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Young and promising

Many African women hope to succeed in their political career: the US magazine Forbes has taken as an example Angellah Kariuki, the 37-year old deputy minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs of Tanzania. Her fast career is the reason why she was listed by the magazine among the 2013 ’20 young power women’ of the continent. Uganda’s Proscovia Alengot Oromait has been even more precocious: the daughter of an MP (her father, Michael, represented the district of Katakwi), she decided to follow in her parent’s footsteps after his death and she now holds the same post: the wide support enjoyed by her late father was no doubt instrumental in her victory, as was the fact that she belongs to the same party as president Museveni, in power since 1986. Alengot’s age, nevertheless, is still an unachieved record for women politicians in Africa.

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No record, instead, for Lindiwe Mazibuko, who sits in the South African parliament, one of the most women-friendly in Africa (female MPs are 42%). The parliamentary leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA), in fact, is ‘just’ the fourth youngest MP of the country. On the other hand, many reasons suggest that the 33-year old woman has to be attentively looked at: the DA (which also has a woman leader, the Western Cape prime minister, Helen Zille) is widely considered to be a ‘white’ party. After a failed attempt by the DA to present the renowned black activist Mamphela Ramphele as presidential candidate, Lindiwe is one of the new faces the party relies on in order to attract voters from the black majority in the 7 May vote.

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Sub-Saharan Africa takes a great share of the ‘magnificent 20’ in the Forbes list. Among them, in fact, the only one coming from Northern Africa is the Egyptian businesswoman Minoush Abdel-Meguid, co-founder of Union Capital (which deals with investments) and a supporter – through the Egyptian Young Bankers Association – of fellow countrymen working in the same sector. The remaining 19 women are not only politicians and businesswomen, a demonstration that African society is becoming vital in every sector. Development policies in the continent, for instance, are often targeted because they are seen as the result of foreign agendas, but – interestingly enough – Forbes includes in its list some women dealing with the issue.

Mimi Alemayehu lives and works in the US (she represented the country in the African Development Bank and since 2010 she has been deputy president of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation) but she was born in Ethiopia. She is among those supervising the 16 billion dollars that US businessmen, through OPIC, invest in the emerging markets. Cameroon’s Claire Akamanzi, in turn, works for an institution that is regarded as suspicious by some, the World Bank, which she represents in five countries: Senegal, Gambia, Mauritania, Cape Verde and Guinea Bissau. Also governments often rely on women in this field: Rwanda Development Board, aimed to boost growth through the development of the private sector, gave this responsibility to Claire Akamanzi. The 34-year old manager is clearly trusted by her country’s government, for this has not been her first high-level assignment: she previously held a key post in the national agency dealing with investments and export promotion (RIEPA) and was among the Rwandan negotiators in the World Trade Organization.

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Things are not different in the private sector: Hadeel Ibrahim, daughter of the Sudanese-born (but British national) billionaire Mo Ibrahim, currently chairs her father’s foundation, which publishes a Governance Index widely regarded as a good measure of the continent’s progress, and is aimed to promote – and reward – the best African leaders and government practices. Also Congo-born Amini Kajunju, president and CEO at the Africa-America Institute has to do with non-profit initiatives: she is the first African woman to lead this US institution tasked with sustaining the young talents of the continent.

Like development, African art is an issue in which many people often give way to stereotypes when discussing it: when coming to African female artists, in the eye of many Westerners, they can only be either singers or dancers. On the other hand, Forbes gives importance, in his list, to various aspects of both popular and ‘high’ culture. As for the former, the list includes the Kenyan actress and film-maker Lupita Nyong’o, who was recently awarded an Oscar for her performance in ’12 Years a Slave’, and the Nigerian designer Folake Folarin-Coker, who in 1998 launched Tiffany Amber, rejecting the possibility of a career as a lawyer, for which she had studied in Europe, also obtaining a Master’s Degree in Petroleum Law. Hers was a winning choice, given that in 2009 she was named African Designer of the Year and is the only African women that has taken part for two consecutive years in the New York Fashion Week.

Also Wangechi Mutu and NoViolet Bulawayo (real name: Elizabeth Tsandile Tshele) are surely gifted with a great creative talent. The former, a Kenyan artist and sculptor has already seen her works – depicting distorted female figures through a collage technique – exhibited in the US, in Canada and in Europe. The latter is a Zimbabwean writer: her debut novel, We need new names has been shortlisted for the renowned Man Booker Prize and tells the story of a Zimbabwean girl, Elizabeth, who as a teenager moves to the US.

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