Women: Creating the Africa We Want

Fatim Chohan: People's Assembly Pics
Fatim Chohan/People’s Assembly Pics

“The wind of change is blowing through this continent…” These famous words of the then British Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, spoken 54 years ago, ring true again today, albeit in a different context. Today, democracy is well established in Africa and the shackles of colonialism and discrimination have been shed. Despite certain remaining challenges, freedom is reigning across the continent. New winds of change have gathered in a storm of magnificent proportions and are sweeping across the continent.

A storm of economic emancipation and growth is gaining force in our hills and valleys, our mountains and glades, rivers, deserts, trees, flowers, our seas and the ever-changing seasons that define the face of our native land, to borrow some of the famous words from former President Thabo Mbeki’s speech: “I am an African.”

Today, Africa is growing economically like no other continent in the world. The average return on equity for investors in Africa is 35%-55%, compared with 5%-7% in the US and Europe. Africa’s investment boom is on a sustainable path, according to Pan African chief economist Iraj Abedian.

African consumer markets have become of great interests to investors, with the continent’s middle class growing 30% over the past 10 years to about 120 million people. As pointed out by the CEO of Coca-Cola, Muhtar Kent, Africa is indeed the untold story, and could become the big story of this decade, like India and China were this past decade.

It is against this background that we, as Africans, should ask ourselves: how do we make use of the new interest in our continent and the economic growth that goes along with it in the interests of the people of Africa. What is the Africa we want?

Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the Chairperson of the AU Commission, outlines the vision for the Africa we want: An Africa that is integrated and prosperous, peaceful, democratic and inspired by the values of Pan Africanism; an Africa that takes her rightful place in the world. She says that the unity and integration of the continent and the development of its infrastructure are key to establish an Africa that is peaceful and prosperous.

At national levels, infrastructure such as energy, transport, ICT and infrastructure to expand access to basic services such as sanitation and water, health and educational facilities, are the important hardware for development and a better life for all our citizens.

At regional and continental levels, we seek to connect African capitals and commercial centres through road, rail and ICT, to power our communities through energy projects and to increase agricultural production through irrigation projects, building storage facilities, distribution infrastructure and markets.The software are equally important: investment in our people – in their education, access to basic services and health.

As Dr Dlamini-Zuma points out, our development will continue to be half-pace if we also do not empower women to play an important part in the social, political and economic affairs of our societies. Women make up just over 50% of Africa’s growing population and their under-representation in social, political and economic spheres must be addressed if Africa is to leverage fully of the promise and potential that it holds. In most African countries, only about a third of women participate in the economy actively and when they do it is often in very limited ways.

To maximize the growth opportunities facing Africa today, both men and women in Africa need to be able to reach their full potential.

As pointed out by Ernst & Young, the challenges for African women are twofold. For those involved in informal economic activities, the challenge is to create access to more formal economic participation. For those who are educated and working in the formal sector, the challenge is to move up the corporate ladder.

Creating opportunities for women to participate in the economy will improve their earning potential and assist families to move out of poverty. Participation of African women in the formal economy is under leveraged and undervalued. There is a patent lack of women in senior management positions. According to the latest World Bank Enterprise Survey, only 1 in 26 salaried African women is employed in a senior management position, compared with 1 in every 6 men.

A study carried out by the Nike foundation in Kenya estimates that investing in girls would potentially add US$ 3.2 billion to that economy. It was Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations who said that there is no tool for development more effective than the education of girls.

A positive development is that more women are given space and voice in formal political structures.The 1995 Beijing Women’s Conference’s action platform called for a 30% quota for women in public leadership positions.Several African countries have risen to the Beijing challenge and have introduced laws that implement quota systems to increase the representation of women in legislatures and government. However, in countries such as the DRC and Cameroon, where no such intervention has been done, the disparity is blinding.

Women national leaders are also very rare. In 2006, Ellen Sirleaf was inaugurated as the first elected female president in Africa, paving the way for several women to step forward.

Ernst & Young recommends the following policy considerations that I believe we need to take seriously going forward:

•Policies that promote gender equality

•Empowering women politically through the use of quotas at all levels of government

•Accelerating progress toward meeting Millennium Development Goals targets, thereby meeting the needs of basic service delivery

•Introducing economic reforms and regulating markets to ensure women can participate equitably, and relaxing those regulations that hamper women’s full economic participation

Access to credit and supportive programs will afford women the opportunity to employ more people, and develop a necessary link in the chain against poverty.

To capitalize on Africa’s current and predicted growth within the next few decades, Africa’s leaders stand before the challenge of easing our women’s passage into economic participation. As we move to realize our vision for the Africa we want, we need to understand that similar to the global world, there is a continental reality. The world has become a small place, and so has Africa. Human and financial capital flow over borders.


By Ms Fatima Chohan
Deputy Minister of Home Affairs, Republic of South Africa.

Culled From The African Executive


Comments are closed.