Women’s Leadership in Africa feat. Michelle Obama

On 21 and 22 June, US First Lady Michelle Obama visited Jo’burg and Soweto in South Africa to talk and take part at The Young African Women Leaders Forum:

Media coverage in and across Africa was quite decent, but whoever expected coverage in the main US newspapers or other western media was left with not much to nothing. Also irritating was that significant African women that also took part or were subject to Michelle Obama’s speech did not get any recognition for their achievements in the transmitted articles and reports. So how can young African women be expected to feel encouraged stepping into their foot prints?

Here we present to you an article from the blog site AFRICA IS A COUNTRY and their guest blogger Dan Moshenberg, Director of Women’s Studies at George Washington University in Washington D.C.

What’s a young African woman leader, today, and who decides? Michelle Obama travelled to South Africa to talk to the Young African Women Leaders Forum, a forum organized and funded by “the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Embassy in South Africa, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the White House.” The Forum has three objectives: expression of “aspirations and values”; becoming “better partners in building a more just, democratic and prosperous future”; and, my favorite, “to help empower young African women”.

Because, as we know, the empowerment and emancipation of young African women  begins at the intersection of the U.S. Department of State, USAID, and the White House, where African women learn to express themselves and become better partners. Amandla! Awethu?

Irrespective, or not, of the funding circumstances, and setting aside the whole photo-op politics of the event, Michelle Obama gave a decent talk. Rousing, informative, engaging, and politically sharp. The United States First Lady mentioned a number of women, including Graca Machel, Baleika Mbete, Robyn Kriel, Grace Nanyonga, Gqibelo Dandala. She lingered over the memory and significance of Albertina Ma Sisulu’s life and lifework. In short, it was a talk directed at women, at young African women.

However, if you were to read the reports of Ms. Obama’s speech, and of the Young African Women Leaders Forum, in the New York Times, you’d find … nothing.  Pretty much the same for the Washington Post.

ABC News covered the event, sort of. They did mention Gqibelo Dandala … as a prop:

She pronounced all of their names with perfect local diction. The audience laughed and clapped when Mrs. Obama mentioned a woman named Gqibelo Dandala and used the click sound in the Xhosa language from which the name derived.

Is that all Gqibelo Dandala is? A prop? What did she actually do to be invited to the Forum? In 2007. Gqibelo Dandala founded the Future of the African Daughter project, FOTAD, which works with girls, 12 – 19, from rural areas and townships. Ms. Obama talks about Dandala’s work, but all that’s reported is that that African woman sure has a funny name, and that `articulate’ African American woman did a helluva job pronouncing it.  And the crowd went wild.

The videos are no better.  For example, Britain’s Channel 4 News chose a two-minute part of the speech that focused largely on HIV-AIDS, and then ended with, “You can be the generation to ensure that women are no longer second-class citizens, that girls take their rightful places in our schools. You can be the generation that stands up and says that violence against women in any form, in any place including the home –- especially the home –- that isn’t just a women’s rights violation. It’s a human rights violation. And it has no place in any society. You see, that is the history that your generation can make”.

But how can this generation of young African women be that generation? In Michelle Obama’s speech, the charge somewhat makes sense. It has a context and a history. In the constructions of the US-based media, there’s no context, there’s no historical justification. There’s only good will and good intention.

The Forum has brought together 76 young women from across the African continent. Every one of them has a name. So do their mothers, sisters, aunts, daughters. Every one of them has done something. But don’t bother to look for their names in The New York Times or The Washington Post. They’re not there.

Read the original post at AFRICA IS A COUNTRY > This Generation of African Women Leaders

Meeting Mandela

With her daughters Sasha and Malia, the First Lady also visited the first black President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, in a historic yet informal meeting on June 21, 2011.

Voices of Young African Women Leaders

Shamima Muslim, Ghana

It’s a clarion call to many young women and men across the continent to begin to think about the continent differently, and to begin to take the little actions that will truly reform and revolutionize the continent for the better.

Palesa Shongwe, South Africa

When you use resources in the community to help people in need, what you create is something that ripples out and has larger, long-term consequences.

Lesego Sekano, South Africa

It is up to every African to be the change they want to see in the continent.

Aspiring young African women leaders with the first lady

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