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06.12.2011 Feature Article

Africa Has Suppressed Her Golda Meirs and Margaret Thatchers–Conrad Black

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At first, it was vaguely original. Now it is almost official–that it is not a man's world anymore. Not today. Not in the 21st Century. Not even in the 20th Century. Women have proven more than men with wombs; they have mostly outdone their men in many areas of political and social life. Nations that have recognised this have tapped their expertise to turn their countries around. Those that have suppressed their women have had bad stories.

Perhaps, this was the thesis of Conrad Black's essay in the National Post, one of Canada's most important newspapers. “In praise of the Alpha Female”, the media baron eulogised some great female leaders who have left footprints of excellence on the global political landscape. From Indira Gandhi to Margaret Thatcher, to Yingluck Shinawatra, Black eloquently catalogued the phenomenal contributions of these alphas to global peace and democratic governance. He writes: “It is surely time to recognize what an immense improvement has been wrought in world standards of governance by the rise of female national leaders.” Like a new world order, he asserts: “Now the world is festooned with prominent women heads of government and public leaders”,

Gandhi had glamour. Meir had strength and intelligence. Thatcher was all panache. Presently, we have an accomplished politician in Germany's Angela Merkel. Julia Timoshenko of Ukraine is respected for her oratory. And in Yingluck, beauty expresses itself in Thailand's not so beautiful politics. These women have been responsible for the political and economic transformation in their countries. Black does not mention any African female leader. Well, there are only a few, if any. Instead, he hopes “one welcomes the day when a similar transformation occurs in those parts of the world—the Arab Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa, in particular—that so far have suppressed their own Ghandis, Thatchers, Meirs and Timoshenkos.”

In the Arab world there are religion-inspired institutional barricades in the ways of women to advance themselves politically. In Sub-Saharan Africa, we have our own traditional inhibitions, but the climate is changing. Liberia is good in Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf than in the hands of a former world class footballer, or perhaps any male politician in that country. With her mandate renewed, Liberia could see more progress and development. And it is heartwarming that the people of Liberia have embraced this prospect.

Wikipedia is unmistakable: “Sirleaf is the first and currently the only elected female head of state in Africa.” Besides Kenya's Wangari Maathi, she is also, perhaps, the first and only African female politician to receive a Nobel Prize. The rest of the continent has seen mostly men at the helm, except perhaps in Ghana where until recently, the top three offices of Chief Justice, Attorney General and Speaker of parliament were occupied by women. Mrs Betty Mould Iddrisu was reassigned to Education after serving as Attorney General. Nigeria's Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, is a Thatcher quality. The authoritative Forbes Magazine named her the 87th among the world's 100 most powerful women, with Germany's Angela Merkel coming first and Lady Gaga gagging her wacky dresses to the 11th position, beating Queen Elizabeth of Britain to the 49th slot.

Liberia, until Augustine Ngafuan, had Antoinette Sayeh as Finance Minister. There are a few other African countries where women have held important political offices, but Africa has conveniently sidestepped very quality women for their men in leadership and politics. The African alpha female is often looked at with some suspicion. Unlike the Western brand, the African alpha is the overbearing, loudmouthed, and often unmarried civil activist who became successful because she decided to tie her men to her apron-strings. Often the concentration has not been on their intellectual prowess or business acumen. They have been given pejorative labels like Kyeiwaa (witch), Yaa Asantewaa (after a legendary Asante female warrior) and Obaa Dadee (woman metal). Even when they have distinguished themselves without question, they have merely been described as Obaa Barima (a woman who should have been a man, or a woman who looks like a man).

Often, we have simply made fun of our women or sought to bring them down. We have either insulted them with inappropriate compliments, or complimented them most inappropriately. Hillary Clinton has had to battle comments about her body. Beyonce is bootylicious and J. Lo is perhaps never a woman for any of the many fine qualities she presents, without her backside. We judge their make-up so it looks down on them, and mock their height if they are too tall. We force them to wear short sandals so they don't tower above us. Yet we don't want them too short. We bath them in invectives, and embarrass them with suggestive and flirtatious adjectives. Yet, they are deemed to be overstepping the bounds of modesty when they reciprocate. They are flirts, cheap, slappers or prostitutes. Even the alphas among them are too careful not to overdo things, because they are always made to believe they must have overdone a thing or two to get to the top.

She must have slept her way to the top if she seems to be doing great in a career. Those suspicions are often validated when the accomplished career woman happens to be single, divorced or separated. It is worse if she is a widow: she killed him, or frustrated him to death so she can assume the reigns. Often, she cheated on him with other company bosses during official trips abroad while her husband sat at home and froze in pain and agony.

Well, perhaps, our women themselves have not helped their cause very well by unknowingly reinforcing these suspicions and prejudices. Herman Cain is the latest political gem who has had to burry his vision in the sand at the hands of a woman. Do women realise what it means to own up and say they slept with a man so those men are not good enough to hold public office? What does that make the women? Victors? Why did Herman Cain's 13 year mistress have to wait till the man put himself for high public office, to dish out the dirt? What prevented Ginger White from writing to the press ten years earlier, if indeed she is that well-intentioned to help select saints to lead her country? Women should not allow themselves to be used as tools to either advance or bring down men and other women.

Still, most women have triumphed above labels, prejudices and stereotypes to affect their nations in a way that men would only dream. Aung San Suu Kyi, Benazir Bhutto, Maya Angelo and Oprah Winfrey are legends of development and justice. Esi Edugyan, Chimamanda Adichie, both international award-winning writers, have distinguished themselves in their trades. Ama Atta Aidoo, Ursula Owusu, Anna Bossman, Christine Amoako Nuamah, Gina Blay, Gifty Afenyi-Dadzie, and a thousand other Ghanaian and African women, have individuated themselves and supplied meaning to many lives around them. These are alphas in their own right.

We in Ghana should be proud that a lady put herself forward to contest a sitting president for her party's leadership. We should have looked beyond FONKAR and GAME permutations to aid the process better than we did. It shows how mature Ghana's democratic culture is. Perhaps the NPP would revise their 'We Have the Men' catch phrase and introduce a few women the next time they parade 17 politicians to contest the party's flagbearership. Where alpha males have failed, alpha females have proven invaluable.

Kwesi Tawiah-Benjamin is a journalist who works in outreach management and partner relations. He lives in Ottawa, Canada. Email: [email protected]

Kwesi Tawiah-Benjamin
Kwesi Tawiah-Benjamin, © 2011

The author has 235 publications published on Modern Ghana.Column: KwesiTawiahBenjamin

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