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This is to influential women in our history who have left their marks in their respective industries. These women were great. Their courage surpassed their fear and they held steadfast in their fight for justice and equality for the human race.

The names of African women who made history are relatively unknown or do not come readily to mind as of African male heroes. They should not become forgotten in the annals of Pan-African history. This article is in honor of the powerful and great women who helped shaped the future of Africans.

Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti

Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti (1900–1978) was a leading activist during Nigerian women’s anti-colonial struggles. She founded the Abeokuta Women’s Union, one of the most impressive women’s organizations of the twentieth century (with a membership estimated to have reached up to 20,000 women) which fought to protect and further the rights of women.

 

Taytu Betul

Taytu Betul (c.1851–1918) was a formidable queen and empress of Ethiopia. An astute diplomat, she proved to be a key figure in thwarting Italian imperialist designs on Ethiopia. Later, she and her husband Emperor Menelik II, led a huge army to battle at Adwa, where they won one of the most important victories of any African army against European colonialist aggression.

 

 Huda Shaarawi

Huda Shaarawi (1879–1947) was a pioneer Egyptian feminist leader and nationalist. She helped to organize Mubarrat Muhammad Ali, a women’s social service organization, in 1909 and the Intellectual Association of Egyptian Women in 1914. Her feminist activism was complemented by her involvement in Egypt’s nationalist struggle. She established the Egyptian Feminist Union in 1923, was founding president of the north of Africa Feminist Union and spoke widely on women’s issues and concerns throughout the Middle East and Africa.

 

Wangari Maathai

Wangari Maathai (1940–2011) was a Kenyan scholar and environmental activist. She founded the pioneering Green Belt Movement in 1977, which encourages people, particularly women, to plant trees to combat environmental degradation. Her holistic approach eventually led her to link environmental responsibility to political struggles of governance, human rights and peace. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004.

 

 Nehanda Charwe Nyakasikana

Nehanda Charwe Nyakasikana (1863–1898) was a female spiritualist leader from Mashonaland, Zimbabwe and a key leader in the First Chimurenga, or ‘the war of liberation’, against British colonial settlers in 1896–1897. She was considered to be the female incarnation of the oracle spirit Nehanda. After being captured by the British, she predicted that her spirit would lead the second Chimurenga against the British, which eventually culminated in the independence of present-day Zimbabwe.

 

Nzinga Mbandi

Njinga Mbandi (1581–1663), Queen of Ndongo and Matamba, defined much of the history of seventeenth-century Angola. A deft diplomat, skilful negotiator and formidable tactician, Njinga resisted Portugal’s colonial designs tenaciously until her death in 1663.

 

 Yaa Asantewaa

(1840–1921) was an ‘Edwesohemaa’, a queen mother of the Edweso tribe of the Asante in modern day Ghana. In March 1900, she led an army of thousands in the Yaa Asantewaa War for Independence against the British colonial forces in Ghana. Despite mounting a strong attack, she was defeated in 1901 by the British and exiled to the Seychelles where she spent two decades until her death in October 1921.

 

The women soldiers of Dahomey

Elite troops of women soldiers contributed to the military power of the Kingdom of Dahomey in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Admired in their country and feared by their adversaries, these formidable warriors never fled from danger. The troops were dissolved following the fall of Behanzin (Gbêhanzin), the last King of Dahomey, during French colonial expansion at the end of the nineteenth century.

 

 Yennega

Yennega, an emblematic figure in Burkina Faso, was the mother of Ouedraogo, the founder of the dynasties of the Moose chieftains. She is thought to have lived between the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Weary of the warrior role in which she had been cast by her father, the King of Gambaga, she ran away and met a solitary hunter. A legendary figure in West Africa, Yennega is the epitome of the female warrior, a free and independently minded woman.

 

 Aoua Keïta

Aoua Keita (1912 – 1980) was an award winning Malian independence activist and writer. Born in Bamako, she was admitted into Bamako’s first girls’ school in 1923. She later obtained a diploma in midwifery. She was a member of the African Democratic Rally (RDA) In 1959 she became a Member of Parliament, the first woman in Africa to be elected to the assembly governing her country.

