It is no longer big news around the continent when a woman vies for president, although Africans rarely give them their votes: female candidates rarely get more than 1% of the total vote.
Women candidates performed better about two decades ago when Africa was just transitioning into multiparty democracy. The pioneers – in the pre-Millennium Development Goals days before inclusivity and gender parity had become buzz words – did so when the environment was much more hostile to women in politics than it is today.
Despite this hostility – or perhaps because of it – the sheer novelty and audacity of a woman vying for the highest office of the land secured them many “curiosity” votes.
This was particularly the case in the 1997 Kenyan general election, when Charity Ngilu vied as Kenya’s – and East Africa’s – first female presidential candidate.
She surprised many by coming in third in the race with 7.71% of the vote, the most that a female candidate has bagged in East Africa to date, and far ahead of veteran male opposition politicians who were also in the running.
Nigeria had its third female presidential candidate in its just-concluded election that saw Muhammadu Buhari elected with over 15 million votes.
Nigeria on Tuesday marks the first anniversary of Boko Haram’s abduction of 219 schoolgirls from the northeastern town of Chibok, as part of a series of events planned around the world.
The commemoration and renewed calls for their release came as Amnesty International said the Islamists had kidnapped at least 2 000 women and girls since the beginning of last year.
The UN and African rights groups also called for an end to the targeting of boys and girls in the conflict, which has left at least 15 000 dead and some 1.5 million people homeless, 800 000 of them children.
The focus of the one-year commemoration was on Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, where a vigil has been held demanding the girls’ immediate release almost every day since they were kidnapped.
In New York, the #BringBackOurGirls campaign said the Empire State Building would be lit in its colours of red and purple, to symbolise an end to violence against women.
Prayers, candlelit vigils and marches have been held or are planned and campaign group member Habiba Balogun said it was important to mark the anniversary.
“It’s wonderful that the world is remembering and… sending the message that we are not going to forget and we are not going to stop until we know what has happened to our girls,” she told AFP.
Boko Haram fighters stormed the Government Secondary School in the remote town in Borno state on the evening of April 14 last year, seizing 276 girls who were preparing for end-of-year exams.
Fifty-seven escaped but nothing has been heard of the 219 others since May last year, when about 100 of them appeared in a Boko Haram video, dressed in Muslim attire and reciting the Koran.
Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau has since said they have all converted to Islam and been “married off”.
The mass abduction brought the brutality of the Islamist insurgency unprecedented worldwide attention and prompted a viral social media campaign demanding their immediate release.
Nigeria’s government was criticised for its initial response to the crisis and was forced into accepting foreign help in the rescue effort after a groundswell of global outrage.
The military has said it knows where the girls are but has ruled out a rescue effort because of the dangers to the girls’ lives.
In a new report published on Tuesday, Amnesty quoted a senior military officer as saying the girls were being held at different Boko Haram camps, including in Cameroon and possibly Chad.
The Chibok abduction was one of 38 it had documented since the beginning of last year, with women and girls who escaped saying they were subject to forced labour and marriage, as well as rape.
‘I forgive Boko Haram’
#BringBackOurGirls organisers thanked supporters across the world, from ordinary men, women and children to public figures such as US First Lady Michelle Obama and Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai.
The girls were “the symbol for the defence of the dignity and sanctity of human life, of the girl child, women, for all those oppressed, repressed, disadvantaged, hurting, unsafe,” they said.
“We must prioritise their safe return,” they said in a statement last week.
Malala, who was shot and nearly killed by the Pakistani Taliban for advocating girls’ education, on Monday published an open letter to the Chibok girls, describing them as “my brave sisters”.
The 17-year-old criticised Nigerian and world leaders for not doing enough to help secure their release and called the girls “my heroes”.
Outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan’s government has been accused of indifference to the fate of the girls after initially trying to downplay the size of the kidnapping and even deny it had happened.
Jonathan’s election defeat last month to former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari has raised hopes of a breakthrough. He has vowed to “spare no effort” to destroy the militants.
Twenty-one of the 57 girls who escaped are currently studying at the American University of Nigeria in Yola, the capital of neighbouring Adamawa state.
They told AFP in an email exchange with university staff they were hoping to make “positive future changes, not just in Chibok, but in our country and the world”.
The kidnapped girls were in their thoughts and prayers every day, they said, but they did not blame Boko Haram foot soldiers.
“I forgive Boko Haram for what they have done and I pray God forgives them, too,” said one.
Kenya has given the United Nations three months to remove a camp housing more than half a million Somali refugees, as part of a get-tough response to the killing of 148 people by Somali gunmen at a Kenyan university.
Kenya has in the past accused Islamist militants of hiding out in Dadaab camp which it now wants the UN refugee agency UNHCR to move across the border to inside Somalia.
“We have asked the UNHCR to relocate the refugees in three months, failure to which we shall relocate them ourselves,” Deputy President William Ruto said in a statement on Saturday.
“The way America changed after 9/11 is the way Kenya will change after Garissa,” he said, referring to the university that was attacked on April 2.
Emmanuel Nyabera, spokesperson for the UNHCR in Kenya, said they were yet to receive formal communication from the government on the relocation of Dadaab and could not comment.
The complex of camps hosts more than 600 000 Somali refugees, according to Ruto, in a remote, dry corner in northeast Kenya, about an hour’s drive from Garissa town.
The camp was first established in 1991 when civil war broke out in neighbouring Somalia, and over subsequent years has received waves of refugees fleeing conflict and drought.
