Progress! When I first heard the awe-inspiring news that Ethiopia had appointed its first ever female president, Sahle-Work Zewde, the word that immediately came to mind was the aforementioned, “progress.” Even though this position is largely ceremonial and without political power, it is still an iconic moment in African politics. Former Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf—the first elected female head of state in Africa, left office earlier this year and former Mauritian president Ameenah Gurib-Fakim resigned in March over scandals. Gurib-Fakim’s and Sirleaf’s departures left Africa with no women leading its countries whatsoever. However, with Sahle-Work Zewde’s appointment as president, the future of Africa looks a bit more bright and progressive.
With a long and decorated resume, Zewde is more than qualified to lead in this position. The 68-year-old has served in the United Nations as Under-Secretary-General of the UN, Director-General of the UN office in Nairobi and has been a longtime Ethiopian Ambassador to multiple African countries. Her track record speaks for itself and can definitely inspire young African women on what they can achieve in positions of leadership. In the words of the Ethiopian prime minister’s Chief of Staff Fitsum Arega on Twitter, “…the appointment of a female head of state not only sets the standard for the future but also normalizes women as decision-makers in public life.” This appointment not only gives me hope that Africa can get behind our women but can also alleviate this notion that women should only be seen not heard.
In a patriarchal society such as ours, the appointment of a female head of state not only sets the standard for the future but also normalises women as decision-makers in public life. #Ethiopia (2) pic.twitter.com/3Z8UNd15E0
— Fitsum Arega (@fitsumaregaa) October 25, 2018
This whole year, Ethiopia has been the flag bearer for progressive politics and a more advanced-thinking Africa. Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed reduced tensions and restored diplomatic ties between Ethiopia and long-time neighboring rivals, Eritrea. You can read more about that here. Ethiopia has also been praised for having one of the most gender-balanced cabinets in the world. With the roles of 50 percent of their cabinet being filled by women. Just today, the Ethiopian government approved a law that will grant visas upon arrival to all Africans starting in November 9th, 2018. Dr. Ahmed has managed to do all of this within just six months of taking office and at just 42 years old it really goes to show that younger leaders have to be the future for the sake of Africa. Most leaders in Africa are over the age of 70 while their population is rather young. Having held these positions for umpteen years, they will not leave and it doesn’t make sense. I’m looking at you Museveni.
The progressive reforms and politics of Abiy Ahmed and Ethiopia is reminiscent of the revolutionary Burkina Faso president, Thomas Sankara. Thomas Sankara was the Pan-Africanist leader of Burkina Faso who was unfortunately assassinated a few months shy of his 38th birthday by his second-in-command, Blaise Compaore in 1987. Sankara advocated progressive policies focused on anti-imperialism, debt reduction, and less dependence on foreign aid. Sankara had a dedication to women’s rights and empowerment through his laws against female genital mutilation, forced marriages, and was the first African leader to ever appoint high government positions to women. Sankara once famously said “The revolution and women’s liberation go together. We do not talk of women’s emancipation as an act of charity or because of a surge of human compassion. It is a basic necessity for the triumph of the revolution.” He was clearly ahead of his time, because 30 years later in 2018, the majority of African countries are doing little to nothing to empower our women and tear down the patriarchy.
I hope African politicians take note of this; I also hope that African citizens can see this as the mainstay of the future. We cannot move forward with only men leading in every political aspect. We need to believe, listen, and empower our African women to be in these positions. Congratulations once again to Ethiopia on the election of its first ever female president, Sahle-Work Zewde. Progress is coming to Africa and Ethiopia is a beacon of light shining to the rest of the continent!