 

Angie Elisabeth Brooks

Angie Elisabeth Brooks (1928–2007) was born in Virginia, Liberia, and was a diplomat and jurist. In 1969, Brooks was chosen to become President of the United Nations General Assembly, the first African woman to hold this position. She was also appointed the first female Associate Justice of the Liberian Supreme Court. Brooks held several degrees including Doctor of Law degrees from Shaw University, Howard University and Liberia University.

 

Cesária Évora

Cesária Évora (1941–2011) was an award-winning musician from Cape Verde, singing ‘morna’. She was known as the ‘barefoot diva’ because of her tendency to appear on stage in her bare feet in support of the homeless and poor women and children of her country. In 2003, she was awarded a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary World Music Album for Voz D’Amor.

 

 Miriam Makeba

Miriam Makeba (1932–2008) was an award-winning singer and political activist born in Johannesburg, South Africa. She was one of the most visible opponents of the apartheid regime, resulting in the revocation of her South African citizenship by the regime due to her activism. She toured internationally and collaborated with artists including Harry Belafonte with whom she won a Grammy award

 

Queen Nanny

 

Queen Nanny was an eighteenth-century leader, warrior and spiritual adviser. Born in 1686 in present-day Ghana, Western Africa, she was sent as a slave to Jamaica, where she became leader of the Maroons, a group of runaway Jamaican slaves. She is believed to have led attacks against British troops and freed hundreds of slaves. She was also known as a powerful Obeah practitioner of folk magic and religion. She continues her legacy with her portrait gracing the Jamaican $500 bank note.

 

Mulatto Solitude

In May 1802, while a few months pregnant, the Mulatto Solitude took part in the Guadeloupian uprisings against the reinstatement of Lacrosse, who had been appointed Captain-General of Guadeloupe by Napoleon Bonaparte and expelled in October 1801 following a coup by the army’s officers of color. After her arrest, Solitude was imprisoned and subsequently tortured, possibly to death, a day after giving birth. Solitude symbolizes all Caribbean women and mothers who fought for equality and freedom from slavery.

 

 Luiza Mahin

Luiza Mahin, born at the beginning of the nineteenth century, was an Afro-Brazilian freedom fighter. A natural leader, Mahin became involved in revolts and uprisings of slaves in the Brazilian province of Bahia. A street vendor by profession, she used her business as a distributory cell for messages and leaflets in the resistance struggle. She played a central role in the significant “Revolta dos Males” (1835) and “Sabina” (1837-1838) slave rebellions.

 

Gisèle Rabesahala

As a celebrated Malagasy woman politician of the twentieth century, Gisèle Rabesahala (1929-2011) devoted her life to her country’s independence, human rights and the freedom of peoples. She was a journalist and political activist who founded the newspaper Imongo Vaovao. The first Malagasy woman to be elected as a municipal councilor (1956) and political party leader (1958), and to be appointed minister (1977), she is regarded as a pioneer in Malagasy politics.

 

Sojourner Truth

Sojourner Truth (c.1797-1883) was a leading activist, speaker and teacher at the forefront of the African-American struggle for civil rights. Resolutely non-sectarian, she acted as a bridge between issues such as women’s rights, abolition, and religious freedom. Her astute exploitation of her reputation, through photography and print, helped her to become one of the most well-known orators of the nineteenth century.

Salute all women out there making a difference and trying to bring about effective change to their various societies.

 

 

Chaka is a profound historical fiction of the life of the founder of the Zulu Kingdom, Chaka, (sometimes spelt Shaka) who built a mighty empire during the first quarter of the 19th century. As an epic tragedy, the story’s arc followed the normal curve or the inverted ‘U’, where events are built up to the peak and begin to descend uncontrollably ending in the demise of the main character, Chaka.

 
In this novel, Mofolo mixes facts with fiction to recreate the legendary and wondrous life of one of Africa’s most mysterious and highly enigmatic figures. The eventful reign of Chaka (Shaka) became the epic tragedy of a heroic figure whose overweening ambition drove him to insane cruelty and ultimate ruin.

