Meet the African Female Presidents, all first female presidents of their country

Former President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is Africa’s first elected female President who served two consecutive terms after winning the 2005 and 2011 Presidential elections, making her the longest-serving African female President.

She had initially run for Presidential office in 1997 against Charles Taylor, but lost. During her tenure she was also elected Chair of the Economic Community of West African States in June of 2016.

Sirleaf stood for President as the candidate of the Unity Party in the 2005 general election. She came second in the first round of voting behind footballer George Weah. In the subsequent run-off election, Sirleaf earned 59% of the vote versus 40% for Weah, though Weah disputed the results.

The announcement of the new leader was postponed until further election investigations were carried out. On November 23, 2005, Sirleaf was declared the winner of the Liberian election and confirmed as the country’s next president. Her inauguration, attended by many foreign dignitaries, including United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and First Lady Laura Bush, took place on  January 16, 2006.

In January 2010, Sirleaf announced her intension to run for a second term in office in the 2011 Presidential election while speaking to a joint session of the Legislature. Opposition leaders noted that in doing so, she had broken a promise made during her 2005 campaign to only serve one term if elected.

Sirleaf went ahead to contest and garnered 43.9 percent of the vote in the first round, more than any other candidate but short of the 50 percent needed to avoid a run-off. Tubman came in second with 32.7 percent, pitting him against Sirleaf in the second round. Tubman called for a boycott of the run-off, claiming that the results of the first round had been fraudulent.

Sirleaf denied the allegations, and international observers reported that the first round election had been free, fair and transparent. As a result of the boycott, Sirleaf won the second round with 90.7 percent of the vote, though voter turnout significantly declined from the first round.

Sirleaf crossed party lines to support George Weah in the 2017 Presidential campaign. In the late evening hours of 13 January 2018, she along with some officials of the Unity Party were expelled by the National Executive Committee of the party, for failing to support Unity’s Presidential candidate, Joseph Boakai.

Ex-President Of Mauritius, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim

Ameenah Gurib-Fakim was the first female President of Mauritius from 2015 to 2018. She was selected to be Presidential candidate in 2014 following the resignation of then President Kailash Purryag. She was unanimously elected President by the National Assembly.

Gurib-Fakim is the first woman elected as president of the country and is the third woman to have served as Head of State after Queen Elizabeth II and Monique Ohsan Bellepeau, who acted as President in 2012 following the resignation of President Anerood Jugnauth, and again in 2015 following the resignation of President Kailash Purryag.

On March 23, 2018, Gurib-Fakim resigned  after being embroiled in a scandal over her use of a credit card to buy luxury personal items, in an abrupt change of heart after vowing she would not stand down.

Former Acting President of Central African Republic, Catherine Samba

Catherine Samba Panza was the Acting Head of State of the Central African Republic from 2014 to 2016. She became interim President when rebel leader Michael Djotodia resigned from his self appointed Presidency. Before she took on this role, she was the mayor of the capital city Bangui from 2013 to 2014.

Following the Central African Republic conflict under the Djotodia administration and President Michel Djotodia’s resignation after a CEEAC summit on  January 10, 2014, Alexandre-Ferdinand Nguendet served as acting President until the CNT elected Samba Panza as interim President from a list of eight candidates who  proved they had no link to either the Séléka or the Anti-balaka. She was to lead the country to the 2015 election.

Former President of Malawi, Joyce Hilda Banda

Joyce Hilda Banda served as President of Malawi from April 7, 2012 to May 31, 2014 following the death of President Bingu wa Mutharika. She was the country’s fourth President. She was also the country’s first female Vice President between  May 2009 to April 2012.

Before becoming the President of the Republic of Malawi, she served in various capacities as Member of Parliament, Minister of Gender and Child Welfare, and as Foreign Minister. Before her active career in politics, she was the founder of the Joyce Banda Foundation, founder of the National Association of Business Women (NABW), Young Women Leaders Network and the Hunger Project.

In 2014, Forbes named President Banda as the 40th most powerful woman in the world and the most powerful woman in Africa. In November 2016, Banda announced that she was willing to stand as a Presidential candidate in the 2019 elections.

President Of Ethiopia, Sahle-Work Zewde

Sahle-Work Zewde is the first elected female President of Ethiopia and currently the only female out of the 54 Presidents in Africa. She took office on October 25, 2018 after being unanimously elected by members of the National Parliamentary Assembly.

Prior to her election as President, she worked as Special Representative of United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres to the African Union and Head of the United Nations Office to the African Union.

Sahle-Work was only the second woman to be appointed an ambassador in Ethiopia’s history (Ambassador Yodit Emiru was the first woman to hold an ambassadorship).

A veteran in the Ethiopian Foreign Service, Sahle-Work served as Ambassador to Senegal, with accreditation to Mali, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Gambia and Guinea, from 1989 to 1993. From 1993 to 2002, she was Ambassador to Djibouti and Permanent Representative to the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).

She later served as Ambassador to France, Permanent Representative to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and was accredited to Tunisia and Morocco from 2002 to 2006.

Sahle-Work subsequently held other high level positions including Permanent Representative of Ethiopia to the African Union and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and Director-General for African Affairs in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia.