International relations minister Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah says African women are still battling for equality in the political arena, adding there is a long way to achieve the 50:50 gender parity project of the African Union.
Nandi-Ndaitwah, who is also Swapo’s vice president, yesterday questioned why citizens hardly vote for female presidential candidates when they stand but tend to vote for men into power.
“We have achieved the 50:50 gender parity at the AU Commission. However, we still need to do a lot do to achieve 50:50 gender representation at country level,” she stated.
Nandi-Ndaitwah’s comments follow the ascendence of Samia Suluhu Hassan to the presidency of Tanzania following the death of former president John Magufuli last week.
Hassan was ushered into the top office and will serve the remainder of Magufuli’s term as per that country’s constitution. She also made history by becoming Tanzania’s first-ever female president.
“Credit must be given to the late Magufuli for making her vice president. Whatever happened during his tenure, it means he did it with madam Hassan. She has been doing very well internationally. She attended all international meetings he delegated her and did well. It is something to celebrate,” said Nandi-Ndaitwah, who was in Dar es Salaam last weekend to attend a state memorial service in honour of the late Magufuli.
Local political commentators have also hailed Hassan’s ascendency to the highest political office in Tanzania, saying it was symbolically and materially significant for women in the East African country.
However, Africa still has a lot to do to ensure equal representation of women in the top and key political positions, local political commentators suggest.
Political commentator Rui Tyitende said it is rather unfortunate that Hassan became president as a consequence of the death of Magufuli, and not through the process of competitive elections.
“That would have given her more leverage and legitimacy to usher in reform across the political spectrum considering the cloud of irregularities that transpired during last year’s presidential elections,” he observed.
According to Tyitende, Hassan will be able to function in her new role as president with full powers and not an acting president.
“In other words, she has the power to appoint her own cabinet and discard Magufuli’s policies and programmes if she so wishes. Whether she can utilise that power to the advantage of the Tanzanian people will be something we will have to wait and see. She has four years to prove herself and deal with the various social, economic and security problems facing Tanzania,” he indicated.
Another commentator Ndumba Kamwanyah said Hassan’s new role is telling in terms of the political hurdle women have to battle to reach the top.
“So, as much as her presidency, despite the circumstances how she ascended to power, is a victory for gender political representation. Africa still has a lot to do to ensure equal representation of women in the top and key positions,” Kamwanyah contended.
Political analyst and senior lecturer in the department of communication at the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST) Admire Mare said Hassan’s ascendance to the presidency means that finally, women are breaking the glass ceiling in political spaces.
“She is one of the few female leaders to have climbed up that ladder. It’s a good sign for female empowerment but more structural barriers and negative attitudes must be addressed to ensure the 50: 50 representation as stipulated by the African Union,” he suggested.
Africa has had few women leaders over the years. Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf made history when she became the continent’s first elected woman president in 2005. She served two terms until 2018.
Catherine Samba-Panza, a lawyer by profession, also served as Central African Republic interim president from 2014 to 2016.
Another female leader who tasted the presidency was Malawi’s Joyce Banda, who stepped up from vice president to president after the death of Bingu wa Mutharika in 2012. She later lost the presidential election in 2014.
Albeit ceremonial, in 2018, the National Assembly in Mauritius voted Ameenah Gurib-Fakim as the first woman to hold the position of president during 2015. She later resigned in 2018 after she was implicated in a financial scandal.
Ethiopia also has a female president in diplomat Sahle-Work Zewde, who was elected to the position in 2018 by parliamentarians, also making her the first woman to hold the honorary role.