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.
Desperate Housewives Africa, the African version of the award-winning US television drama series, will launch on April 30 on EbonyLife TV (DStv 165).
According to the Nigerian network, “viewers can look forward to an enthralling and spell-binding homegrown pilot that takes the Desperate Housewives format as you once knew it to scandalously new dimensions.”
Filmed in Lagos, the series stars Marcy Dolapo Oni as Rume Bello, the dead friend who narrates the series. Her friends must cope with her absence while their own lives unravel in “comedic and dramatic” fashion.
Michelle Dede plays Tari Gambadia, who competes for the attention of a new hunky neighbour with his own ulterior motives.
Nini Wacera is Ese De Souza, a housewife struggling to maintain the perfect family.
Kehinde Bankole plays Kiki Obi, who is caught up in a sleazy love affair.
Omotu Bissong, who stars as Funke Lawal, copes with life as a stay-at-home and exhausted mum of four.
The original Desperate Housewives is broadcast in more than 200 territories around the world. Versions of it have been produced for audiences in Turkey, Argentina, Columbia, Brazil – and now Africa.
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.
Audrey Mbugua will not say whether it was a razor blade, pills or carbon monoxide that she used to try to kill herself.
Born a male in Kenya and given the name Andrew, she felt trapped in the wrong body and started dressing in women’s clothes while at university, attracting ridicule and rejection. After graduation, Mbugua was jobless, penniless and alone.
“I thought the best way was to end it all,” she recalled six years later, sitting in her leafy garden in Kiambu, 20km from the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.
“I didn’t have any hope. I didn’t have friends I could talk to. My family had deserted me,” said the slim 31-year-old, who wears glasses and her hair long.
Experts say up to 1 percent of the world’s population are transgender – men and women who feel they have been born with the wrong body and the wrong gender.
When Mbugua sought help to deal with her inner turmoil from a healthworker, the woman took Mbugua’s hands and prayed for her to be freed from the devil’s clutches.
“She pulls open her drawer, takes out a Bible and starts to preach to me,” Mbugua laughed. “I don’t think she knew what I was going through, so to cover up, she said it’s the work of Satan.”
Transgender people are some of the most invisible in Africa where rigid gender stereotyping continues to stifle freedoms. Many are forced to hide their identity and live on the margins of their communities or risk being vilified as immoral and unchristian by the conservative majority.
Mbugua is a rare exception.
Since a test case in 2013 to compel Kenya’s examinations council to change the name on her school leaving certificate from Andrew to Audrey, Mbugua has become an unlikely celebrity, using interviews to promote transgender rights.
Surgery After Mbugua’s 2008 suicide attempt, doctors diagnosed her with gender identity disorder and arranged for surgery to change her sex.
But Kenya’s minister of medical services cancelled the operation at the last minute without explanation – an example of the confusion that has marred her quest to fully become a woman.
Facing one hurdle after another, Mbugua decided she had to take up the mantle of campaigning for transgender rights to combat the ignorance and stigma blighting her life.
“It has to be done so that people are able to live lives that are full of dignity, where people are not hindered from being who they are,” Mbugua said.
Transgender people across Africa are publicly humiliated, stripped, harassed by the police and thrown out of their homes. Alcoholism and suicide are often the only way out.
“A transgender person should be a prostitute, they should be used for sodomy – that is the general narrative,” Mbugua said.
Despite a degree in biotechnology, Mbugua has been unable to find work. She has had a dozen job interviews, but the interviewers made “nasty comments” and threatened to take her academic certificates to the police, accusing her of fraud.
Mbugua changed her name through deed poll in 2012, using this to replace Andrew with Audrey on her passport.
But she has been unable to change the name on her identity card, birth certificate or academic papers. An application to change her identity card has been pending since 2012.
Her 2013 case against Kenya’s examinations council unleashed a media frenzy with her story dominating front pages. Television interviewers asked her about her sex life, she was mocked online and young men in her village threatened to attack her.
“You feel like throwing yourself in front of the bus but you have to find a way of living with it,” she said. “I wanted to take as many hits as possible and show the world that you can hit a transsexual and she stands up.”
“I didn’t want people to think of people like me as cowards, as people who hide, who are ashamed of themselves,” she added.
In a landmark ruling in October, the court ordered the examinations council to change the name on Mbugua’s certificate. But the council appealed the ruling and the case is awaiting a date in the High Court.
Fundamental change? South Africa and Botswana are the only African countries with laws explicitly allowing official documents to be changed to reflect a person’s desired identity, although medical evidence of transition is usually required.
Kenyan authorities say medical proof of transition – a sex change – is required to change the gender mark on Mbugua’s passport and identity card. But sex change surgery is virtually impossible to get in Kenya because the procedure is so unusual.
The few Kenyans Mbugua knows who have had surgery did it overseas.
In February, the High Court ruled against ordering the government to set medical guidelines for treatment of gender identity disorder, which must be in place before Mbugua can undergo surgery.
“Gender change operation is part of my treatment,” she said. “It’s the last piece of my treatment as recommended by doctors who saw me. It’s my right.”
Mbugua has become Kenya’s most famous transgender woman. Strangers stop her in the street and tell her she is brave and beautiful. She receives emails from doctors asking her to help transgender patients change their names on official documents.
She juggles her advocacy work with studying for a Masters degree, spending hours at her computer, blue and black nail polishes neatly lined up next to the screen.
She believes Kenyans are now more understanding of what it is to be transgender, accepting it as a medical condition that has nothing to do with homosexuality, which remains a taboo in much of Africa.
“Nowadays, I normally have a good night’s sleep because no one calls me that they have been arrested by city council or police on some trumped-up charges of cross-dressing or prostitution,” she said. “We have seen fundamental changes.”