February 2016


The African Union holds a special place in the African lore. Headquartered in historical Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, – the political heart of Africa, and the seat of many diplomatic, political, continental and international organizations, the Africa Union serves a significant strategic role in the center of international dialogues on the continent and in Ethiopia, as a place where politicians, dignitaries, governments and businesses come to walk the aesthetic line of international diplomacy to avoid the gauche trappings of the continent’s parvenus groups.

A direct descendant of the now dissolved Organization of African Unity, the OAU which was founded by thirty-two African leaders in Addis Ababa on May 25, 1963 with the goal of ending colonialism and white minority rule on the continent. The African Union came into existence at the beginning of the 21st century (2002) after 54 African Heads of state agreed that the OAU will best serve the African people as a new continental organization that reflects and advocates on behalf of all African countries on an intercontinental and a global platform. The AU thus becomes a new constitutive road map that reflects the challenges of a changing new world.

For years after the AU was established, many wondered how it would state its influence, and unite the 54 African countries it represents to speak with one voice. Finally, it looks like it’s ready to answer by boldly tackling some of the thorniest issues that have casted a black eye on the continent: Human Rights, gender bias, corruption, and poverty.

This year, the AU will celebrate its fourteenth anniversary in May, commemorating the occasion on May 25, which is considered Africa Day – a special day set aside for festivals across the continent in observant and honor of the May 25, 1963, when the founding agreement of the OAU was signed by the founding members.

Just as the founding members of the OAU intended, and has been in practice since the establishment of the AU, Africa Day brings together the people of Africa, and reaffirms their faith in integration and popularizes the ideal of a united continent.

This year also marks a major milestone for the AU as well as for the African continent as a whole. In late January, the AU held its annual General Assembly meetings. The organization chosen theme for this year: 2016: African Year of Human Rights with a Special Focus on the Rights of Women – two humanitarian issues that have continuously plagued the continent for years, – human rights and gender equality are finally concisely being addressed.

The African Union, like most international gathering- the official intersection of politicking, networking and socializing of government officials – historically has had its leadership rooted in the so-called “boys club”. However, for the first time in the organization’s history, a woman is the chairperson of the African Union Commission. Hence, the AU and the continent cohesively are reflecting the changing new world, and the constitutive road map that was adopted in the late 1990s to address the challenges and concerns of the continuing twentieth century.

At the helm of AUC is a woman, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the Chairperson. This change redefines traditional gender-defined roles of a woman and signifies a major cultural shift in mind-set among African male leaders as well as a major departure from the so-called “boys club” status quo, and thus is emblematic of the continuous progress the continent is making towards an inclusive society.

Why is there a sudden shift in mindset about women’s status on the continent?

There are a few reasons – one being the loosening up on gender roles in most societies. Today’s African societies reveal progressive societies that are no longer satisfied with women being efficient at just being at home or being a charm on their husbands’ arms.

In the Africa of yore, it was simply enough for women to be satisfied with the traditional roles of raising children, cooking and other roles assigned to them by their respective society. Those roles have traditionally greased the ambitious wheels of their husband and male counterparts, and often lead to discriminations, repressions and subjugations of women by men.

However, in the last decade, a cultural shift about the roles of women and girls has been taking place among men. Many husbands now view their wives more as partners, and fathers are now valuing their daughters as much as their sons and thus encouraging girls to pursue education and  work outside of home, all which have resulted in a new breed of leaders, and entrepreneurs on the continent: Women.

In the last decade, Africa counts five female presidents. Rwanda- the once war-torn country now ranks highest in the continent as the most inclusive society for women in sub-Saharan Africa for having women majority in its parliament.

African women are also leading nations, companies, and establishing their own businesses. They are ambassadors and finance ministers like  Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, current Nigeria’s minister of finance Kemi Adeosun, Arunma Oteh, the current Treasurer and Vice President of the World Bank Group and former Chairman of Security Exchange Commission of Nigeria; President of Mauritius Ameenah Gurib, President of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former President of Malawi Joyce Banda, and current interim President of Central Africa Republic Catherine Samba Panza, the first woman to hold the post since 2014 and has been tasked with leading her country to a democratic election during a very difficult transitionary period for the country, are just a few notable women that are changing the power dynamic in Africa leadership and highest public executive offices.

These women have not only made tremendous progress in their respective country, they have done it in the shortest amount of time with incredible ease and negligible cost to the political, social and economic environments.

In a previous era where women were shunned out of politics, this would not have happened and if it did, women would need permission from their husband to pursue goals outside of  home.

But nowadays, it’s just likely that you will find these women running a venture capital firm, investing in other women, organizing political fundraiser, or a women conference to jumpstart a dialogue addressing women’s rights.

The 21st century African women are increasingly the ones now leading and making decisions at the business and political tables.

Finding common ground and common principles among leaders from 54 countries can be complicated in a continent as diverse as Africa. The AU, thus serves as the common unified voice for countries, governments, and civil society leaders- too often divided by political ideology- to find room to coordinate and work on a common humanitarian and economic commitments to the African people.

In a continent marked by several decades of ongoing civil wars that have left many people across the continent contemplating their fate and where their next meal will come from, where youth unemployment is still very high, and peace, security and democracy still remain scarce commodities, and where most people in power choose to exercise total political dominance and divisiveness in the society at the expense of their people, who better is suited to understand and manage these challenges, while also ensuring that the fundamental human rights of all Africans are protected, than women? After all, their efforts have greased the political ambitions of their husbands and their sons.

And these days, men don’t seem to mind or oppose to having a woman manages one of the continent’s prominent organization.

So it’s not surprising that the theme for this year’s African Union General Assembly focused on women. And the fact that African leaders [mostly men] are willing to listen and be led by a woman is an achievement not only for the organization, but for the continent in setting a great example for current and next generations of men and women that they are equally valued as human beings and contributors to the betterment of the continent.

Whether it’s women’s rights and economic empowerment, girls’ education, creating opportunities for millions of unemployed youths on the continent, seeking solutions to refugee crisis and human trafficking as well as advocating for the continent, globally, women have always been integral to the continent’s economic survival and advancement, starting with each building blocks of family  created and nurtured. To finally acknowledge women’s contributions, leaderships and achievements to the continent is to empower the next generations of Africans to reach higher in closing the gender inequality gap.
*This article has been edited since it was first published.*


© Copyright 2016 THEAFRICABAZAAR, a publication of Imek Media, LLC. All Rights Reserved.