“Is it true that the bravery of Asante is no more? I cannot believe it. It cannot be! I must say this: if you, the men of Asante, will not go forward, then we will.
We, the women, will. I shall call upon my fellow women. We will fight! We will fight till the last of us falls in the battlefields.” Yaa Asantewaa of Ashanti Empire (now Ghana) in 1900
We are two years into the African Women’s Decade declared by the African Union. The decade started in 2010 and it’s due to end in 2020. As detailed on the website, (www.africa-union.org), the declaration was prompted by a recommendation made by Ministers of Gender and Women’s Affairs at a meeting they held in Maseru in 2008.
The theme for the decade is “Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (GEWE) — A Bottom Up Approach”. Rainatou Sow is one woman who has created a movement around the Women’s Decade and her website www.makeeverywomancount is well worth a visit.
We are also at the start of African Women’s Month, which is commemorated every August and it has kicked off with a good reason to celebrate.
At the age of 63, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma became the first woman in 49 years to be elected chairperson of the African Union Commission.
The Commission is the secretariat of the Union and is the custodian of its executive functions.
According to the website (www.au-int), the Commission is made up of nine portfolios.
These are: Peace and Security, Political Affairs, Trade and Industry, Infrastructure and Energy, Social Affairs, Rural Economy and Agriculture, Human Resources, Science and Technology and Economic Affairs.
In a speech which was published by The Star newspaper this week, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma articulated the achievements of matriarchs who have shaped Africa’s history.
I looked up more information on a few of them.
From Ghana there is Queen Yaa Asantewaa of the Ashanti Empire, quoted above.
According to Wikipedia she is reported to have said these words as she addressed a secret meeting to discuss the invasion of their territory by the British in early 1900.
The British leader of the troops had demanded the Golden Stool which was the symbol of the Asante nation.
In 1900 she went on to lead the rebellion which became known as the War of the Golden Stool.
She was exiled to the Seychelles where she later died in 1921.
A school, Yaa Asantewaa Girls Secondary was founded in 1960 in her honour. Unfortunately, in 2004, a fire at a museum destroyed Yaa Asantewaa’s sandals and battle dress.
Nehanda Charwe Nyakasikana from Zimbabwe is another matriarch Dlamini-Zuma mentioned. Nyakasikana, born around 1840 and executed by the British in 1898, was a channel for the royal spirit, which was known as Nehanda.
According to a Wikipedia report, relations between the Shona and early pioneer settlers had been fairly peaceful until the imposition of the “hut tax” and other taxes in 1894.
This led to an uprising which became known as the First Chimurenga during which the British Native Commissioner Pollard was killed. Nehanda and her ally Kaguvi were captured, tried and hanged for the killing.
Her legacy lives on in Zimbabwe and the maternity wing of Parirenyatwa Hospital is named Mbuya Nehanda in her honour.
There are many, including Queen Nzingha of Angola who played a pivotal role in negotiations with Portuguese invaders.
A famous story is told of how she was offered a mat instead of a chair, to sit on in negotiations with the Portuguese governor.
On seeing that this would undermine her authority, she ordered one of her servants to get on the ground and she sat on his back for the duration of the meeting.
These stories show that female leadership is not something new.
It existed throughout the ages.
In Dlamini-Zuma’s words: “Our history also speaks of an Africa that valued the matriarchal family, where women were the economic backbone of the continent in which the values of peace, justice and social wellbeing were promoted.”
As we go into August with all its attendant celebrations, it’s worth remembering the women who went before us, who achieved so much under difficult circumstances.