 
“I do not believe,” Mofolo writes, “that there was ever a human being whose life was as full of mystery as that of Chaka.” An attempt to capture this mystery led Mofolo to write Chaka in 1910. But his missionary publishers were so freaked out by the novel that they refused to publish it until 1925.

 
Chaka, born out of wedlock, became the first male child of Senzangakhona, the tribal king, who was previously without male children. He decided to marry again so that he can have a male offspring for the kingship. He became attracted to Nandi and, overcame by her beauty, took her when they were yet to be married, in violation of tribal law. She became pregnant, whereupon the two got married secretly. Chaka was born afterwards.

 
His position, however, became precarious after Senzangakhona’s senior wives began to bear him male children. The other wives were jealous of Nandi and her son Chaka, conspiring and imposing on Senzangakhona to send Chaka and Nandi away from the palace. They threatened to expose Senzangakhona for impregnating Nandi before marriage. Fearing that his tabooed deed might be found out, Senzangakhona acceded to his wives’ demands. In spite of this, and perhaps exacerbated by it, the news of Chaka’s rejection and his illegitimacy spread through the villages, making him object of ridicule and persecution.

 
Like any oppressed soul, Chaka believed that things would change since right and justice was on his side. That illusion however faded away when he heard his father order his death, even as he stared Chaka in the eye.

 
Chaka was on the run from assassins when he met one of the most ruthless witchdoctors that ever graced the pages of an African novel, Isanusi. Isanusi, who liked the young man and promised him that if he will obey in all things, he will one day inherit his father’s kingship, which was rightfully his by birth. Isanusi was the guy who made things happen. He was the magician, the sorcerer, the therapist, the priest, the conman, the strategist, the visionary, the confidante, the doctor, the hit-man, the fixer—the everything man— that every great empire-builder in history has had by his side.

 
He was the one who “inoculated” Chaka with the “medicine of blood.” “If you do not spill blood,” Isanusi explains to Chaka, “it will turn against you and kill you instead. Your sole purpose should be to kill without mercy, and thus clear the path that leads to the glory of your kingship.”

 
Isanusi turned Chaka into a killing machine. A man who had been hunted all his life had returned to bring the world to its knees.

 
By living up to this mandate to kill or be killed, Chaka instituted a political order never before imagined in his part of the world. But the blood on which his beautiful empire was built did not stay still forever. Chaka was eventually consumed by the violence that made him king and lived out the rest of his days in what can be described as schizophrenia.

 
The story of great emperors gone mad is old and familiar, but Mofolo tells it with all the dark, romantic flair of an African storyteller—sorcery, the supernatural, graphic violence, and tragic love. According to Mofolo himself
“The events in Chaka’s life were overwhelming because they were so numerous and of such tremendous import; they were like great mysteries which were beyond the people’s understanding.”

 
Mofolo’s novel is a dark, mysterious, and poetic critique of the principle of violence that defines all empires. There are novelists in Africa—a multitude of novelists. But there’s only a handful of storytellers. Mofolo was one.

 

Chaka
This book was listed as one of the best African books of the twentieth century. I recommend it for all those who love historical fiction and who want to know more about different cultures.

Many revolutionary leaders talk the talk but don’t always walk the walk, but with Sankara his revolutionary principles guided his own life. At the time of his death he had a salary of $450 a month and his most valuable possessions were a car, four bikes, three guitars, a fridge and a broken freezer. He was the world’s poorest president but indeed its richest revolutionary. It been 20 years since the assassination of Sankara and 12 of his aides in October 1987.
Born Thomas Isidore NoÎl Sankara into a Silmi-Mossi family in northern Burkina Faso town of Yako on 21 December 1949, his Roman Catholic parents wanted him to become a priest but he opted instead for a military career, a path that many Africans of his generation pursued as a route to a better life. In 1970 at the age of 20, Sankara was sent for officer training in Madagascar where he witnessed a popular uprising of students and workers that succeeded in toppling Madagascar’s government. Before returning to Burkina Faso in 1972 Sankara attended a parachute academy in France where he was exposed to left-wing political ideologies – particularly as they related to France’s neo-colonial relations with her former colonies. In 1974 he earned much public notoriety for his heroic performance in the border war with Mali, but years later he renounced the war as “useless and unjust” a reflection of his growing political consciousness. By 1976 his ascending military career brought him to the town of Po where he took command of the new National Training Centre for Commandos.

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By early 1980s, the country was rocked with series of labour union strikes and military coups. Sankara’s military achievements and charismatic leadership style made him a popular choice for political appointments but his personal and political integrity put him at odds with the leadership of the successive military governments that came to power. In 1980 he was singled out for a government appointment by army chief of staff Col Saye Zerbo who seized control of the country in a military coup in November of that year and formed a new government, the Military Committee for the Enhancement of National Progress (CMRPN) Sankara refused to join the CMRPN, but was nonetheless given a post in Zerbo’s government. Sankara temporarily accepted the position but later resigned which led to his arrest in April 1982, along with Blaise CompaorÈ and their fellow comrade Henri Zongo.
The increasingly repressive CMRPN was shortly thereafter removed from power by another coup which led to the formation of the Council for the Salvation of the People (CSP) headed by Jean-Baptiste Ouedraogo In early 1983 Sankara was selected as the prime minister by the CSP which provided him with an entryway into international politics and a chance to meet with leaders of the Nonaligned Movement, including Fidel Castro (Cuba) Samora Machel (Mozambique) and Maurice Bishop (Grenada). That same year Sankara’s anti-imperialist stance and grassroots popularity once again put him at odds with the more conservative elements within the CSP including President Ouedraogo. In an internal coup Sankara was removed as prime minister and jailed. In response to mass demonstrations demanding Sankara’s release the CSP compromised by putting him under house arrest in the capital Ouagadougou.
On 4 August 1983 CompaorÈ along with some 250 other soldiers freed Sankara, overthrew the CSP and formed the National Council of the Revolution (CNR) with Sankara as its president. In Sankara’s words the August revolution was best understood as having “a dual character: It is a democratic and popular revolution. Its primary tasks are to liquidate imperialist domination, exploitation and cleanse the countryside of all social, economic and cultural obstacles that keep it in a backward state. From this flows its democratic character, Sankara initially focused on applying the philosophy of the revolution to transforming the national army improving policies concerning women and economic development. A year after Sankara took office Burkina Faso became the first country in Africa to run mass measles vaccination campaigns that year with the aid of Cuban volunteers, 2.5 million children were immunised for several infectious diseases and even children from neighbouring countries were vaccinated. The alarming infant mortality rates dropped to 145 deaths per 1,000 in less than two years. In an effort to slow the advance of the Sahara Desert, Sankara launched a reforestation programme that planted 10 million trees in its first year.

thomas sankara
Even today trees are planted to celebrate birthdays, weddings and graduations School attendance rose from 12% to 22% in just two years and was complemented by policies to encourage attendance and eventual graduation. A campaign for the restoration of women’s dignity and recognition of their role in society was launched in order to free women from the yoke of patriarchal domination. During Sankara’s presidency Burkina Faso was a leader in employing women in government posts. In a symbolic attempt to demonstrate to men what the daily realities of women’s lives were like, he declared a day of solidarity with housewives and forced men to go to market and take responsibility for household duties Sankara refused to use the air conditioning in his office on the grounds that such luxuries were only available to a few BurkinabÈs. He refused to allow his portrait to be displayed all over the country in order to prevent a cult of personality developing around him. Shortly after coming to power he sold the government’s fleet of Mercedes-Benz and purchased affordable and easy to maintain Renault.
Sankara’s pragmatism and commitment to fiscal responsibility is still remembered: in 2003 critics of the Kenyan government’s purchase of 12 million dollars in luxury cars advised the government to follow the example set by Sankara. The most appropriate way we can honour the lives and struggles of our slain heroes is to pick up where they left off.
Sankara fought and paved ways on how we can make our countries and Africa a better place.

Thomas Sankara (Dec1949 -Oct 1987)
Thomas Sankara (Dec1949 -Oct 1987)

 

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