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The African First Lady: Powerful yet unelected politicians [1]

The African First Lady: Powerful yet unelected politicians [1]


They are the president’s better half, ‘mothers of the nation’ – they are called. Rightly so, because they complete the ‘father of the nation’ – the man chosen by majority of the voter population to steer the affairs of state.

Some are visible and powerful, others are controversial. Some you hardly ever see but on campaign platforms, popping up and fading out as quickly as they arrived.

One in the recent past has openly disagreed with her husband on his governance style – not even his response that she belongs to the kitchen and other room has deterred her from firing a recent salvo.

Aisha Buhari, whose husband Muhammadu has said she is not a ‘First Lady’ but rather ‘Wife of the President,’ has warned that he’ll be back from sick leave to fire the hyenas and jackals enjoying his continued absence.

But what is the role of the African first lady?

Across the continent, they are simply “accidental civil servants” of sorts. Those that get the limelight because of their marital association with the president.

The Organization of African First Ladies (OAFLA) is one of the main meeting grounds of these eminent ladies who more often than not accompany their husbands to African Union summits.

SUGGESTED READING [Photos] African first ladies meet at A.U. summit

This article looks at types of first ladies and how they play out in national politics. With a second part that looks at their social engagements as their husbands actively politick.

The politically active ones are among the loudest, most visible if you want. Grace Mugabe, Aisha Buhari and Janet Museveni. Before Aisha was Patience Dame Jonathan, Nigeria’s most enigmatic and controversial first lady – in and out of office.

Aisha has yet to confirm if she will vote for her husband come 2019 should he seek another term in office. But she appears to want to safeguard his tenure with warnings to his appointees. Her social media presence seems to help matters.

Then there is Janet Museveni, whose husband says he has a lot of experience from his long stay in power. So much experience as to spot a good politician in his home. Janet is currently the Education Minister of Uganda.

Whiles, her husband shows no signs of stepping down, his experience – militarily maybe – has also helped spot the quality in their son whom Museveni appointed a major-general last year.

Enter Grace Mugabe, the 54-year-old who is as present as is her husband, the world’s oldest president. At 93, Robert Mugabe has shown no signs of slowing down. He is as much in the media spotlight as is Grace.

Grace, who happens to be his second wife, has risen to be a power player within the ruling Zanu-PF with reports suggesting that she is in queue to take over from her husband. One of her famous comments was that she did not need to be president because she was already president.

Margaret Kenyatta is another visible political presence in the activities of her husband, Uhuru, who is seeking a second and final term as leader of East African giant, Kenya.

With the political temperature heating ahead of August polls, she is the ‘veiled’ campaigner if you like for her husband meeting predominantly women groups and touting the good works of the Jubilee government and emphasizing why Kenyans must continue to retain her as ‘The First Lady of Kenya.

Shaban Abdur Rahman Alfa
Digital journalist
Pointe-Noire, Republic of Congo