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HOW FAR CAN NIGERIAN WOMEN GO IN POLITICS & LEADERSHIP? – THE ELLEN JOHNSON SIRLEAF EXAMPLE

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GOOD GOVERNANCE IN AFRICA & THE MO IBRAHIM’S ENVIABLE PHILANTHROPIC GESTURES: Andrew Carnegie, one-time richest man in the world at the age of 66 years in 1901 believed in the concept of Social Darwinism. Carnegie believed it was acceptable to make a lot of money. But he believed in philanthropy – giving to worthy causes. He authored a book: ‘The Gospel of Wealth’ (1889) in which he stated categorically that: ‘’ be the duty of the man of wealth: To set an example of modest, unostentatious living, shunning display or extravagance; to provide moderately for the legitimate wants of those dependent upon him; and, after doing so, to consider all surplus revenues which come to him simply as trust funds, which he is called upon to administer, and strictly bound as a matter of duty to administer in the manner which, in his judgment, is best calculated to produce the most beneficial results for the community-the man of wealth thus becoming the mere trustee and agent for his poorer brethren, bringing to their service his superior wisdom, experience, and ability to administer, doing for them better than they would or could do for themselves’’

REWARD FOR SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER?:   An interesting revelation in the course of compiling this account on Mo Ibrahim is that his Foundation intervenes in other causes. For instance, BBC reports indicate that: ‘’Veteran peace campaigner Archbishop Desmond Tutu was awarded US$1m (£620,000) by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation for “speaking truth to power”. The London-based Foundation called the cleric “one of Africa’s great voices for justice, freedom, democracy and responsible, responsive government”. He won the Nobel Peace Prize – and 10m Swedish Krona (£935,000) – in 1984 for his campaign against apartheid. Archbishop Tutu, the South African cleric was outspoken on international affairs’’

LIBERIA’S PRESIDENT ELLEN JOHNSON SIRLEAF’S DEMONSTRATION OF GENDER EQUALITY:

THE MO IBRAHIM AWARD FOR GOOD GOVERNANCE IN AFRICAN NATIONS: A notable African who is passionate about the culture of good governance and its importance as the main prerequisite to development, Dr. Mo Ibrahim instituted a prize for excellence in leadership awarded to a former Executive Head of State or Government by an independent Prize Committee composed of eminent figures. Apart from good governance, one other consideration is to encourage African leaders to quit office honourably. As recorded on the website of the organization, the Prize: ‘’Recognises and celebrates African executive leaders who, under challenging circumstances, have developed their countries and strengthened democracy and human rights for the shared benefit of their people, paving the way for sustainable and equitable prosperity, highlights exceptional role models for the continent, ensures that the African continent continues to benefit from the experience and wisdom of exceptional leaders once they have left national office, by enabling them to continue in other public roles on the continent is an award and a standard for excellence in leadership in Africa, and not a ‘first prize’, there is not necessarily a Laureate every year.

PRESIDENT ELLEN JOHNSON SIRLEAF OF LIBERIA – THE BEST AFRICAN HEAD OF STATE FOR YEAR 2017:  “In very difficult circumstances, she helped guide her nation towards a peaceful and democratic future, paving the way for her successor to follow.” The award was instituted in 2006, and its first winner:  President Joaquim Alberto Chissano, Mozambique, celebrated for “his role in leading Mozambique from conflict to peace and democracy; while same year, that legend 2007, President Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela of South Africa was named an honourary awardee. In 2008, President Festus Gontebanye Mogae of Botswana emerged winner for ‘’ensuring Botswana’s continued stability and prosperity in the face of an HIV/AIDS pandemic which threatened the future of his country and people.

It was not until 2011 that the next awardee, President Pedro De Verona Rodrigues Pires, Cabo Verde emerged for his role in transforming Cape Verde into a model of democracy, stability and increased prosperity; while it was the turn of President Hifikepunye Pohamba, Namibia to be compensated in 2014 for ‘’cementing Namibia’s reputation has been cemented as a well-governed, stable and inclusive democracy with strong media freedom and respect for human rights.” It is not compulsory that an awardee must emerge if none is adjudged suitable.  The last Head of Government to be honoured is the immediate-past president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who got the award in 2017.e only five winners have so far emerged in the 12-year history of the organization.

