Date: Fri, 23 Dec 1994 05:20:43 EST
From: Erisa Ojimba (EOJIMBA@uga.cc.uga.edu)
Subject: African women's hard, dangerous life in politics (fwd)
To: Multiple recipients of list AGE-L (AGE-L@uga.cc.uga.edu)
Sylvie Kinigi, Prime Minister of Burundi
From Reuters, 23 December 1994
NAIROBI, Kenya (Reuter) - The appointment of Africa's first woman vice-president has focused attention on why so few African women enter politics and only a much smaller minority reach high office.
Two recent international meetings__the U.N. Population Conference in Cairo in September and the Fifth African Regional Conference on Women in Senegal last month__put women's liberation and empowerment at the forefront of their concerns. But both took place on the world's poorest continent, where women are stifled by cultural and sexual taboos. No one expects the conferences to provoke rapid change.
"Women politicians in Africa have to fight prejudices in society and an environment not conducive to success," said Maria Nzomo, a Nairobi University senior lecturer in political science.
"The idea that women are less capable has long been in society. They face also increasingly more hardship as they lack enough funds," she said, noting that traditionally African women are barred from owning property.
Beset by poverty__sub-Saharan Africa has the world's highest number of people under the international poverty line__women are well aware of the host of hurdles to a political life.
Many say they are forced to toe the party line of their male opposite numbers who wheel and deal in the political arena, while women take a socially accepted backseat as merely token leaders.
On being named Uganda's and Africa's first woman vice- president last month, Specioze Wandira Kazibwe said "women in Uganda should know that privileges accorded to us by government will have to go with responsibilities ...I am ready to show my worth."
Kazibwe retained her previous position of minister of gender (women's) community development, a rare portfolio in Africa.
Male newspaper commentators in Uganda's capital Kampala praised President Yoweri Museveni's decision to appoint Kazibwe, saying he had sewn up the woman's vote for elections next year.
"At campaigns, women are jeered at and depicted as frustrated divorcees in politics as a last resort. African women don't like to vote or study politics," said politics student Mary Mwangi.
"Men feel you will steal the political spotlight and because we are so few they throw mud and slander us," said Agnes Ndetei, a parliamentarian and the foremost woman in Kenya's opposition.
"But none of us have defected (to the ruling KANU party) because we believe in what we are doing," she added.
Lip service to equality is increasingly paid by leaders in Africa because of increased solidarity among women demanding a greater say in the continent, but gains are few and far between.
Tanzania's founding president Julius Nyerere was embarrassed this month as chairman of a two-day conference in Nairobi on Africa's political and economic agenda for the year 2000 when a woman complained to him about the handful of women present.
Conference organizers, asked by Nyerere to explain, said more women had been invited but many had failed to turn up.
Women's development and progress in politics received a hard blow in April with the killing of Rwanda's Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana, who fought to end to women's oppression in the tiny central African state.
Uwilingiyimana, 41, entered politics in 1992 shortly after then President Juvenal Habyarimana bowed to the wind of change sweeping across Africa and allowed multi-party politics.
A dynamic, shrewd woman who preached tribal tolerance in a nation where ethnic allegiance is seen as all-important, she led a tough fight against women being depicted as the weak sex who should be shunted out of public service.
At a political rally in the capital Kigali, Habyarimana singled out his prime minister by shouting: "You, woman!"
Uwilingiyimana stood and replied: "Don't call me that. I am not your wife."
Only the second African woman to serve as a prime minister, Uwilingiyimana was slaughtered by members of the presidential guard on April 6 despite being under the escort of U.N. guards.
The three-month bloodbath that followed the assassination of Habyarimana killed up to one million people across Rwanda.
In neighboring Burundi, Sylvie Kinigi was appointed prime minister only on the eve of the killing of President Melchior Ndadaye by renegade Tutsi troops in October last year.
Diplomats said she reluctantly accepted the post as she had felt she could achieve more by remaining the civil service head in charge of economic planning in the prime minister's office.
An elegant, soft-spoken but straight-talking 41-year-old, Kinigi abandoned her political life when her cabinet collapsed last February and now works for Burundi's Commercial Bank. "I am not outside of politics but I have left the political scene," Kinigi told Reuters.