Heads of State
For the first time ever, a group of women heads of state will come together to discuss their reflections on the Top 6 Opportunities for Africa’s Advancement.
An unprecedented convening of African women heads of state focused on Africa’s advancement agenda through a gender lens.
The Women Heads of State Summit
full length video replay.
How many women have served as president or prime minister of an African country?
We did the research and reveal the list in this video.
Africa.com defines Women Heads of State as women who have served as president or prime minister, including Heads of State and Heads of Government. Women must have been elected or appointed since 1970 and served for a minimum of three months. Female monarchs are not included. Africa.com’s research identified 22 women who meet this criteria.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
President of Liberia
Internationally known as Africa’s “Iron Lady,” President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is a leading promoter of peace, justice and democratic rule. She grew up in Liberian capital of Monrovia, where she married and had four sons.
President Johnson Sirleaf later moved to the United States where she earned an accounting degree from the Madison College of Business and a Masters Degree in Public Administration from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.
In her efforts to bring justice to her people in Liberia, she has spent more than a year in jail at the hands of the military dictatorship of General Samuel Doe and had her life threatened by former President Charles Taylor. She campaigned relentlessly for Taylor’s removal from office and played an active and supportive role in the Transitional Government of Liberia as the country prepared for elections in October of 2005.
President Johnson Sirleaf was a presidential candidate in the 1997 Liberia general election where she finished second in the field of 13. Before that, she served for five years as Assistant Administrator and Director of the Regional Bureau for Africa of the United Nations Development Program as Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations and was the first woman to lead the United Nations Development Project for Africa.
She served as the Chairperson of the Governance Reform Commission of the National Transitional Government of Liberia until she resigned in March 2004 to accept the nomination of the Unity Party of Liberia as the party’s leader.
In November 2005, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was elected President of Liberia and became the first woman to lead an African nation. In the elections she defeated popular world-class soccer star George Weah with an impressive 59.4 percent of the vote.
In October 2007, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest civil award, for her personal courage and unwavering commitment to expanding freedom and improving the lives of people in Liberia and across Africa. And in 2010, as the only female and African Head of State, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was named by Newsweek Magazine as one of the World Top Ten Leaders.
President of Mauritius
(June 2015 - March 2018)
Ameenah Gurib-Fakim served as the 6th and first Female President of the Republic of Mauritius from 2015 to 2018.
Since 2001, she has been appointed as the first female Professor at the University of Mauritius with an endowed Chair in Organic Chemistry at the Faculty of Sciences. Previously, she served as Managing Director at the Mauritius Research Council (1995-1997).
She has lectured widely, published more than 25 books and several scientific articles in the field of Biodiversity conservation, Traditional Knowledge systems and sustainable development.
For her efforts as a scientist, Gurib-Fakim has been recognized worldwide, receiving the L’Oréal-UNESCO Award for Women in Science, Laureate for the National and Economic Council, and the African Union Award for Women in Science, and six honorary doctorates.
She has served on advisory boards, committees for academic, research and scientific as well as international institutions.
President of Malawi
(April 2012 to May 2014.)
An entrepreneur, activist, politician, and philanthropist, Her Excellency Dr. Joyce Banda was also the President of the Republic of Malawi (2012-2014). She was Malawi’s first female president and Africa’s second. Voted as Africa’s most powerful woman by Forbes Magazine for two years running and voted as one of the most powerful women in the world, Her Excellency Dr. Joyce Banda is a champion for the rights of women, children, the disabled, and other marginalized groups.
Before becoming President of Malawi, Dr. Banda served as a Member of Parliament; Minister of Gender and Child Welfare; and Foreign Minister and Vice President of the Republic of Malawi. While serving as Minister of Gender and Child Welfare, Dr. Banda championed the enactment of the Prevention of Domestic Violence Bill in 2006, which provides a legal framework for the elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls.
A recipient of more than 15 international accolades including the “Hunger Project Africa Prize for Leadership for the Sustainable End of Hunger” shared with President Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique in 1997, Her Excellency Dr. Banda is a strong advocate for women and girls’ emancipation and empowerment and a prominent civil rights campaigner. She founded the Joyce Banda Foundation International, which guides projects that range from empowering women to providing for orphans’ education.
