Female Presidents in Africa: A rather short history

The world is beginning to acknowledge the role of women in society and power, this is evidenced by the greater focus demonstrated globally towards creating equality between the male and female species. It has been proven over centuries and across countries that women can be in power and handle it well. The raw numbers may not reflect it, but the tide is turning.

In her entire history, Africa has recorded only seven female presidents – elected or interim. Thankfully, a new name has just been add to the list as Ameenah Firdaus Gurib-Fakim was on Thursday appointed the first female president of Mauritius.

Gurib-Fakim, a 55 year old Chemistry Professor, did not go through the rigors of a presidential campaign as she was appointed president following the May 29 resignation of her predecessor, Rajkeswar Purhang. Prime Minister Anerood Jugnauth had moved a motion proposing Gurib-Fakim as President after revealing that he would nominate her during the electoral campaign in December.

The lawmakers approved Anerood Jugnauth’s motion and Gurib-Fakim was appointed President. On her appointment, Gurib Fakim was quoted saying, “I take it with humility. I feel there is a consensus among members of parliament and also among the population.”

In celebration, let’s take a look at all the female presidents Africa has ever had,

1) Slyvie Kinigi: 1993-1994 (Acting Head of State, Burundi)
Elected in October 1993, Slyvie Kinigi was the first woman to take the top spot in Africa. In charge of the women’s organization of the governing Tutsi party, she managed to get laws changed and economic and social measures implemented for women.

During Melchior Ndadaye’s tenure as Burundi president, he appointed Kinigi as Prime Minister. Following Ndadaye’s death in the Civil War, Kinigi managed to gather together 15 of the 22 ministers to continue to govern, effectively becoming the Acting Head of State. Her position was bolstered when Pierre Buyoya and Jean Baptiste Bagaza, former military presidents, gave their support to her government

As of 2004, Kinigi was working with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)


2) Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri: 2005 and 2008 (Acting President, South Africa)

The South African politician was the country’s Minister of Communications from 1999 until her death. She, however, served briefly as South African acting President in 2005 and in 2008 between resignation of Thabo Mbeki and taking of office by Kgalema Motlanthe.

She passed away on April 6, 2009.


3) Ellen Johnson Sirleaf:  2006 – Present (President, Liberia)

Following her 2005 victory, Sirleaf became the first elected female head of state in Africa. She had lost the 1997 presidential election won to Charles Taylor.

In 2011, Sirleaf was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, jointly with Leymah Gbowee of Liberia and Tawakel 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.” In the same year, she was successfully reelected.

She is currently listed as the 70th most powerful woman in the world by Forbes.


4) Rose Francine Rogombé: 2009 (Interim President, Gabon)

She was Acting President of Gabon from June 2009 to October 2009, following the death of long-time President Omar Bongo. She constitutionally succeeded Bongo due to her role as President of the Senate, a post to which she was elected in February 2009. She was a lawyer by profession and a member of the Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG).

Following the December 2014 Senate election, Lucie Mboussou was elected to succeed Rogombé as President of the Senate on 27 February 2015.

Rogombé died on 10 April 2015 at a hospital in Paris, where she had gone for medical treatment a few days prior.


5) Agnès Monique Ohsan Bellepeau: 2012 and 2015 (Acting President, Mauritius)

The renowned journalist was the Vice President of Mauritius since 2010. She was acting President of Mauritius from 31 March 2012 to 21 July 2012 when Sir Anerood Jugnauth resigned up to the inauguration of Kailash Purryag to the office. She was again acting President from 29 May 2015 to 5 June 2015 when Kailash Purryag resigned up to the inauguration of Ameenah Gurib to the office.


6) Joyce Hilda Banda: 2012 – 2014 (President, Malawi)

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. She is the founder and leader of the People’s Party, created in 2011.

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.

In 2014, Forbes named President Banda as the 40th most powerful woman in the world and the most powerful woman in Africa.


7) Catherine Samba-Panza: 2014 (Acting head of state, Central African Republic)

She is the interim president of the Central African Republic and the first woman to hold the post. Prior to becoming Head of state, she was appointed Mayor of Bangui from May 2013.

She was appointed Mayor of Bangui, the capital of the CAR, by the National Transitional Council (CNT) during the 2012–13 conflict 14 June, 2013. Her appointment was accepted by both sides in the conflict, as well as by French President Francois Hollande.

Following the Central African Republic conflict under the Djotodia administration and President Michel Djotodia’s resignation after a CEEAC summit on 10 January 2014, Alexandre-Ferdinand Nguendet served as acting president until the CNT elected her as interim president from a list of eight candidates who had to prove they had no links to either the Séléka or the Anti-balaka. She will lead the country to the 2015 election.


8) Ameenah Firdaus Gurib-Fakim: 2015 – Present (President, Mauritius)

She began her career as a Lecturer at the Faculty of Agriculture at the University of Mauritius, served as the Dean of the Faculty of Science and Pro Vice-Chancellor at the University of Mauritius from 2004 to 2010. She has a Ph.D in Organic Chemistry from the University Exeter, UK.

Gurib-Fakim is a member of the Royal Society Chemistry, International Union Pure and Applied Chemistry and the Third World Academy Sci.

In 1989, she was awarded the C.Chem award by the Royal Society of Chemistry in recognition of her skills and contribution to the field. She has written and co-edited 26 books, apart from numerous articles in the field of biodiversity conservation and sustainable development.

She has served as the Managing Director of the Centre for Phototherapy and Research and Professor of Organic Chemistry with an endowed chair at the University of Mauritius. Prime Minister Anerood Jugnauth’s ruling coalition nominated her for the post of the President.


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