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Women in the Fore of Africa’s Revolution

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By Lawrence Audu

Standing on the top of an SUV and surrounded by thousands of men who aside from chanting could only take pictures, the beautiful Ala’a Sallah has become the new face of Sudan’s revolution that toppled one of Africa’s longest dictators President Omar al-Bashir.

In a phallocratic society like ours, writing about the exploits of women seem a bit absurd as unliberated women themselves will perceive one in a different light. A little wonder men like Shaggy who are sympathetic to the cause of women would not hide their veneration.

“So amazing how this world was made I wonder if God was a woman” this is the opening of his New Day album

“I’ve been supported by a lot of women over the years and I wanted to pay homage to them,” he says, with surprising seriousness.

“I was raised just by my mother, and I wanted to thank a lot of women who’ve been instrumental in my life. My record label did a survey recently and found that 75% of Shaggy fans are women, with age ranges right across the board. I must say, that really pleased me.”

The works of Aminata Sow Fall, particularly So long a letter set the stage for the liberation and more importantly the deeper involvement of women in the political revolutionary movement in Africa. In that novel, the opposing pulls of custom and progress that Ramatoulaye encounters in the Senegalese political climate become personal and particular in her struggle to reconcile her abiding faith in Islam with her feminism.

The role of women as catalysts for a revolutionary change in Africa dates back far back into the prehistoric era even before the colonial era. Commonly known as the warrior queen, Queen Amina of Zaria was the first woman to become the Sarauniya (queen) in a male-dominated society. She expanded the territory of the Hausa people of north Africa to its largest borders in history. Much of what is known of Queen Amina is based on information related in the Kano Chronicles. Other details are pulled from the oral traditions of Nigeria. As a result, the memory of Queen Amina has assumed legendary proportions in her native Hausaland and beyond.

The seven original states of Hausaland—Katsina, Daura, Kano, Zazzau, Gobir, Rano and Garun Gabas—cover an area of approximately 500 square miles and comprise the heart of Hausaland. In the 16th century, Queen Bakwa Turunku, Amina’s mother, built the capital of Zazzau at Zaria, named after her younger daughter. Eventually, the entire state of Zazzau was renamed Zaria, which is now a province in present-day Nigeria.

The context of Queen Amina’s leadership was pre-colonial Nigeria, where men did not feel threatened when women were in powerful positions, as it was usually understood that they deserved to be there because of age, kinship or merit, not gender. Women could even oust men who were not performing their duties effectively. While socially and economically, pre-colonial Nigerian societies clearly delineated women’s and men’s roles this did not preclude women from asserting their authority or themselves. The modern state of Nigeria has immortalized Amina by erecting a statue of her, spear in hand, on a horse, in the centre of Lagos.

The Aba women’s riot of December, 1929 led by Nnete Okorie-Egbe which took roots from the institution of indirect of rule in southern Nigeria in 1914 which empowers the British to rule through warrant chiefs who essentially were individuals of Igbo extraction, remains a point of reference when talking about the power.

With this, there were underground plans to impose heavier taxes on the populace, a situation the women rejected leading to their mass action which resulted in the colonial authorities dropping their plans to impose taxes on the market women thereby curbing the powers of the warrant chiefs. This was the first major challenge the British authorities would face in their bid to colonise Nigeria.

Elsewhere in Africa, women have continued to make remarkable exploits politically. The society is changing and both culture and religion do not seem to have powers to restrict women to the background anymore.

Image result for ethiopian president
Sahle-Work Zewde leaves Parliament after being appointed Ethiopia’s first female President

In her inaugural speech, Sahle-Work Zewde, President of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia said: “During my tenure, I will focus on the role of women in ensuring peace, as well as on the benefits of peace for women”

In Ethiopia, this cascade of announcements all the more surprised the world that the last woman to have held a position at the head of state was Empress Zewditou, daughter of Menelik II. She had assumed the regency of Tafari Makonnen, the future king of Haile Selassie, from 1916 to 1930.

For the political analyst Awol Allo, the strong political decision of the Prime Minister cannot be interpreted as a simple publicity stunt or a gesture purely symbolic. “In a highly patriarchal society such as Ethiopia, where the discourse on gender equality is non-existent in public opinion or relegated to the margins, the mere fact that the government is parity can have a transformative effect”.

At each of her appearances, the crowd of rebels rank behind her. Ala’a Salah, a 22-year-old student, is the icon of the Sudanese revolution. She embodies the hope that this uprising will triumph.

“I come to gatherings every day because it’s the place where I have to be like all Sudanese who are ready to sacrifice for freedom,” says the leader. Every revolution needs a popular figure.

For Ala’a Salah, it was enough of an image. Faced with the crowd and laptops seizing the stage, the young woman in traditional dress, the raised index, full of conviction, declaims poems to the glory of the revolution.

A feminin symbol of revolution

From now on, the image of the student in architecture dominates the meeting place of the revolutionaries. A woman as a figurehead in a country considered conservative. “The traditional outfit I wear is our grandmothers’, including those earrings, strong women who fought for freedom during previous dictatorships,” she says.

In the troubled northeast of Nigeria, Ummu Kalthum another 24-year old of the Fulani and Kanuri descent is making a difference. Inspired by the resistance of Miss Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan, this young Nigerian is leading another revolution. – a silent revolution that has seen many young girls returned to school, empowered to start a small trade and resisting early and forced marriages for a better future.

The ideologies of the likes of Ala’a Salah is now proving to be those whose time has come, shaking many a pillar supporting traditional and religious ideas. With this kind of resistance put up by this young woman and her supporters, President Omar al-Bashir has been toppled and disgraced out of power.

While many African women continue to dwell in the lows inspiring the Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti’s “Lady”, some have moved on helping their husbands to become the best they can be thereby creating a new society where children can grow to know peace. Africa is changing and changing fast. Only the blind will be left behind.

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