A few days ago at a seminar organised by the Royal African Society in London, the broadcaster and media entrepreneur Funmi Iyanda, chaired a discussion titled: How to Fix Nigeria: A Reckoning with History. Her guests were Max Siollun a historian and writer and Jide Olanrewaju an investment banker and producer of the hugely insightful documentary Naij, The Real Story of Nigeria. She commented about being the only woman on the panel and at opportune moments during the evening alluded to the fact that when it came to decision making, African women were participants but not truly represented in and it needed to change.
Well that change is on its way. Not only has the continent seen the rise of female presidents like the incumbent Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and the former president Joyce Banda of Malawi, but other leaders like Nkosazana Dhlamini-Zuma, leader of the African Union, and the usual high profile champions of change Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, and Diezani Alison-Madueke, but also a more grass roots revolution led by a combination of African women within the continent and in the African diaspora. It is this grass roots level leadership in business, enterprise, science, technology and the arts that is the catalyst the continent has been waiting for. The emergence of an enterprise class of young, dynamic, positive and committed women hungry for change and unafraid of leading the way and assertively confronting the barriers they come across in a strongly male dominated society. A class which until recently had been excluded from the decision making process and true leadership.
CNN recently profiled two women who are part of that change. Patricia Mawuli is Ghana’s first female civilian pilot, the first woman in West Africa certified to build and maintain Rotax engines, who from humble beginnings is now teaching young girls in Ghana to fly after having turned down offers from all over the world.
Then there is Shirley Frimpong-Manso, an award winning Ghanaian film, director writer and producer who founded Sparrow Productions. Shirley has a style that has been described as refreshing, pushing complex, progressive female issues, HIV and infidelity in a ground breaking way that strongly resonates with her audiences. Her desire is to inspire young women and serve as a role model to empower them to take a more challenging role in society.
For women in the African diaspora with their access to world class education, 21st century skills, finance and cutting-edge technology, the opportunity to partner with inspiring people on the continent could never have been greater. The choice is simple. They can build their dreams in the West and be part of incremental change that will largely be forgotten and have no real legacy, or base them in Africa as part of transformational and pioneering change.
The world is watching. Forbes Africa recently speculated on what it saw as the 10 emerging women entrepreneurs to watch in Africa. There will be many more competing for those positions in the future. Change is happening in Africa, but for many it is still not happening fast enough. Africa’s diaspora have a part to play in its acceleration.
Mrs Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Dr Joyce Banda, Wikipedia