Celebrating Africa's Founding Mothers

I would like to honour some of Africa’s great women.

Let me start by pointing out that even before the founding fathers of the Organisation for African Unity established the organisation on 25 May in 1963, African women, under the leadership of activists like Aoua Keita from Mali, Jeanne Martin Cissé from Guinea and Pauline Clark from Ghana, founded the Pan African Women’s Organisation (PAWO) in 1962.

The first continental women’s organisation, PAWO, was founded in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, at a time when majority of African countries were not yet independent. One of its greatest achievements was its contribution towards awareness of women in the area of positive contribution to the struggle for national liberation and in national development. Names like Ethiopia’s Yeshi Tadesse; Congo’s Victorine Nze; Niger’s Barkire; Benin’s Aling Bousary; Chad’s Karthouma Guembang; DRC’s Lutaya Kanza; Gabon’s Anne Marie Bouma; Egypt’s Dr Soumaya Fahmy; South Africa’s Pinky Kekana and Yatima Nahara; Morocco’s Filous Latifa; Mozambique’s Priscilia Nguman; Cape Verde’s Catherine Turpin and Guinea Bissau’s Kamara da Costa are written down in this special chapter of Africa’s history.

In the period when countries around the continent where fighting for political independence, notable women who played prominent roles in their countries include Alimotou Pelewura from Nigeria. She led the Lagos market women’s resistance against tax increases and price controls until the British colonial administration discontinued price controls in Nigeria in 1945. In 1955, Mbalia Camara led a protest against the repression of activists of the Democratic Party of Guinea.1

In Zambia, Julia Chikamoneka’s name is also one that is synonymous with the country’s liberation struggle. Julia Chikamoneka was born Julia Mulenga Nsofwa in 1910 to a British Army African Sergeant who served in the First World War. She fought with the only weapons she had - her voice and the vision she had for a better future for generations to come. She on took the name Chikamoneka (meaning "victory will be seen") for her fearless attitude in Northern Rhodesia‘s independence struggle and as a mantle to cover her operations during the independence struggle. Having started her career as a housemaid, and lack of a formal education did little to deter her from being a leader in the independence struggle. Julia's most dramatic protest occurred in 1960 when she marched to the District Commissioner’s office and slapped him.

In South Africa, anti-apartheid activist Lilian Ngoyi’s name is remembered as one of the leaders of the 20,000 women who marched to the government buildings in Pretoria on 9 August 1956, demonstrating against the discriminatory Pass Laws Act. The Act at the time made it compulsory for all black South Africans over the age of 16 to carry the "pass book" at all times. Lilian Ngoyi was also the first woman elected to the executive committee of the African National Congress, and helped launch the Federation of South African Women.

Many more African women have shaped the continent’s history, and many more others are still shaping its course today. However, it is not often that women who have contributed to and shaped history in their respective fields and capacities are fully acknowledged. History tends to largely overlook women’s achievements. It is time that history starts to be rewritten.

© Mwanja Ng'anjo