 THE AWARD: The Ibrahim Prize is the largest annually awarded prize in the world, consisting of a prize of five million US$  5 million USD over ten years; and US$200 000 per year for life thereafter. Essentially, the coveted prize aimed at boosting good governance and the plight of Africans is worth working for by heads of government. The prize is equally enough to sustain anyone who leaves office after a good outing; even without the statutory pensions enjoyed by former political office holders.

PRIZE CRITERIA

  • Recognizes and celebrates African leaders who have developed their countries, lifted people out of poverty and paved the way for sustainable and equitable prosperity
  • Highlights exceptional role models for the continent
  • Ensures that Africa continues to benefit from the experience and expertise of exceptional leaders when they leave national office, by enabling them to continue in other public roles on the continent

THE FIRST FEMALE AWARDEE: “Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became president of Liberia when it was completely destroyed by Civil War and led a process of reconciliation that focused on building a nation and its democratic institutions. Throughout her two terms in office, she worked tirelessly on behalf of the people of Liberia. Such a journey cannot be without some shortcomings and, today, Liberia continues to face many challenges. Nevertheless, during her twelve years in office, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf laid the foundations on which Liberia can now build.” – Salim Ahmed Salim – Chair, Prize Committee

COLLECTED NOBEL PEACE PRIZE FOR NON-VIOLENT STRUGGLES:   Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s rugged ambition was the product of struggles as an activist and resilience.   She was President of Liberia from 2006 to 2018) and has made history as the first elected female Head of State in Africa. She had lost the 1997 presidential election to Charles Taylor. She became the 24th President of Liberia from 2006 to 2018.  In 2011, Sirleaf was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, jointly with Leymah Gbowee of Liberia and Tawakel Karman of Yemen. The women were recognized “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.” In the same year, she was successfully reelected. She was listed as the 70th most powerful woman in the world by Forbes She is 80 years old.

PRESIDENT ELLEN JOHNSON SIRLEAF”S ACCEPTANCE SPEECH: It is an honour to have been selected for the Ibrahim Prize for African Leadership. By choice, I have led a life of service and sacrifice on behalf of the Liberian people, and I will remain forever grateful to them for the privilege to serve.

As the first woman to receive the award, it is my hope that women and girls across Africa will be inspired to reach for their true  to navigate the challenges, break through barriers, and to pursue their dreams. Where there is a first, there comes a second, and a third, and a fourth.

I am thankful that the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, in granting me this honour, has sought to emphasise the consolidation of Liberia as a democratic state under my two terms in office. Indeed, my most proud accomplishment is that after 30 years of conflict, the power in Liberia now rests where it should – with the people, grounded in rule of law, and in strong institutions. And I note with pride that Liberia was the only country on the continent to improve in every category and sub-category of the Ibrahim Index of African Governance – a testament to all those who served in my government.

The Mo Ibrahim Foundation continues to be a transformative force on the continent. They have changed the conversation about leadership. This is a discussion that I will continue to carry forward in my post-presidency years.

When I accepted the Mo Ibraheem Prize African Leadership back in April 2018, in Kigali, Rwanda, I stated as the first woman to receive this award, it is my hope that women and girls across Africa will be inspired to break through barriers and push back on the frontiers of life’s possibilities.

GENDER EQUALITY AS AN AFRICAN UNION 2063 AGENDA: Gender equality is a governance and development goal in Africa and globally. Agenda 2063 establishes that the Africa of 2063 will be a continent where gender equality is embedded in all spheres of life. SDG 5 sets that women and girls everywhere must have equal rights and be able to live free of violence and discrimination. These commitments towards gender equality are not standalone but must be integrated into all dimensions of governance, from security to education, health, economic empowerment and political participation.

The importance of gender equality in all aspects of governance is reflected in the Ibrahim Index of African Governance. Its sub-category Gender measures progress in gender equality on the continent across areas such as the promotion of gender equality by governments, gender parity at school, women’s labour force participation, women’s political and judiciary representation, women’s political empowerment, and laws on violence against women.

