By: Portia Tshegofatso Loeto - Gaborone, Botswana
From the 9th-11th of September 2013, Urgent Action Fund-Africa (UAF-Africa) and her partners brought together a bevy of diverse women leaders from all over Africa for the Women Steering Innovative Leadership in Africa (WSILA) conference that was held at the majestic Bingu International Conference Centre (BICC) in Lilongwe, Malawi. This conference was set to bring together several concepts: Pan-Africanism, Feminism and a business approach to leadership. Also, at the core of the conference was the notion of nurturing young feminist leaders who stand for social justice and who bring out the best in others in the struggle of social justice. The civil society agenda centers more on young women, but the highlight of this platform was that it brought together iconic African women leaders from different sectors and from across Africa to engage with young women in an inter generational dialogue which was mostly rooted on sharing feminist and Pan African values and principles, leadership journeys and personal narratives and perspectives on thought leadership and development.
Malawi proved to be the perfect host country for such a gathering due to the ascendance to office of the president by Dr. Joyce Banda, an inspiration that has attracted the international community since she became the first woman head of state in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) region and the second on the continent of Africa after Liberia’s Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. Thembe Khumalo, a veteran journalist from Zimbabwe pointed out that Malawi became an obvious choice for hosting the WSILA conference. She hailed President Banda as a woman who has redefined how Africa interacts with the new world, and that we are all inspired because of her steering innovative leadership, not only in Malawi, but Africa as a whole. She further added that president Banda’s occupation in office as a female leader has inspired more young women and that we have seen that it is possible for women to lead in high decision making ranks including presidency and that indeed Africa needs this kind of innovative leadership.
Innovative leadership is about change and the realization that we need not only to dream as African women but also act: those dreams can come true if we work hard enough for what we believe in. Our dreams must be big enough if we want change and innovation. Slowly but surely, Africa is realizing that it needs leadership beyond politics, we need leaders that are able to promote and realize entrepreneurship, wealth creation, economic empowerment and prosperity for the poor. Africa needs visionary women leadership. There is need to revamp a breed of leadership in Africa that can consolidate the gains made so far in as far as woman leadership is concerned; most importantly, the kind of leadership that can propel the continent in turning its challenges into opportunities and practical solutions and also manage the abundant natural resources that Africa has. Women in decision making positions were urged to help mould young women (and men) to become responsible citizens as a huge population of young literate women and men in African countries holds the future of the continent. Mrs Ndanatsi Tawana, the Executive director of UAF-Africa asserted that there is need to inculcate principles of equity and equality into the young generation, and that a deficit of women’s leadership in the African continent can be attributed to the failure to invest in young girls and women, which in turn limits women’s contribution to development and hence undermining African nations’ ability to reduce poverty.
Bringing the spotlight closer to home, a young Motswana activist, Gogontlejang Phaladi was the highlight of the conference as she urged the women of Africa for “Action, Action, Action and Action” and that as African women we need to walk the talk and most importantly, if we need innovative leadership and a progressive Africa, we need to support one another and stop seeing ourselves as threats to one another, particularly with reference to the inter generational gap. The point of emphasis is that young women must be viewed as partners who would one day rise to the top and carry the legacy of leadership and development of the future generations. As African women, we need power and authority if we are to influence the change that we so seek and desire. The time is now and let us all move together forward in unison! Let us make that change!
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect official policy or position of Connect African Development.