By Larry Bate Takang (Editor-in-Chief) firstname.lastname@example.org
If the title of this article had been “Who is the very first female president to have ruled in Africa?” many readers might have glanced and waved it aside as ‘repeating what many people already know’. By this I mean that many would say…of course it is the president of Liberia Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Actually when Mrs. Ellen Johnson became the first female president of Liberia on 16 January 2006, even the respected international press referred to her and is still referring to her as “the first ever female to have ruled as president in Africa”. But this fact is not technically accurate because Mrs Johnson is not the first female to “have ruled as president” in Africa. She is though the first elected female president to have ruled in Africa but actually the fourth female to have ruled as president in Africa.
1st Female to have ruled as President in Africa
In 1984, Mrs. Carmen Pereira (born in 1937) a politician in the small African country of Guinea-Bissau served three days as Acting President from 4th to 6th of May 1984, becoming the first woman in this role in Africa and the only one in Guinea-Bissau’s history.Pereira’s political involvement began in 1962, when she joined the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC), a revolutionary movement which fought for the independence for Portugal‘s two colonies in West Africa. In 1966, the PAIGC Central Committee began mobilizing women on an equal basis as men. As a result, Pereira became a revolutionary leader, a Political Officer, and a commander.
At this time very few women fought in the front lines but the PAIGC took great measures to push for greater gender equality in a society with strongly defined sex roles. Mrs. Pereira became a high-ranking political leader as a result and a delegate to the Pan-African Women’s Organization in Algeria. She later left the country to live in Senegal for a time before traveling to the Soviet Union to study medicine.
When she came back to Guinea-Bissau from the Soviet Union, she became active both in health and politics. She was elected to the People’s National Assembly where she rose to the rank of Deputy President and finally in 1984, she was chosen to become the President of the National Assembly.
As President of the National Assembly, during a short period of three (3) days when a new constitution had to be introduced, she took over and led the country for three days as Acting President of Guinea-Bissau from 14 to 16 May 1984, thereby becoming the first woman to rule as president in Africa. She later on became Deputy Prime Minister of Guinea-Bissau for more than a year before she was dismissed by president João Bernardo Vieira in 1992.
2nd Woman to have ruled as President (Sylvie Kinigi, Burundi), 27th Oct 1993 to 5th Feb 1994)
Mrs. Sylvie Kinigi was Head of the Economic Planning Office in the President’s Office before she was appointed as Premier. During the Civil War, the President of Burundi Cyprien Ntaryamira was killed and as the highest ranking remaining official, she became Acting President from 27th October 1993 up till the 5th of february 1994 (a total of 3 months and 9 days). After her resignation, she left politics and joined the Burundi’s Commercial Bank.
3rd Woman to have ruled as President
Dr. (Mrs.) Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri was appointed as South Africa’s Minister of Communications in June 1999. She also served briefly as South African acting President in 2005 and in 2008 between the resignation of President Thabo Mbeki and before the taking of office by Mr. Kgalema Motlanthe.
4th Woman to rule as president but First Elected Female President to have ruled in Africa
This is where the current President of Liberia Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf comes in. Mrs Sirleaf is the fourth woman to have ruled as president in Africa but the first ever woman to have been president by winning an election and ruling for a full term of office. She is in her second term as president and also holds the record for the longest serving female president so far (2006 -present). It should be noted that Mrs. Sirleaf is the 24th President of Liberia.Sirleaf won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012, jointly with Leymah Gbowee of Liberia and Tawakel Karman of Yemen for “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work”