Samia Suluhu Hassan: A Glance at Africa’s Female Heads of States


Tanzania is set to make history producing Africa’s 10th ever ‘Head of State’ with the news of Samia Suluhu Hassan becoming the country’s latest president. The development has come at a good time for Africa, following the appointment of Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the first ever female Director-General of the World Trade Organisation. Okonjo who assumed office on March 1, has held several ministerial and UN positions before her appointment as DG of WTO.

We take a look at some of the women who have risen above the system and made history with their leadership endeavors.

sylvie kinigi

Sylvie Kinigi (Burundi, February – October 1993)
Africa’s first female president, Slyvie Kinigi. She was the Prime Minister of Burundi from February 10, 1993 to October 7, 1994. During this period, she served as the acting President of the country from October 27, 1993 to February 5, 1994 when the incumbent president Melchior Ndadaye was shot along with 6 of his cabinet members. After his death, Kinigi gathered 15 ministers to continue to govern the country. 

ivy matsepe casaburri

Ivy Matsepe-Cassaburi (South Africa, September 2005)
Matsepe-Cassaburi served temporarily as the acting president of South Africa when the president and his vice were out of the country for four days in September of 2005. She was also selected by the cabinet to serve as the constitutional and official head of state for an interim period of 14 hours on September 25, 2008 following the resignation of president Thabo Mbeki and the taking of office by the Kgalema Motlanthe.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (Liberia, January 2006 – January 2018)
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is Africa’s first elected female president and served two consecutive terms, winning the 2005 and 2011 presidential elections. She had initially run for the same office in 1997 against Charles Taylor but was beaten to it. During her time, she was elected Chair of the Economic Community of West African States in June of 2016.

Rose rogombe

Rose Francine Rogombe (Gabon, June 2009 – October 2009)
Rose Francine Rogombe served as interim president of Gabon from June 2009 to October 2009 after the death of president Omar Bongo. As president of the Senate at that time, she automatically became the Head of State in accordance with the Gabonese constitution. Rose died in 2015, aged 72.

Agnes Monique

Agnes Monique Ohsan Bellepeau (Mauritius, March – July 2012 and May – June 2015)
Agnes Monique Ohsan Bellepeau was acting president of the Mauritius from March 31, 2012 – July 21, 2012. This was the transition period between the resignation of then president, Anerood Jugnauth to the inauguration of the new President Kailash Purryag. She was called upon again to act when Purryag resigned until new president, Ameenah Gurib was inaugurated.

Malawi Vice President Joyce Banda

Joyce Hilda Banda (Malawi, April 2012 – May 2014)
Banda served the Malawian people as president from April 7, 2012 to May 31, 2014 following the death of President Bingu wa Mutharika. She was the country’s fourth president. She had earlier made history, becoming the country’s first female Vice President from May 2009 to April 2012. In 2014, Forbes named her the 40th most powerful woman in the world and the most powerful woman in Africa.

Catherine Samba

Catherine Samba (Central African Republic, January 2014 – March 2016)
Catherine Samba Panza became the Acting Head of State of the Central African Republic in 2014 and served until 2016. She assumed office when rebel leader Michael Djotodia resigned from his self-appointed presidency. Before she took on this role, she was the mayor of the capital city of Bangui from 2013 to 2014.

Ameenah Gurib Fakim

Ameenah Gurib-Fakim (Mauritius, June 2015 – March 2018)
Ameenah Gurib-Fakim was unanimously elected president of Mauritius by the National Assembly. She was selected to be a Presidential candidate in 2014 following the resignation of then President, Kailash Purryag.

Sahle Work Zewde

Sahle-Work Zewde (Ethiopia, October 2018 – Present)
Zewde became the first elected female president of Ethiopia and currently the only female out of the 54 presidents in the continent. She took office on October 25, 2018 after being unanimously elected by members of the National Parliamentary Assembly. Prior to her election as president, she worked as Special Representative of United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres to the African Union and Head of the United Nations Office to the African Union.

First female president in Africa

Samia Suluhu Hassan (Tanzania, March 2021 – Present)
Hasan becomes the first female president of Tanzania following the death of president John Magufuli. A ruling party stalwart, she rose through the ranks until being picked by Magufuli as his running mate in his first presidential election campaign in 2015. She is set to succeed the late president until his term expires in 2025.

African women who have aspired to be leaders have been often failed by a system setup by men, for men to dominate. Hassan may have been fortunate to become Tanzania’s president but, it is a welcome development in Africa as continue the fight for gender equality and inclusion.

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