The chicest (and most intellectual) African first ladies

First ladies are finally taking center stage on the continent. They embody a “soft power,” the cultural influence of a people. We are now just getting beyond the era, in which African heads of state have multiple wives. Zeinab Suma Jammeh, the former first lady of Gambia, was the endlessly chic “main wife” of the former President of the Gambia, Yahya Jammeh. Blame “tradition.” But there are many such similar stories. "Togo’s totalitarian and Africa’s longest-serving former president Gnassingbe Eyadema was survived by three official wives at his death in 2005, but the actual number was said to be higher,” The Daily Nation reminds us, matter-of-factly.

We’ve kind of come a long way...

Prestige, beauty, power, and style all go into my formulations of what is chic among African First Ladies. And we cannot fail to note that now a First Lady should be intelligent and dedicated to her people. So, without any thought of judgement, here’s the list of Africa’s most interesting First Ladies:

Aminata Keita, Mali

The First Lady of Mali, Madam Keita Aminata Maiga has distinguished herself by being wholly against child marriage, one of the great scourges of the continent, a source of misery for so many Africans. The campaign starts from the premise that child marriage undermines the socio-economic development of the country. In October 2015 the First Lady launched the “Education for girls, a means to eliminating early child marriage” campaign. Its aim in eliminating child marriage is both practical and smart. The goals are manifold -- to aggressively diminish school dropout rates among women, set the minimum marriage age at 18, and to fully engage as First Lady with at-risk girls.

“These would greatly help to eradicate child marriage, and demonstrate the commitment of the Government of Mali in promoting and safeguarding the rights and wellbeing of children in Mali," said an October 2015 press release.

Malika Issoufou, Niger

 Niger-born Lalla Malika Issoufou holds a doctorate in medicine from the Abdou Moumouni University. In addition, she studied at Paris Diderot University, as well as at the Pierre and Marie Curie University for her postdoctoral studies. Dr. Malika Issoufou of Niger is head of the Tattali Iyali Foundation, which among other things, sets a priority at furthering access to clean drinking water. The work of the foundation targets vulnerable populations, like women and children, in parallel to the Niger Renaissance Program. The Tattali Iyali Foundation aims at helping disabled children and orphans.

Graca Machel, formerly of South Africa and Mozambique

Graca Machel, a graduate of the University of Lisbon, rose from a family of peasants to a law degree and First Lady. Born 17 days after her father's death and the youngest of six children, Machel's portfolio is quite impressive. She served as Minister of Education and Culture in Mozambique for more than 10 years. Following her retirement from the Mozambique ministry, she was appointed as the expert in charge of producing the groundbreaking United Nations report on the impact of armed conflict on children. Machel also received the 1995 Nansen Medal from the United Nations in recognition of her longstanding humanitarian work, specifically on behalf of refugee children, and in 1998 was one of the two winners of the North–South Prize. Currently, she serves as the chair of The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health, the chair of the Association of European Parliamentarians with Africa Eminent Advisory Board, and has been chancellor of the University of Cape Town since 1999. She was named president of the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London in 2012. In 2016, Machel was named Chancellor of the African Leadership University. Finally, in July 2017, Machel was elected an Honorary Fellow of the British Academy, the United Kingdom's national academy for the humanities and social sciences.

Further, Graca Machel has the distinction of being the First Lady of two African nations. At 79, the late Nelson Mandela said that his love for this wife Graca Machel made him “bloom like a flower.” Mandela was so in love with her that he gave his security details headaches by stopping by chocolate shops to buy presents for his wife unannounced. When she married South Africa’s most famous leader (on his 80th birthday), she was also the widow of Mozambique's former President, Samora Machel. P. W. Botha.

Margaret Gakuo Kenyatta

A graduate of Kenyatta University in Education, Mrs. Kenyatta is, to be sure, a silver fox. “Maggie” as she is called by the Kenyan public, is generally more popular than her husband, and one of the most elegant women in Africa. She is "graceful, simple and yet extremely fashionable," according to CitizenTV. She is also quite active on Twitter, touting humanitarian concerns. First Lady Kenyatta’s father, Dr. Ephantus Njuguna Gakuo, a PhD economist from German’s Freiberg University, was the former Director of State Controlled Kenya Railways Corporation.

The wearing salt-and-pepper short-hair is known for her Kenya First fashion style, Massai rings and Kenyan jewelry. Her African-themed dera was pronounced as “stunning” several months ago at the Mashuja day celebrations, and we respect First Ladies promoting thier cultural heritage. 

Dominique Folloroux-Ouattara, Ivory Coast

Dominique Folloroux-Ouattara of the Ivory Coast is the Founding President of Children of Africa Foundation, with a Baccalaureate in Economic Sciences at Strasbourg Academy (1972). Folloroux-Ouattara is social and super-glam. With liquid eyes, Afrocentric wardrobe and the Jacques DESSANGE franchise, she is the quintessential chic African woman. Her portfolio combines business and charity, like many first ladies. “Une premiere damme d’influence” is how she was referred to by Le Monde,"An influential First Lady." 

From 1979, she was CEO of AICI International Group, then in 1993 established a real estate management company, Malesherbes Gastron. Successful in her roles, in 1996, Folloroux-Ouattara was appointed CEO of French hair care chain EJD Inc., a company that manages Jacques Dessange Institute in Washington, D.C., which she acquired and became CEO. Following her husband's election as President of the Republic, Folloroux-Ouattara ceased her activities as a business woman to solely focus on her First Lady duties. In November 2011, she was appointed head of the National Oversight Committee of Actions Against Child Trafficking, Exploitation and Labor.

Sylvia Valentin Bongo Ondimba

Born in Paris, Sylvia Valentin Bongo Ondimba is the daughter of Edouard Valentin a French businessman, whose wife Evelyne Valentin, became President Bongo Ondimba's secretary. Sylvia spent most of her childhood in Africa: Cameroon, Tunisia and Gabon. In 1988, Sylvia met Ali Bongo Ondimba and married him a year later. They have four children: Malika, Noureddin Edouard, Jalil, and Bilal. Sylvia Valentin Bongo Ondimba graduated with an advanced-level degree (DESS) in corporate management in France.

The Sylvia Bongo Ondimba Foundation, started in 2015, focuses primarily in the areas of Health and Education. “We have devotedly travelled our roads, countryside and provinces, so that our initiatives may reach out more than ever before; whether as part of the fight against cancer, which has seen twenty-eight new screening and diagnostic units installed in Gabon – or for initiatives aimed at young people, with the birth of two new programmes: Safety First and the Livre des Métiers (Vocational Handbook).

At times, our path has been strewn with pitfalls and obstacles that appeared insurmountable. Nevertheless, the Foundation believes that in reality, these challenges give meaning to our activities and are a source of motivation " as stated on the Foundation page.

Ana Dias Lourenço, Angola

Luanda born, Ana Dias Lourenço earned a degree in Economics from the University of Agostinho Neto in Angola, and a certificate in Macroeconomic Policy and Management. Actively involved in her country's development, she served as the President of the National Council of Statistics, President of SADC’s National Commission, National Coordinator of the FED Fund, Angola’s Governor for the World Bank and African Development Bank, and member of the Government’s Economic Cabinet. From 1986 to 1997, she held the position of Head of Investments Department, Ministry of Planning of Angola, and the National Director of the Investment Department. Ana Dias Lourenço was also the Vice Minister and Minister of Planning of Angola from 1997 to 2012.