Why Africa needs such women

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LAST week, I wondered how many African women were excited by one particular international story — the release from house arrest of the Burmese democracy movement leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.

Only a few have ever heard of her, from Table Mountain to Timbuktu.

She is worth emulating — like Helen of Troy, Joan of Arc, Golda Meir, Indira Gandhi, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, Margaret Thatcher and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Burma has been ruled by soldiers for decades. Thousands have been killed.

They include Ms Kyi’s supporters.

She is now 65, the daughter of the man who led the struggle against the British.

He was assassinated in 1947, before independence got into full swing.

She had been locked up in her house in Rangoon for seven years.

But she has been persecuted for much longer, all for her opposition to one of the most brutal regimes in the world.

Speculation was that the soldiers released her to polish up their image with the West, after a so-called election.

Not many soldiers joining politics have displayed the subtlety which is second nature to politicians.

These soldiers are no different.

Africa has had Idi Amin, Joseph Mobutu and Siad Barre.

We have also had our share of heroines.

Most liberation struggles against colonialism featured gallant women.

In Zimbabwe, among them are Oppah Muchinguri, Margaret Dongo and Joyce Mujuru.

After independence, though, only a few have distinguished themselves.

In this region, women have protested loudly when their governments have openly conducted politics with a palpable male chauvinist slant.

Most legislation levelling the legal status of women with that of their male counterparts can be justly attributed to the activism of such women who have risked opprobrium from male politicians.

But there are few who compare with Aung San Suu Kyi.

She won the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1991.

She is as famous a Burmese as U Thant, the fourth secretary-general of the United Nations.

U Thant died in 1974, having retired as the UN chief in 1971.

The soldiers in power then were contemptuous of his distinguished tenure at the UN.

They would not give him a decent burial.

But Burmese students dug up the body in a common graveyard and reburied it somewhere more befitting of his stature.

Southern African students have played a key role in awakening the people to their rights as citizens.

Yet far more needs to be done.

The failure of many African governments to enable ordinary citizens to be aware of their rights is said to be based on the theory that the less ordinary people know of their rights the better the leaders’ chances of looting the country’s wealth.

Most people don’t believe, for instance, that Somalia is a real country.

It is run by groups of terrorists.

There is nothing like a national government.

The pirates who seize foreign ships and demand millions in ransom are not answerable to anyone.

The recent release of two Britons, held by the Somali pirates for a year, must rate as the most shameful example of the lack of unity among African leaders.

The husband and wife, captured while on a holiday cruise in their yacht, were released after the payment to the pirates of thousands of pounds. 

What the African Union has done about the Somalia mess must be as shameful as its spinelessness on the DRC. 

There have been spirited attempts, yes.

But, so far, the AU has proved to be as toothless a bulldog as the British government was on Rhodesia after 1965.

No one is suggesting that women should replace all the African men who call themselves leaders today.

But their record is pathetic.

There is still staggering poverty, attributed mostly to corruption in high places.

It may be fanciful to imagine an African woman with the guts of Aung San Suu Kyi.

But there is no contesting the proposition that if we had more such women our situation would not be as parlous as it is today.

That woman’s release has been compared with that of Nelson Mandela’s in 1994.

Only dull-witted soldiers would dispute the significance of the events that followed that release.

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