Ten influential women in African politics

by MMC
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From heads of state like Samia Suluhu to influential diplomats like Bintou Keita, women are increasingly playing key roles in the continent’s politics and governance. From Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first democratically elected female president, to Fatma Samba Diouf Samoura, FIFA’s first female secretary general, a new generation of women is leading the way.

Esther Musembi, bird story agency

As more than a third of African countries go to the polls in 2024, African women are showing increasing interest in holding leadership positions, including the presidency. Their stories inspire resilience, determination and visionary leadership, serving as beacons for future generations of women leaders across the continent.

Here is a selected list of some influential women in African politics:

1. Sahle-Work Zewde, President of Ethiopia

A distinguished Ethiopian diplomat, Zewde made history in 2018 when she became Ethiopia’s first female president. Prior to her presidency, she held senior positions within the United Nations, including as Special Representative of the Secretary-General to the African Union and Head of the United Nations Office to the African Union. Sahle-Work’s long diplomatic career also included senior positions such as director-general of the United Nations Office at Nairobi. She has been recognized for her contributions to peacebuilding and diplomacy across Africa.

2. Fatma Samba Diouf Samoura, Secretary General, FIFA

Senegalese Fatma Samba Diouf Samoura broke barriers in 2016 when she was named FIFA’s first female secretary general. After pioneering work in sports governance, she is now number two to FIFA President Gianni Infantino. A former Senegalese diplomat and UN executive, Samoura led humanitarian efforts in Chad and served in crisis zones like Kosovo and Sierra Leone. Her pioneering career saw her ranked among the most influential women in international sport by Forbes and she was included in the BBC 100 Women list in 2018.

3. Bintou Keita, Special Representative in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Posted to the United Nations diplomat in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinean diplomat Bintou Keita is one of the most influential women in Africa. With over three decades of experience, she has played a central role in international diplomacy and conflict resolution. She served as Deputy Joint Special Envoy for the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) in 2018 and Assistant Secretary-General for Africa in 2019. She is currently head of the United Nations Mission for stabilization in the Democratic Republic. of Congo (MONUSCO).

4. Emma Theofelus, Minister, Namibia

At just 28 years old, Theofelus is one of Africa’s youngest female politicians and currently serves alongside another hugely influential woman – the country’s interim president, Nangolo Mbumba – as Namibia’s Minister of Information , communication and technology. Before her political career, Theofelus was deeply involved in youth activism, focusing on gender equality, children’s rights and tackling youth unemployment. She has held leadership positions such as vice president of the Youth Parliament and deputy mayor of Windhoek. Namibia has many aspiring young female politicians; MP and former general secretary of the National Students Organization of Namibia (NANSO), Patience Masua is only 24 years old.

5. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, Chairperson of the Board of Directors, Gavi Alliance, Nigeria

With over three decades in politics and leadership, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala offers a wealth of influence and experience in development. She served as Nigeria’s Finance Minister twice, including from 2011 to 2015, during which time she also served as Coordinating Minister for the Economy. In 2006, she served as Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. Okonjo-Iweala held key positions at the World Bank, including Managing Director, cementing its reputation as a leader in global finance and development. She was named by Fortune magazine as one of the world’s 50 greatest executives and by Forbes as one of the 100 most powerful women for five consecutive years.

6. Samia Suluhu, President of Tanzania


Popularly known as Mama Samia in East African circles, Suluhu made history as Tanzania’s first female president in March 2021 following the death of her predecessor, John Pombe Magufuli. Having started his political journey in 2000, his tenure has been marked by a strategic emphasis on infrastructure development, regional partnerships and global dialogue. Prior to her presidency, Suluhu served as a minister and Tanzania’s first female vice-president.

7. Mutale Nalumango, vice-president, Zambia

Mutale Nalumango is Zambia’s 14th vice president and one of only two women to hold the position. She previously worked as an educator and was vice-president of the Zambia Secondary School Teachers’ Union. Nalumango has held several important positions in Zambia’s political landscape, including Deputy Minister of Information and Deputy Speaker of Parliament. She was the first woman to serve as vice president.

8. Mariam Chabi-Talata, Vice-President, Benin

Talata, 58, made history as Benin’s first female vice-president. A former teacher and school inspector, she joins a growing cohort of women ascending to higher office in sub-Saharan Africa, often advocating feminist policies. His appointment comes in 2021, alongside the re-election of President Patrice Talon for a second term.

She has been called controversial for her support of abortion, which has since been legalized. Talata is a strong supporter of girls’ education, having founded the Benin Progressive Union party to spearhead it. She was nominated for the prestigious African Female Leader of the Year award.

9. Jessica Alupo, Vice President, Uganda

The ninth and current Vice President of Uganda since 2021, Alupo is a prominent Ugandan politician, educator and former military officer. Before becoming vice-president, she held an important position in the Ugandan cabinet as Minister of Education from 2011 to 2016. Notably, she is the second woman to hold the position of vice-president in Uganda after Specioza Kazibwe.

10. Chief Justice Martha Koome, Kenya

Koome took office in May 2021 as the 15th Chief Justice of the Republic of Kenya and 3rd Chief Justice of Kenya. She made history as the first woman to serve as Chief Justice since the establishment of the Kenyan judiciary over a century ago. It is worth noting that Koome campaigned to repeal Article 2A of the Kenyan Constitution. The success of this campaign converted Kenya into a multi-party state and introduced presidential term limits.

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