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Article

Nakanyike B. Musisi

Described as a “woman of character” by her son, Kabaka (King) Sir Edward Mutesa II, Irene Drusilla Namaganda (1896–1957) was the earliest of the three queens who graced 20th-century Buganda. Yet quite independent of her personality, Namaganda was born, educated, and became queen during a momentous period in Buganda’s history. While occupying the office of queen mother following the death of her husband King Daudi Chwa II (1939), Namaganda became sexually involved with and pregnant by Simoni Petero Kigozi, a commoner almost twenty years her junior. For this behavior they were both tried for “An Abominable Crime” in a criminal court and pronounced guilty, and Namaganda was dethroned and sent into an internal exile. In later years, Namaganda converted to the radical Christianity of the Balokole movement. She died of uterus cancer in 1957 leaving behind a legacy of being first on many fronts but, above all, the first rebellious Buganda queen mother to ever be dethroned. Namaganda’s legacy also lies in her unmasking of the colonial misreadings of “native” protest strategies. Neither the colonialists nor the Buganda bureaucracy ever read Namaganda’s choice of becoming pregnant and subsequent strategies as a protest ploy aimed at exposing and ending the colonization of her body and the office she represented. Namaganda’s rebellion was neither a “simple palace matter,” “sad thing,” nor about sex or marriage, as it has been argued. It was about ending one form of patriarchal colonization (her body) and exposing the limitations of another (British).

Article

Jennie Burnet

Agathe Uwilingiyimana was the first woman prime minister of Rwanda and only the second woman prime minister on the African continent. A Hutu from southern Rwanda, she was among the first Rwandans killed in the 1994 genocide of Tutsi. She was a political moderate from an opposition political party who rejected ethnic extremism. As the constitutional leader of the country in the wake of the president’s assassination, Hutu extremists killed her so that they could take control of the government. Born to uneducated parents, Uwilingiyimana was among the first women to obtain a bachelor’s degree from the National University of Rwanda in 1985. Before entering politics, she taught high-school science for over a decade. She dedicated her life to promoting women’s equality, removing obstacles to girls’ education, and speaking on behalf of the poor. As one of Rwanda’s first prominent women politicians, Uwilingiyimana faced intense misogyny, particularly from members of extremist Hutu political parties. The media frequently portrayed her naked or in sexual contexts. She was attacked in her own home on multiple occasions and menaced when she appeared in public. She was killed on April 7, 1994, along with her husband and an aide. The Belgian United Nations peacekeepers guarding her were also killed. Her death paved the way for Hutu extremists to take over the government and carry out a genocide targeting Tutsi, members of opposition political parties, human rights activists, and journalists.

Article

Kabiru Kinyanjui

The life of Wangari Muta Maathai (1940–2011) was strongly shaped by her rural environment, missionary education, and exposure to university education in the United States and Germany. Her interactions with other women—her mother, teachers, and grassroots women—also had a great impact on her work and commitment. In the midst of enormous challenges and obstacles, she created a formidable Green Belt Movement (GBM) to empower grassroots women. By mobilizing women to plant and care for trees, Maathai changed the thinking and practices of conserving the environment at a time when dominant global thinking on the environment and women’s role in society was grappling for transformation. Hence the dynamics of local and international forces coalesced in the work of the GBM. Local experiences also infused global thinking and appreciation of struggles for democratic governance, peace, and sustainable development. Consequently, Professor Maathai’s ingenuity and persistence were widely recognized and honored, and earned her the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004.

Article

Faranirina V. Rajaonah

Lineage and rootedness in ancestral lands shape the course of women’s lives in Madagascar. Women certainly benefit from this situation, but it also constrains them. Despite the diversity of situations within the social spaces inherited from former kingdoms, women across the island play an essential role in their lineage. Some women have influenced the course of history, at times in ways that extend beyond their social sphere, in the capacity of queens, while others have voiced their disapproval of sovereigns’ decisions. Madagascar has witnessed accelerated change since the 19th century, brought about by the island’s increased integration into global markets dominated by the West, and represented by traders, missionaries, and colonial administrators. Upper-class women and their families have been able to choose from among the novelties offered them in the form of material goods, careers, education, and religion. Women of lesser means have likewise tried to find their way within an enlarged horizon, including through emigration, while their country, since independence, has been confronted by increasing challenges.

Article

Christopher Tounsel

Since the late 19th-century, Southern Sudanese have experienced Anglo-Egyptian colonialism (1899–1956), national independence with Northern Sudan (1956), two civil wars that resulted in South Sudanese independence (1955–1972, 1983–2005), a civil war within the new nation (2013–2018), and the conclusion of that conflict (2018). Southern Sudanese women’s experiences within, and contributions to, this stream of cataclysmic events has been harrowing and significant. This tumultuous history is rife with harsh realities. Women and girls have consistently had unequal access to education compared to their male counterparts, been subjected to sexual violence, marginalized from the political sphere, and faced a multitude of socioeconomic constraints and hardships. Many social scientists, furthermore, have argued that women’s vulnerabilities have increased as the result of lengthy militarized violence. However, in the midst of these realities, women have found ways to make important contributions not only as mothers, wives, and daughters but also as soldiers, teachers, activists, agriculturalists, and in various other positions during each of the postcolonial liberation wars. While women’s political participation has been encouraged since South Sudan’s 2011 independence, war, sexual violence, and socioeconomic inequalities have kept the female population in a vulnerable position.

Article

In the precolonial era, certain women played key governance roles, for example, the queen’s sister and the king’s mother in Buganda, the largest of Uganda’s four kingdoms. At one time they had as much power as the king in Buganda. However, women’s authority declined in Buganda in the 1700s and 1800s with the rise of the hereditary chiefs (batongole) and the demise of the influence of the clans. The coming of the British further undermined their roles. While on the one hand, British colonial engagement with local authorities privileged men, colonial education gave rise to Ugandan women’s leadership in local and national organizations, which provided women with a venue for political mobilization. The first women were appointed to the legislature at the end of British rule in 1954; all of them were British. As a result of pressure from women’s organizations, African women were soon thereafter appointed to the legislature starting in 1956. The number of women in political office remained low until the takeover of President Yoweri Museveni in 1986, when Uganda became a leader in Africa in advancing women in positions in the legislature and executive. The Museveni government’s adoption of reserved seats for women at all levels from local councils to the parliament in 1989 ensured that at least one-third of seats were held by women. The increase in numbers of women in parliament had some impact on the adoption of women’s rights legislation; however, ultimately women remained constrained by patronage and the undemocratic nature of the political system in Uganda.