Legal Nigeria

Women presidents in Africa

Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. PHOTO: Utomi Ekpei, AFP

As Tanzania’s vice president Samia Suluhu Hassan is set to take over as head of state after the sudden death of John Magufuli, here’s a rundown of African women presidents.

Liberia: Pioneer Sirleaf
Dubbed “Africa’s Iron Lady”, Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf made history when she became the continent’s first elected woman president in 2005.

The economist, a former international civil servant and finance minister, won a second term in 2011 and the Nobel Peace Prize the same year.

She stood down in 2018 at the end of her second mandate.

Sirleaf managed to maintain peace in the troubled West African country ravaged by civil wars, but her economic record was less strong and extreme poverty persists.

Malawi: Joyce Banda
Joyce Banda became Malawi’s first female president in 2012, stepping up from vice president to the position after the death of Bingu wa Mutharika.

She left the country in 2014 under a cloud, having lost the presidential election and facing questioning over a corruption scandal known as “Cashgate”.

She later returned to Malawi after four years in exile.

Central African Republic: Samba-Panza
The lawyer Catherine Samba-Panza was elected in 2014 as transition president when the country was in the grip of a civil war. She held the post until 2016.

She ran in the 2020 presidential election but lost to the incumbent.

Ceremonial presidents
In Mauritius the world-renowned biologist Ameenah Gurib-Fakim was elected by the National Assembly in 2015, becoming the first woman to hold the largely ceremonial role in the archipelago. Implicated in a financial scandal, she resigned in 2018.

In Ethiopia the diplomat Sahle-Work Zewde was elected president in 2018 by parliamentarians, also making her the first woman to hold the honorary role.