‘Africa on the Rise: Stories from our leaders’

Africa is on the rise and so are its women. On May 2nd 2013 AWiB presented three exceptional women leaders who have stepped into the national scenes of their countries and who have influenced regional level policy.

These women have taken to spread stories of power, progress and accomplishments. Dr. Hesphina Rukato, Ms. Michelle Ndiaye Ntab and Ms. Stella Sabiiti are three phenomenal women who embody dynamism and leadership in every aspect. Currently Dr. Hesphina Rukato is the deputy Chief of Staff in the Bureau of the AU Commission Chairperson. Ms. Michelle Ndiaye is the Senior Regional Advisor at the Institute for Peace and Security Studies (IPSS) and lastly Ms. Stella Sabitti works in the AU Women, Gender and Development Directorate (WGDD). Each one of these notable women  took us through their childhood, shared their personal experiences and bestowed upon us their words of wisdom.

‘I don’t understand why I am a leader ’ says Dr. Hesphina as she began to share with us her life story. “Most people who are leaders are shaped and influenced by where they are from” Dr. Hesphina shared. Growing up in a large family based in rural Zimbabwe at the time of the liberation struggle, there were two prime aspects that shaped her into the  woman and leader she is today. The first was the love she received from her family which grounded her at an early age, and the second influence draws from the liberation struggle itself. “Even though I was young, I understood certain principles of who we are, what we stand for and what we fight for. I have this understanding till now, and even though the world is changing around us, those principles are relevant to me” she recalls.

Balance is also an important part of life, adds Dr. Hesphina. Being a single mother of three, understanding and experiencing the many difficulties posed in relationships whilst remaining balanced is an important life lesson. Aside from inner balance, gender balance is also key. As women leaders we are exposed to power dynamics all around us, she shares. Traditional gender roles are being challenged and changed. Women are now stepping out of their kitchens, out of their homes and into the professional world. Accepting and adhering to such changes is however an adjustment to men. “For me it is an issue when we talk of women advancement. It’s a challenge to advance ahead of your partner whether in the professional or personal world. You have to decide whether to suppress your ambition or to preserve yourself. I chose to preserve myself and what I stood for” adds Dr. Hesphina.

When asked to share with us what her motivation for excellence is, she replies “what has kept me going and what keeps me going is knowing that anything is possible. As long as we human beings are involved, there is a way.” To sum up Dr. Hesphina reflected back to her initial comment of not understanding why she is referred to as a leader per-se. “I am not sure who is a leader and who is not, because we are all leaders in our own contexts” she adds.

Ms. Michelle Ndiaye Ntab was our second phenomenal African leader to speak. “Being a leader is not easily defined, but I think it involves action, and it is about how you carry yourself, take responsibility and how you act for change” explains Ms. Michelle as she starts off encountering her personal experiences with leadership. “If I am called a leader, it is because I came from an environment and a set of encounters that shaped me to become a leader,” she further continues.

Ms. Michelle shared with us three significant and consequential stories that have not only led her to be an expert in her field but dubbed her a successful leader.  In the first story, Ms. Michelle spoke of her exceptionally rigorous father who reminded her daily to never fail, be accountable for all her actions and to be hard working. In her second story, it was her boss who was a big believer in her strength, her talents and her potential that made her believe in herself, and made her believe that she can overcome any challenges that she encounters.  And lastly, she recounted her nurse who cared for her during the time Ms. Michelle had been half paralyzed. This nurse gave her the strength to say ‘I will walk again,’ and taught her to never give in.

The morale of these stories is that we should never give up. Ms. Michelle came across as being a go- getter. She acts, takes responsibility and as such is a leader. We can also learn that it is important to embrace change and not fear it. Furthermore, as women leaders, it is our duty to make other women shine, to be the ladder to some one else’s success.

The stories put forth by Ms. Stella Sabiiti truly exemplify how a woman can turn her oppression into opportunity. Ms. Stella was abducted at a young age during Idi Amin’s brutal regime in Uganda, and consequently had spent a lot of her childhood with rebels. In the midst of all the dreadful things the soldiers did to her, she was able to study them. It is with this backdrop that Ms. Stella studied social psychology; and hence forth became an expert and a leader on Peace and Security.

“Always stay engaged and always stay faithful in what u want to do” says Ms. Stella. When Idi Amin’s regime was overthrown, and the rebels wanted to go to the negotiating table, it was Ms. Stella who was handpicked to lead the negotiations and witness the peace agreement that was signed on December 24, 2002. “God gives us so many challenges that are not made to put us down and cry and loose hope; that challenge is there to make us stronger. So I am happy of all that has happened to me,” Ms. Stella says.

Ms. Stella summarizes leadership in relation to the workings of geese. “If you look in the sky you see geese flying in V formation with a leader at the fore front, which rotates and flies to the back when tired, replaced by another one”. What we as humans should learn from geese is that being a leader is not easy, she reflects. You get tired and there are challenges that come your way; but one must see that the community is there to help you and therefore you must share responsibility. We should learn to support each other and not allow pressure from outside to pull us down.

The values and essentials of leadership alluded to by the three panelists is widely shared by AWiB members. “Here at AWiB we don’t believe that leadership exists in one facet, rather leadership starts with ourselves, and then it extends to family leadership and so forth” explains Ms. Seble Hailu, AWiB President Elect and our moderator for the evening.

Participants not only listened but internalized the life experiences shared by these three phenomenal leaders. At the end of this remarkable and edifying evening, our participants left having learnt ways of accommodating differences, not giving up, broadening opportunities, always staying engaged and appreciating one another and learning to support one another- and these are the very values we embody at AWiB!

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