The United Nations puts the number of registered refugees in the chronically overcrowded settlements of permanent structures, mud shanties and tents, at around 335 000. The camp houses schools, clinics and community centres.
Macharia Munene, professor of international relations at USIU-Africa, said the logistics of moving hundreds of thousands of refugees across the border would be “a tall order”.
But he said there were now safe areas within Somalia from where Islamist al Shabab militants had been chased out by African Union forces in recent years.
“Kenya is in an emergency situation… Each country has an obligation to look after its people first,” he told Reuters.
‘We must secure this country at all costs’ Funerals of the students killed in the campus attack were taking place across the country. Pictures of their grieving families dominated the media, reminding Kenyans of the attack.
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe on Wednesday launched a wide-ranging attack on Western colonisation in Africa and recent intervention in the Arab world, as he made his first state visit to South Africa in 21 years.
The veteran leader, 91, seized the opportunity of a televised press conference with President Jacob Zuma in Pretoria to lambast the United Nations Security Council, the United States and former colonial power Britain.
“We want a political environment in which we are not interfered with by outsiders and we become masters of ourselves in Africa,” Mugabe told reporters.
“We don’t think we are getting a fair deal at the United Nations.
“The five countries there who are permanent members… control the entire system.”
Mugabe said the developing world should stand together against the US, France and Britain, who make up three of five permanent members of the UN security council.
“They disturb the Arab world and leave (it) torn apart. Look at what they did to Libya,” he said, adding that US-led wars in Iraq revealed the “messy, reckless, brutal approach of the West”.
Mugabe, who is often accused of human rights abuses in Zimbabwe, said his state visit to Pretoria represented Africa’s victory over colonialists.
“Now we are our own people, and we have President Zuma here and President Mugabe in Zimbabwe – that is what what you fought for,” he said.
“African resources belong to Africa. Others may come to assist as our friends and allies but no longer as colonisers or oppressors, no longer as racists.”
Mugabe provoked laughter from some officials when he spoke about a statue of British colonialist Cecil Rhodes in Cape Town that has been vandalised in recent student protests.
Rhodes is buried in Zimbabwe, which was called Rhodesia until independence in 1980 when Mugabe came to power.
“We are looking after the corpse. You have the statue of him,” Mugabe said. “I don’t know what you think we should do – dig him up? Perhaps his spirit might rise again.”
Mugabe, who was accompanied by his wife Grace, hopes his visit to South Africa will drum up foreign investment to revive his nation’s moribund economy.
Zimbabwe has been on a downturn for more than a decade due to low growth and high unemployment.
Zimbabwe’s economy entered a tailspin after the launch of controversial land reforms 14 years ago. By 2008, inflation had officially peaked at 231 million percent before the government stopped counting.
Zuma said a series of agreements signed on Wednesday would help both nations.
“The economies of the two countries are historically and inextricably linked,” he said. “Opportunities for deeper economic cooperation exist.”
Mugabe, who is the current chairman of the African Union, has visited South Africa in the past on working trips but has made no state visit since 1994.
His wife Grace is seen as one possible successor to her husband.
Former vice-president Joice Mujuru was long considered likely to take over, but she fell out with the veteran leader late last year and was sacked in December.
Mugabe will attend a bilateral business forum in Pretoria on Thursday.
Determined that the students killed in the terror attacks in Garissa not be reduced to a number, a Kenyan social media campaign has set out to tell the story of each individual victim.
Using the hashtag #147notjustanumber and #theyhavenames, friends and families of the victims, journalists and others on Twitter have begun to honour the lives of those who died – sharing the photographs, names, ages and character portraits as the details become available.
Each tweet paints a powerful portrait of loss.
They include tributes to Leah N Wanfula, who at 21 was the first of nine siblings to go to university. There’s Gideon Kirui, 22, whose entire family saved up for him to continue his education; and Selpher Wandia, 21, who was studying to become a teacher.
They record small details that will be remembered by those closest: Beatrice Njeri Thinwa, 20, was a fan of Kenny Rogers and Mildred Yondo loved theatre, music and mangoes.
Official reports say that 148 people died when al-Shabaab gun men stormed a university in eastern Kenya seeking out Christians last week. Most were aged between 19 and 23. Some of the victims honoured on Twitter were also featured in Kenyan national newspaper the Daily Nation on Monday.
Ory Okolloh Mwangi, also know as @KenyanPundit, started the campaign on Sunday before the official death toll had been raised to 148.
She told the Wall Street Journal that the initiative was “an effort to humanise victims of terror”. According to social media monitor Topsy, the hashtag #147notjustanumber has been mentioned 52 000 times so far.
In an effort to make sure each student is honoured a public Google document has been created “to ensure we never forget the names of victims of internal and external acts of mass violence”. It also contains tabs for other al-Shabab victims, including the ones on Mandera Quarry in 2014 and the Westgate shopping mall in 2013.
Coordinated by a Kenyan blogger known as Owaahh, the document is acting as an open-source database. The public are asked to add any information they have about the Garissa students, including quotes from family members and personal Facebook pages.
Owaahh’s team is also asking for links to source and verify the information collected. It currently lists the details of 71 victims, not all of them are verified.
Kenyans on social media have also started to share details of a vigil “to remember and mourn the Kenyans who lost their lives”, which will be held in Uhuru Park, Nairobi. People have been asked to volunteer at the event and those attending to bring handwritten tributes.