African women picking up ‘hard power’ positions, but cabinet still very much a men’s club

While nine foreign affairs ministers and five finance docket holders on the continent are women, security is a jealously guarded male enclave.

GUINEA this week picked Malado Kaba as its finance minister, following in Nigeria’s footsteps in appointing a woman to what is arguably the most critical, if not powerful, position in many countries’ cabinets.

Kaba, 44, has “spent most of her professional career at the European Commission in the field of development” a presidential statement said as the country seeks to add fresh impetus to its fledgling economic recovery following the fragility of the post-Lansana Conte years. The military leader died in office in 2008.

Kaba is at the head of six women named to the country’s 31-member Cabinet following the formation of a new government after president Alpha Conde was re-elected late last year. 


Malado Kaba of Guinea

It’s a  slight gain as only five of the previous 34-member Cabinet were women according to January 2015 data from the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU). Notably, the new women picks have all been handed powerful dockets included foreign affairs, agriculture, planning, public works and the environment. 

According to the IPU, Guinea ranks 60th of 190 countries with 25 women in a 114-seat parliament, ahead of African countries such as Kenya and Zambia.

Africa’s largest economy Nigeria in November picked former investment banker and accountant Kemi Adeosun as its finance minister, the second woman in a row to hold the powerful docket after Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who was a former World Bank managing director.


Kemi Adeosun of Nigeria

Cape Verde finance minister Christina Duarte was caught the continent’s eye when she sought to be the president of the African Development Bank in May, the only woman in the thrilling race. She narrowly lost out to Nigeria’s Akinwumi Adesina.

The outgoing finance minister of Francophone Africa’s largest economy, Ivory Coast is also a woman. Nialé Kaba was charged with overseeing president Alassane Ouattara’s promised splurge on infrastructure that was a major plank of his successful re-election campaign in October. He has promised to appoint more women in his new Cabinet.


Ivory Coast’s Nialé Kaba

Despite these gains, only one other woman holds the money docket on the continent—Lesotho’s Mamphono Khaketla.

The pick of Adiato Djalo Nandigna to head the defence ministry in troubled Guinea-Bissau in October was seen as a major gain, especially in a country where the military has traditionally held enormous sway, including fomenting a series of coups.

But she is very much part of an exclusive club— Kenya’s Raychelle Omamo and South Africa’s  Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula are the only other women who are currently in charge of the defence docket in Africa.


Raychelle Omamo, Kenya

The situation is mirrored in the vital interior security docket, which oversees key institutions such as the police and is responsible for holding entire nations together, with only Cape Verde, Malawi and Uganda having picked women ministers (including two in the Finance) before.

For Uganda having a woman in Defence was even more significant—the trend around the continent has seen former liberation movement governments consistently picking men in charge of disciplined forces, and Rose Akol succeeded military man Aronda Nyakairima, who died suddenly while on a flight last year.

But it is in foreign affairs that women have most made progress on “hard” Cabinet positions—some nine women are the faces of the countries internationally. These are in Botswana, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Madagascar, Namibia, Rwanda and South Africa.

While still under 20% of the continent’s foreign ministers, it is a notable trend away from the usual women, youth, social affairs and culture dockets that women have often been appointed to, but the battle against patriarchy for a demography that forms more than half of the continent’s 1.1 billion people goes on.

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