10 times women have served as heads of state in Africa

Here's 10 women who have helped increase representation and involvement of women in the African political sphere.

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Centuries back, women were not allowed to hold significant positions and were denied the right to vote or run for political office.

Now, the narrative has changed as the world is evolving. The inclusion of women in national politics has increased.

It is not any different in Africa but these women have either served as heads of state through the election process or in an interim capacity at a time of need.

Sylvie Kinigi - Burundi
Sylvie Kinigi – Burundi

Sylvie Kinigi – Burundi

The first female President to have served in Africa was Sylvie Kinigi. She served as the acting President of the country from October 1993 to February 1994 when President Melchior Ndadaye died. She was the first and only woman to be prime minister of Burundi.

Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri -South Africa
Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri – South Africa

Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri – South Africa

Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri also served briefly as Acting President when both the President and the Deputy President were out of the country for four days in September 2005. She also served as the constitutional head of state for an interim period of 14 hours on September 25, 2008, when President Thabo Mbeki resigned.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf - Liberia
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf – Liberia

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf – Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is the longest-serving female president in African history who came into power through the election process. She served two consecutive terms from 2006 to 2018. She initially ran for Presidential office in 1997 but lost. A decade later she was seen running again and this time won.

She served as Chair of ECOWAS in June 2016, championed women’s rights and full participation in democratic processes, and led Liberia through reconciliation and recovery following a decade-long civil war. She was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize. Today, Sirleaf is an influential voice, a reference point in women’s political participation.

Rose Francine Rogombe - Gabon
Rose Francine Rogombe – Gabon

Rose Francine Rogombe – Gabon

Though short-lived, Rose Francine served as the Interim President of Gabon from June 2009 to October 2009 after the death of President Omar Bongo. She was the first female Head of State of Gabon.

Agnes Monique Ohsan Bellepeau – Mauritius
Agnes Monique Ohsan Bellepeau – Mauritius

Agnes Monique Ohsan Bellepeau – Mauritius

When Sir Anerood Jugnauth resigned, Agnes served as Acting President from March 2012 to July 2012. She served again as Acting President from May 2015 to June 2015 when Kailash Purryag resigned.

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Ameenah Gurib-Fakim – Mauritius

Later in June 2018, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim was elected female president of Mauritius, making her the first female democratically elected president of Mauritius. She was unanimously voted into power by the country’s national assembly. She served until March 2018.

Joyce Hilda Banda - Malawi
Joyce Hilda Banda – Malawi

Joyce Hilda Banda – Malawi

Following the death of President Bingu wa Mutharika, Joyce Hilda Banda stepped up from vice president to become the second head of state of Malawi from April 2012 to May 2014. She also served as the country’s first female vice president. In 2014, Forbes named her as the 40th most powerful woman in the world and the most powerful woman in Africa.

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Catherine Samba Panza – Central African Republic

Catherine became interim President from 2014 to 2016 when rebel leader Michael Djotodia resigned. She was a lawyer who served as the first female Head of State in the Central African Republic and the 8th female Head of State in Africa.

Sahle-Work Zewde - Ethiopia
Sahle-Work Zewde – Ethiopia

Sahle-Work Zewde – Ethiopia

Sahle-Work Zewde is the first elected female President of Ethiopia. She resumed her position on October 25, 2018, and as of 2023 still is in office. Before her office as President, she served as the Head of the United Nations Office to the African Union.

Samia Suluhu Hassan - Tanzania
Samia Suluhu Hassan – Tanzania

Samia Suluhu Hassan – Tanzania

Samia Suluhu Hassan resumed office in March 2019 as the first acting female President of Tanzania. Being the country’s vice president, she assumed the presidency after the sudden passing of the former Tanzanian President, John Magufuli.

These 10 women are a testament to the fact that women in Africa are now equally considered as deserving candidates, distinct and competitive against men in the political sector. All of them have made their mark on politics in their respective countries.

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