efunsetan Aniwura, Inikpi of Igalaland, Taytu Betul, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Queen Nzinga, Omu Okwei of Osomari (Felicia Ifeoma Ekejiuba) among others.
Do your research or dey your lane!