Sometime in the past, African women were traditionally mandated to just run the household, bear and rear the children. If they were lucky enough to go to school, the best they could achieve was to become a teacher or a nurse.
Girls were ineligible for leadership positions and were generally considered to have an inferior intellect to their brothers. But with time and effort, things have changed and keep changing for these ladies. Today African women are everywhere in the corporate world, academia, politics, diplomacy and different top-notch careers.
Here is the list of some African women who have held some top international jobs. These powerful, learned and influential African women represent only a little portion of many African women who are capable of securing most respected positions anywhere in the world and contributing to the history of their countries, Africa and all mankind.
Dr. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka
She is a South African politician and United Nations official, and is currently serving as the Executive Director of UN Women with the rank of Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations. She served as Deputy President of South Africa from 2005 to 2008, the first woman to hold the position and at that point the highest ranking woman in the history of South Africa.
Prior to this, she served as Minister of Minerals and Energy from 1999 to 2005 and Deputy Minister in the Department of Trade and Industry from 1996 to 1999. She was a Member of Parliament from 1994 to 1996 as part of South Africa’s first democratic government.
She began her career as a teacher and gained international experience as a coordinator at the World YWCA in Geneva, where she established a global programme for young women. She is the founder of the Umlambo Foundation, which supports leadership and education.
She obtained a bachelor’s degree in social science and education from the National University of Lesotho in 1980, as well as a master’s degree in philosophy from the University of Cape Town in 2003, which dealt with educational planning and policy. In 2013, she completed a doctorate from the University of Warwick.
Fatou Bom Bensouda
She is a Gambian lawyer and international criminal law prosecutor. She has been the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor since June 2012, after having served as a Deputy Prosecutor in charge of the Prosecutions Division of the ICC since 2004.
Prior to her work at the International Criminal Court, Ms Bensouda worked as Legal Adviser and Trial Attorney at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in Arusha, Tanzania, rising to the position of Senior Legal Advisor and Head of The Legal Advisory Unit.
Before joining the ICTR, she was General Manager of a leading commercial bank in The Gambia. Between 1987 and 2000, she was successively Senior State Counsel, Principal State Counsel, Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions, Solicitor General and Legal Secretary of the Republic, and Attorney General and Minister of Justice, in which capacity she served as Chief Legal Advisor to the President and Cabinet of The Republic of The Gambia.
Ms Bensouda holds a master’s degree in International Maritime Law and Law of The Sea and as such is the first international maritime law expert of The Gambia.
Prof. Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka
She is a former under-secretary-general of the United Nations and executive director of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT). She was the second highest ranking African woman in the UN system after her compatriot, Asha-Rose Migiro, until her resignation in 2010 to run for political office in Tanzania. Since 2010, she has been a Member of Parliament for Muleba South constituency.
From 1993 to 1998, Tibaijuka was associate professor of economics at the University of Dar es Salaam.
Apart from her UN-HABITAT activities, Mrs Tibaijuka is dedicated to the role and rights of women in development.
The founding Chairperson of the independent Tanzanian National Women’s Council (BAWATA), she is also the founding Chairperson of the Barbro Johansson Girls Education Trust dedicated to promoting high standards of education for girls in Africa.
Tibaijuka holds a Doctorate of Science in Agricultural Economics from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala. She is fluent in Haya, Swahili, English, Swedish and French.
Dr. Asha-Rose Migiro
She is a Tanzanian politician and diplomat who was the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations from 2007 to 2012. She was appointed as the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa on 13th July 2012.
Dr. Migiro served as Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation from 2006-2007 – the first woman in the United Republic of Tanzania to hold that position since its independence in 1961. Before that, she was Minister for Community Development, Gender and Children for five years.
Prior to Government service, Dr. Migiro pursued a career in academia. She was a member of the Faculty of Law at the University of Dar-es-Salaam, where she rose to the rank of Senior Lecturer. She headed the Department of Constitutional and Administrative Law from 1992 to 1994, and the Department of Civil and Criminal Law from 1994 to 1997. Her work was published widely in local and international journals.
Dr. Migiro obtained a Master of Laws from the University of Dar-es-Salaam in 1984 and a Doctorate in law from the University of Konstanz in Germany in 1992. In addition to English, she speaks Kiswahili, basic French and German.
Amina Mohamed Jibril
She is a Kenyan lawyer, diplomat and politician. She is presently serving as the Cabinet Secretary for Education in Kenya. She previously served as chairwoman of the International Organization for Migration and the World Trade Organisation’s General Council, as well as Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
She is the first woman to have held the position of Foreign Minister (Cabinet Secretary) of Kenya, she was the first woman to have chaired the governing General Council of the World Trade Organization, the Dispute Settlement Body, the International Organization for Migration as well as President of the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime.
She was the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs of Kenya from 2008 to 2011. In that role, in 2010 she supervised the redraft of the Constitution of Kenya.
Ms Mohamed graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Law from the University of Kiev, Ukraine. She also has a Master of Laws (LLM) in International Law from the same institution. She has a second degree in Law from Kenya School of Law and a Postgraduate Diploma in International Relations from the University of Oxford.
Mohamed is multilingual, speaking her native Somali as well as English, Russian, Swahili and French.
Amina J. Mohammed
She is the current Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations and a former Minister of Environment of Federal Republic of Nigeria from November 2015 to December 2016.
She is also an Adjunct Professor in Development Practice at Columbia University, and served on numerous international advisory boards and panels, including the UN Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Post-2015 Development Agenda, the Independent Expert Advisory Group on the Data Revolution for Sustainable Development, the Global Development Program of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the African Women’s Millennium Initiative, Girl Effect, 2016 African Union Reform and the ActionAid International Right to Education Project.
As Minister of Environment of Nigeria from November 2015 to December 2016, she steered the country’s efforts on climate action, protecting the natural environment and conserving resources for sustainable development.
She is a Tanzanian microbiologist and environmental scientist who served as the Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) at the level of Assistant Secretary-General. She was appointed to this position by United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres on 21 May 2018, for a 5-year term.
Earlier in her career, she held numerous prestigious positions at the World Bank Group.
Ms. Msuya holds a Master of Science in microbiology and immunology from the University of Ottawa, Canada, and a Bachelor of Science in biochemistry and immunology from the University of Strathclyde, Scotland.