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Celebrating African First Ladies: Gabon's Sylvia Bongo Ondimba

Celebrating African First Ladies: Gabon's Sylvia Bongo Ondimba

Africa

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 and beyond, Africanews shall publish the profiles and work of different African first ladies, highlighting their politics and activism among other issues.

In this article, you will find the details of the following First Ladies;

  • Gabon’s Sylvia Bongo Ondimba
  • Egypt’s Entissar Amer
  • Uganda’s Janet Museveni
  • Ethiopia’s Zinash Tayachew
  • Kenya’s Margaret Kenyatta
  • Cameroon’s Chantal Biya

Gabon’s Sylvia Bongo Ondimba

  • Full name / age: Sylvia Bongo Ondimba/ 56 years old
  • Mandate: First Lady since 16 October 2009
  • Profession: Entrepreneur
  • Politics: plays a symbolic supporting role to her husband’s political career
  • Advocacy: runs the Sylvia Bongo Ondimba Foundation which is dedicated to ‘improving plight of vulnerable and disadvantaged people around the world’.
  • Family: Wife to president Ali Bongo Ondimba since 1989, the couple have four biological children together. They also adopted a child in 2002.

Born in Paris on March 11, 1963 to French parents, Slyvia spent most of her childhood in Cameroon and Tunisia before moving to Gabon in 1974. Sylvia’s mother, Evelyne Valentin, was President Bongo Ondimba’s secretary.

READ MORE: The Sylvia Bongo Ondimba Foundation

Egypt’s Entissar Amer

  • Full name / age: Entissar Mohameed Amer/ 62 years old
  • Mandate: First Lady since 8 June, 2014
  • Profession: Ain-Shams University graduate (Bachelor of Commerce-Accounting)
  • Politics: plays a symbolic supporting role to her husband’s political career
  • Advocacy: is dedicated to raising her family, and has reportedly turned down opportunities to work and build a career or personal legacy.
  • Family: Wife to president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi since 1977, the couple have four children together.

Al Arabiya reported that Amer is Sisi’s maternal cousin, who the president fell in love with while the two were still in high school. They got married after Sisi graduated from the military academy in 1977.

Uganda’s Janet Museveni

  • Full name / age: Janet Kataaha Museveni/ 70 years old
  • Mandate: First Lady since 29 January 1986
  • Profession: Teacher by profession, politician by practice
  • Politics: Has served as an MP,and is currently a cabinet minister in charge of education and sports
  • Advocacy: Founded an NGO dedicated to supporting children orphaned by HIV/AIDS, and also champions causes for the youth, women and children.
  • Family: Wife to president Yoweri Museveni since August 1973, the couple have four children together.

Janet has consistently supported her husband’s political ambitions, and lived in exile from 1971 until 1979, and again from 1981 until Museveni’s resistance movement captured power in 1986.

In 2005, Janet expressed her ambition to join active politics and won a parliamentary seat in the 2006 general elections. She was re-elected in 2011, but did not seek re-election in 2016.

READ MORE: Uganda’s First Lady

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 prime minister Abiy Ahmed, and in August 2018, the couple adopted a son.
ALSO READ: Ethiopia PM cheered for publicly showing affection to first lady

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.

READ MORE: Office of the First Lady of Ethiopia

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 president Uhuru 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.

READ MORE: Office of the Kenyan First Lady

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 president Paul Biya since 1994, has two children with Biya.

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

READ MORE: The office of the First Lady in Cameroon

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 president Muhammadu Buhari since 1989, has five children with Buhari.

Aisha Buhari in photos

The office of First Lady

While the position of 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 favorable policies and programs through advocacy, resource mobilization and development of partnerships with all stakeholders at all levels,’‘ reads part of the statement on the OAFLAD website.

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