The African Union celebrates Women of Excellence
BY USMAN MAMA
The African Union has declared 2015 The Year of Women Empowerment and Development Towards Africa’s Agenda 2063. So in celebration of African women, the African Union/Diaspora African Forum (AU/DAF), in collaboration with the Republic of South Africa, the African Union Commission, and NEPAD Planning and Coordination Agency, hosted an award banquet on June 12 in Sandton City, South Africa, to recognize women of Africa and African descent who have contributed to the struggle for political, social and economic independence at various levels of engagement with excellence.
The event, which was co-chaired by South African Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Maite Mashabane, and the Head of Mission (AU) Diaspora African Forum Committee, Ambassador Erieka Bennett, was televised and live-streamed globally. It comprised two categories: “The Living Legends Award,” in recognition of the elders who have paved the way, and “The Women of Excellence Award.”
“The Living Legends Award” went to the following five trailblazers: Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, South African anti-apartheid heroine and wife of the late president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela; Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the first female head of state in Africa; Nigerian business tycoon Dorothy Anyiam-Osigwe; former Malawian president Joyce Banda, and African Union chairperson and first female to hold the high position, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma.
In her remarks upon receiving the award, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the 78-year-old apartheid heroine affectionately referred to in her country simply as Winnie, demonstrated her political savvy once again by touching on a thorny issue that recently put South Africans at odds with people in other African countries, some of whom strongly supported South Africans during the apartheid era: The outburst of xenophobia that resulted in several deaths and massive repatriations, on the ground that those Africans were taking jobs away from South Africans: “I want our sisters here to convey the message that people of this country are not xenophobic,“ said Winnie, adding: “Following the stripping of resources by colonialists, we now have new challenges. But we want to convey a message of hope and that it is our responsibility to unite Africa, a free Africa without challenges.”
“The Women of Excellence Award” went to the following distinguised awardees: Graça Machel, the widow of former South African president Nelson Mandela, a politician and humanitarian of Mozambican origin; Nana Konadu Agyeman Rawlings, former first lady of Ghana; Dr. Arikana Chihombori of Zimbabwe; Justice Victoria Okobi of Nigeria; Nardos Bekele-Thomas, a U.N. executive from Ethiopia; Dr. Juliet Tuakli, a pediatrician from Ghana, and Salma Salifu, also from Ghana.
Ambassador Erieka Bennett, Head of the African Union/Diaspora African Forum (AU/DAF) which is based in Accra, Ghana with full diplomatic status, stated that the organization “was formed to support development in Africa,” adding: “and we are excited and grateful for the AU chairwoman who has embraced us and our mission in the continent.”