Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The power of a First Lady - Africa Part I

Janet Museveni - First Lady of Uganda

Uganda's Yoweri Museveni is no longer the favored "son" of the US. His political popularity among his former allies has dwindled and he has found himself on the defensive because of the policies that his government is implementing.

However, what most people do not know is that many of the unfavorable policies and laws being passed in Parliament are spearheaded or pushed by the First Lady.  There is no decision that President Museveni passes without first going through his wife. Janet Museveni has denied recent accusations, gathered through WikiLeaks, that she is the originator of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. However, there is no argument that she does not condone this lifestyle and has influenced her husband to make reactionary statements against the LGBT community. This First Lady ran for public office in 2008 when her husband decided not to run. He ended up running, with her support, and she was nominated and confirmed for a cabinet position in 2009.

In fairness to Mrs. Museveni, she worked on uplifting the welfare of Ugandans by proposing healthcare plans in the 1990s and fought for peace and security of children in developing countries. In 1999, she and Hillary Clinton (who then was also a First Lady) started a joint project in Uganda which helped more than 10,000 needy students with educational fees and scholastic supplies.

Grace Mugabe - First Lady of Zimbabwe
Then there is Grace Mugabe, the second wife of President Mugabe of Zimbabwe. It is said that it is only after he married Grace, his former secretary who was married to a former Air Force officer, that the country began to take a down turn. Zimbabwe was once a thriving nation led by one of the most intelligent and charismatic leaders in Africa. However, after Sally Hefron, his first wife died in 1992 of kidney failure, Mugabe married Grace and then started the idiotic policies characteristic of a mad man. Grace Mugabe was accused in 2009 of raiding the central bank vault to bank roll a family vacation in Malaysia. This was after spending $80,000 in a shopping spree in Rome the previous year while her husband was attending an UN Food and Agriculture Organization summit. In Dec. 2010, WikiLeaks cables cited her involvement in illegal diamond deals. Grace has a lavish and extravagant lifestyle in a country with such a hyper inflation rate that in 2009 it abandoned its currency. This woman influences her husband's policy decisions and unfortunately has destroyed not just the economy of Zimbabwe but the lives of thousands of people, most of whom have sought political and economic refuge in other countries.

First Ladies wield more power than we think or even know. Their word is "law and gospel" as Leymah Gbowee articulates in the video below. This is true for First Ladies around the world, even in countries where the culture demands that a woman is only to be seen and not heard.

There are First Ladies who have and have had positive influences on their husbands. These are the women that the recent Nobel Laureate, Leymah Gbowee, says should be engaged on issues affecting their countries and regions of the world.

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