Often described as mothers to the nations their husbands lead, Africa’s first ladies are often expected to be unifying figures, serving the president of the nation and the voters who entrusted him the mandate to lead.

A first lady by definition is the wife of the head of state, and it, therefore, follows that most African nations led by a male president, has a first lady.

As of March 2019, all African countries have male heads of state. The last female head of state who led an African nation was Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, whose tenure expired in January 2018.

Across the continent, several first ladies have been recognised, applauded and sometimes vilified for the roles they play to support the politics of their husbands.

As we celebrate women in the month of March, Africanews shall publish the profiles and work of different African first ladies, highlighting their politics and activism among other issues.

First lady of the week: Ethiopia’s Zinash Tayachew

  • Full name/age: Zinash Tayachew Bere/ 41 years old
  • Mandate: First Lady since 2 April, 2018
  • Advocacy: Committed to supporting children’s needs in education. Has initiatives to enhance nutrition, mental health, women’s economic empowerment and protection of the most vulnerable.
  • Family: Has three daughters with Abiy, and in August 2018, the couple adopted a son.

Zinash told her fellow first ladies at a meeting in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa in February that she was planning to build 20 high schools, 15 of which are under construction.

‘‘I have planned to construct boarding schools for the blind and the disabled. I also support institutions for the elderly and work on similar issues,’‘ Zinash said.

The Office of the First Lady says through her charity work that includes providing support to the ‘disabled and special needs communities’, Zinash has become ‘a hope for so many’.

Prior to taking up her role as First Lady, Zinash lived with her three daughters, in the United States.

First lady of the week: Kenya’s Margaret Kenyatta

  • Full name/age: Margaret Gakuo Kenyatta/ 54 years old
  • Mandate: First Lady since 9 April, 2013
  • Politics: Frequently campaigns with president Uhuru Kenyatta, meeting women’s groups to advance his political agenda.
  • Advocacy: Runs ‘Beyond Zero’ initiative that focuses on maternal and child health issues.
  • Family: Wife to Kenyatta since 1991, have three children together.

Margaret is liked by many Kenyans for her simplicity in regard to her dressing, nature and manner.

“She is my friend, partner and strong supporter. Strong and successful women make a strong and successful Kenya,’‘ president Kenyatta said of the first lady in 2018.

First lady of the week: Cameroon’s Chantal Biya

  • Full name/age: Chantal Biya (born Chantal Pulchérie Vigouroux)/ 48 years old
  • Mandate: First Lady since 23 April 1994
  • Politics: Leads women in Biya’s ruling party as honorary president of OFRDPC.
  • Advocacy: Founder, Chantal Biya Foundation, committed to humanitarian work
  • Family: Wife to Paul Biya since 1994, has two children with Biya.

Chantal is nicknamed Lioness of Cameroon, thanks to her extravagant hairstyles.

First Lady of the week: Nigeria’s Aisha Buhari

  • Full name/age: Aisha Muhammadu Buhari / 48 years old
  • Profession: Beautician, entrepreneur and publisher
  • Politics: Vocal critic of the former government, of Buhari and some of his appointees
  • Advocacy: Women and Children’s Rights activist, head of “Future Assured Foundation.”
  • Family: Wife to Muhammadu Buhari since 1989, has five children with Buhari.

Aisha Buhari in photos

The office of First Lady

While the position of the first lady is not legally or constitutionally provided for in many countries, many presidencies cater for the Office of the First Lady, through which the holder is facilitated to implement projects towards social causes, and often influence policy.

The Organisation of African First Ladies for Development (OAFLAD), created in 2002, brings together First Ladies of Africa ‘to advocate for policies that make health services accessible and laws that boost women and youth empowerment’.

‘‘First Ladies of Africa reinforce favourable policies and programs through advocacy, resource mobilization and development of partnerships with all stakeholders at all levels,’‘ reads part of the statement on the OAFLADwebsite.

OAFLAD is currently led by First Lady of Burkina Faso, Adjoavi Sika Kabore, who is deputised by her Kenyan counterpart Margaret Kenyatta.


PHOTO CREDIT: Newsy People

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