Female Political Heavyweights in Africa


Joyce Banda, Malawi

Joyce Banda is the President of Malawi. She became the first female head of state of the landlocked country in southeastern Africa. 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 Malawi’s fourth president and its first female president. Prior to becoming president, she served as the country’s first female vice president.

She was also a Member of Parliament and Minister for Gender, Children’s Affairs and Community Services. Prior to an 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.

Joice Mujuru, Zimbabwe
Joice Mujuru is a longtime member of President Robert Mugabe’s cabinet and, from 2004, one of the country’s two vice presidents.

At independence in 1980, Mujuru became the youngest cabinet minister in Mugabe’s cabinet, taking the portfolio of sports, youth and recreation. Mujuru, is the widow of influential Zimbabwean general Solomon Mujuru who was a key figure in Zimbabwe’s fight for independence from Britain in the 1970s.


Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberia

She is the first woman to be democratically elected as head of state in an African country, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has been the president of Liberia 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 was one of the founders and the political leader of National Patriotic Front of Liberia, the warlord Charles Taylor’s party. She placed second in the 1997 presidential election won by Charles Taylor. Eventually, 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 was awarded the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, jointly with Leymah Gbowee of Liberia and Tawakel Karman of Yemen. She is a Harvard trained economist by profession.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is Nigeria’s finance minister and gained worldwide prominence with her candidacy bid to head the World Bank earlier this year.

Born in 1954 in a village in Nigeria’s Delta State, Okonjo-Iweala went to the United States in 1972 for studies at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In 1982, she started her career at the World Bank, working her way up to become a senior executive. A respected economist, she became Nigeria’s first female finance minister in 2003 and the country’s first female foreign minister in 2006.

Okonjo-Iweala returned to the World Bank in 2007 to become its managing director before being re-appointed as Nigeria’s minister of finance in 2011.

Isatou Njie-Saidy, The Gambia
Isatou Njie-Saidy is the vice president of The Gambia since 1997, the first woman to hold that position in the tiny West African country.

Njie-Saidy was born in Kuntaya, North Bank Division. From September 1983 to December 1989, she was Deputy Executive Secretary of the Women’s Bureau, the executive decision-making body of the National Women’s Council. Later, under President Yahya Jammeh, she became Minister of Health, Social Welfare and Women’s Affairs in July 1996, and then Vice President and Secretary of State for Health, Social Welfare and Women’s Affairs on 20 March 1997.

She obtained an M.Sc Economics (in Social and Economic Development) at the University of Swansea.  She is married with four children.

Luisa Dias Diogo, Mozambique
Luisa Dias Diogo was the Prime Minister of Mozambique from 2004 to 2010. She was the first woman in the country to ever hold that position.

Diogo studied economics at Maputo’s Eduardo Mondlane University. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1983. She went on to obtain a master’s degree in financial economics at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London in 1992. In 1980, she began working in Mozambique’s Finance Ministry. She became a department’s head in 1986 and in 1989 became national budget director. Then she worked for the World Bank as program officer in Mozambique. In 1994 she joined the FRELIMO government as Deputy Minister of Finance.

Rose Mukantabana, Rwanda

Rose Mukantabana is the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies in Rwanda, the country that boasts the highest number of female members of parliament in the world.

A lawyer with a post-graduate diploma in human rights, Mukantabana joined the small group of female speakers of parliament around the world in 2008.

Before joining politics, she had worked with civil society groups where she was widely involved in advocacy for women and children’s rights.

Rwanda is the only country in the world with more women in parliament than men.

Analysts say the rise of women in the country’s politics is due to Rwanda’s electoral quota — which ensures a 30% quota for female lawmakers — and a consequence of male deaths during the 1994 genocide, which left behind a population 70 % female.

Other political heavyweights in Africa include:

Benin: Foreign minister – Mariam Aladji Boni Diallo – 2006

Botswana: Foreign minister – Gaositwe K.T. Chiepe – 1985, Chairperson of the House of Chiefs – Mosadi Seboko – 2003

Burundi: Prime Minister – Sylvie Kinigi – 1993,  President (acting) – Sylvie Kinigi – 1993, Ambassador of Burundi – Julie Ngiriye – 1993, Foreign minister – Antoinette Batumubwira – 2006

Cape Verde: Foreign minister – Fátima Veiga – 2002, Defence minister – Cristina Fontes Lima – 2006

Central African Republic: Prime Minister – Elisabeth Domitien – 1975

Democratic Republic of the Congo:Foreign minister – Ekila Liyonda – 1987

Gabon: Foreign minister – Pascaline Mferri Bongo – 1991, President (interim) – Rose Francine Rogombé – 2009

The Gambia: Foreign minister – Susan Waffa-Ogoo – 2012

Guinea: Foreign minister – Mahawa Bangoura – 2000

Guinea-Bissau: President (acting) – Carmen Pereira – 1984, Foreign minister – Hilia Barber – 1999, Defence minister – Filomena Mascarenhas Tipote – 2005, Prime Minister (acting) – Adiato Djaló Nandigna – 2012

Lesotho: Monarch (regent) – Queen ‘Mamohato – 1970

Liberia: Foreign minister – Dorothy Musuleng-Cooper – 1994, Chairwoman of the Council of State – Ruth Perry – 1997, President pro tempore of the Liberian Senate – Grace B. Minor – 2002, President – Ellen Johnson Sirleaf – 2006

Malawi: Foreign minister – Lilian Patel – 2000, Interior minister – Anna Kachikho – 2005, Vice President – Joyce Banda – 2009, President – Joyce Banda – 2012

Mozambique: Prime Minister – Luisa Diogo – 2004, Foreign minister – Alcinda Abreu – 2005,

Namibia: Interior minister – Rosalia Nghidinwa – 2005

Niger: Foreign minister – Aïchatou Mindaoudou – 1999

Nigeria: Finance Minister – Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala – 2003, Foreign Minister – Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala- 2006, Anambra State  Governor of Anambra State (South East Nigeria) – Virginia Etiaba – 2006

Rwanda: Prime Minister – Agathe Uwilingiyimana – 1993, Minister of Foreign Affairs – Rosemary Museminali – 2008, President of the Chamber of Deputies of Rwanda – Rose Mukantabana – 2008

Senegal: Prime Minister – Mame Madior Boye – 2001

Sierra Leone: Foreign minister – Shirley Gbujama – 1996

Somalia: Foreign minister – Fowsiyo Yussuf Haji Aadan – 2012

South Africa: Foreign minister – Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma – 1999, Deputy President – Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka – 2005, Mayor of Cape Town – Helen Zille – 2006, Leader of a Major Party – Helen Zille – 2007, Premier of Western Cape – Lynne Brown – 2008

Swaziland: Monarch (regent) – Queen Dzeliwe – 1982

Tanzania: Foreign minister – Asha-Rose Migiro – 2006

Zimbabwe:  Vice President – Joyce Mujuru – 2006

Uganda: Foreign minister – Elizabeth Bagaya – 1974