GENDER SENSITIVITY: According to the 2018 IIAG, Gender in Africa is a positive story, having consistently improved its average score by a total of +4.5 points in the past decade, an increase of 9% compared to 2008. A total of 41 countries have progressed in this period, meaning that almost 90% of the continent’s population benefitted from improved gender equality. In 2017, Rwanda was the most equal country on the continent, followed by Madagascar, Seychelles, Uganda and South Africa. Rwanda is also the country to have registered the largest improvements in this sub-category in the last ten years, followed by Zimbabwe, Congo, Gabon and Burundi.

The main drivers of Africa’s strong performance in gender equality are women’s political empowerment and gender parity in education. However, there are still areas lagging behind, such as representation of women in the political space, gender equality in the workspace and the establishment of laws to tackle violence against women.

While I warmly praise the overall progress on the continent, I strongly voice that efforts must not stop there. Achieving gender equality requires women to be agents of change, makers of peace and drivers of progress, and to this end African countries still have a long way to go.EMPOWERMENT THROUGH QUALITY EDUCATION: The first step to empower women is providing quality education to girls and young women. The 2018 IIAG shows that improvements in gender parity in primary and lower secondary school were made over the last ten years in 36 African countries, representing 83% of Africa’s population.

Providing girls with skills development and quality education at least up to secondary level is essential to improving their lives and that of their communities. Lower levels of education are not only linked to child marriage and early pregnancy, but also to lower expected incomes and higher levels of poverty later in life. Educating women up to secondary level can help foster their participation in labour force, enhance their prospects of full-time work and double their income. In addition to economic empowerment, education is also the way to more decision-making power for women at home and to a stronger voice in the workplace and in society at large.

PLEA FOR STRONGER ACTIONS: My message is that we should all cherish the notable progress in gender in Africa, but this has to be sustained by stronger actions towards ensuring girls’ access to and participation in quality education. Education is key for young girls and women to fulfill their potentials, break through barriers and pursue their dreams. Only through laying the foundations from the very beginning can gender equality be fully realised on the continent and benefit the future of African girls and women, as well as of African societies as a whole.

HOW FAR CAN WOMEN GO?  The first elected female head of government was Sirimavo Bandaranaike, who in 1960 became prime minister of Sri Lanka, the South Asian country then known as Ceylon. In Africa, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf followed suit. In 2015, Mauritius had its first elected female president, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, who was elected through a parliamentary vote. Joyce Banda of Malawi got into office of president following the death of the sitting president. She was in office for two years and never won the election that would have thrown her up to be an elected president. As at 2018, there were only 20 women holding the office of Head of State or Head of Government, which represents only 6,3% of the total number of international leaders.

It is very glaring that no matter how loud all those international statutes are mouthed, men will not yield the grounds for the female gender in politics to rule. It seems a very tall order given the political configuration of this age.  The closest women got to sniffing paramount political power was when Chief Obafemi Awolowo picked Mrs. Oyibo Odinamadu as his running mate for the 1983 Presidential election. She probably might have succeeded Awolowo after the statutory 8 years had the pair won. Even at that, there was no assurance that men, on the excuse of democratic ideals would have shoved Odinamadu aside.

It would occur only if women decide to come out of their shells and stop begging for concessions that might take eternity to come. It will be their turn if only women would refuse to be the cheerleaders, singing and dancing all over as men strategize. Hillary Clinton never begged or waited for concessions. She got the nomination by run for the presidential contest after a very tasking campaign which she won, throwing her hat into the ring to confront President Donald Trump.

ABOUT THE INITIATOR/FINANCIER?FOUNDER & CHAIR, MO IBRAHIM FOUNDATION:  — A PHILANTHROPIC DEED WORTH EMULATING – Sudan-born, Dr Mo Ibrahim is the Founder and Chair of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation which he established in 2006 to support good governance and exceptional leadership on the African continent. Dr Ibrahim has a distinguished business career. In 1989 he founded Mobile Systems International (MSI), a world leading cellular consulting and software provider and in 1998, Celtel International, one of Africa’s leading mobile telephone companies which pioneered mobile services in Africa. Dr Ibrahim is also Founding Chairman of Satya Capital Limited, a private equity fund focused on Africa..

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