On the international scene, Her Excellency Dr. Joyce Banda was instrumental in the formation of such organizations as the African Federation of Women Entrepreneurs (AFWE), currently running in 41 countries in Africa; the Council for the Economic Empowerment of Women in Africa (CEEWA); and the American & African Business Women’s Alliance (AABWA), of which she served as First President.
Her Excellency Dr. Banda sits on a number international organization bodies. These include the Executive Advisory Committee of UNIFEM, the Global Leaders Council for Reproductive Health, and the Scientific Advisory Board for the program in Global Health and Social Change at Harvard Medical School.
Prime Minister of Namibia
(March 2015 - Present)
Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila is the fourth and current Prime Minister of Namibia. She was elected to office as the first female Prime Minister in 2015.
Born at Otamanzi in Okahao, Kuugongelwa-Amadhila went into exile in 1980 at the age of 13, and continued with primary education at Koidus Girls Secondary School in Sierra Leone in 1984, before completing secondary education at St Joseph’s Secondary School in Sierra Leone in 1987.
She obtained her Bachelors of Science in Economics at Lincoln University, Pennsylvania, USA in 1994. After returning to Namibia, she started working as a Desk Officer in the Office of the President for a few months in 1995, before she was assigned the role of Director General at the National Planning Commission.
Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila, entered the political limelight at the age of 27 when she was appointed the Director General of the National Planning Commission in 1995. In 2003 she was appointed as the Minister of Finance.
Top 6 Opportunities for Africa’s Advancement
Chair & Executive Editor
Ms. Clarke is Chair of Africa.com LLC, a media holding company with an extensive array of platforms that reach a global audience interested in African content and community. Previously, Ms. Clarke was a Managing Director in the investment banking division of Goldman Sachs & Co., where she led corporate finance and merger & acquisition transactions for corporate clients in the industrials and real estate sectors. Ms. Clarke serves on the board of directors of Arthur J. Gallagher (NYSE:AJG), the global insurance brokerage with operations in 56 countries. She is the former board chair of Australian fintech, Change Financial (ASX:CCA). She served on the board of Cim Finance (SEM:CIM), a financial services company, and on President Obama’s Advisory Council on Doing Business in Africa. She is on the Leadership Council of Women Corporate Directors (New York) and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Ms. Clarke earned an A.B., cum laude, from Harvard College, an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School.
Ruth L. Okediji
Professor of Law
Harvard Law School
Ruth L. Okediji is the Jeremiah Smith. Jr, Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and Co-Director of the Berkman Klein Center. A renowned scholar in international intellectual property (IP) law and a foremost authority on the role of intellectual property in social and economic development, Professor Okediji has advised inter-governmental organizations, regional economic communities, and national governments on a range of matters related to technology, innovation policy, and development. Her widely cited scholarship on IP and development has influenced government policies in sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America, and South America. Her ideas have helped shape national strategies for the implementation of the WTO’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement). She works closely with several United Nations agencies, research centers, and international organizations on the human development effects of international IP policy, including access to knowledge, access to essential medicines and issues related to indigenous innovation systems.
Professor Okediji was a member of the United States National Academies’ Board on Science, Technology and Policy Committee on the Impact of Copyright Policy on Innovation in the Digital Era. She served as the Chief Technical Expert and Lead Negotiator for the Delegation of Nigeria to the 2013 WIPO Diplomatic Conference to Conclude a Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works by Visually Impaired Persons and Persons with Print Disabilities (Marrakesh VIP Treaty). Okediji was appointed by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to the 2015 – 2016 High Level Panel on Access to Medicines.
Professor Okediji is a recipient of numerous awards for excellence in teaching, research and mentoring. She is an editor of the Journal of World Intellectual Property Law and an elected member of the American Law Institute. Her most recent book, Copyright Law in an Age of Limitations and Exceptions, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2017.
Professor Okediji is a graduate of the University of Jos and Harvard Law School.
Short Talks on Big Opportunities
8-minute talks on the opportunities critical to Africa’s advancement.
Making Up for Lost Time
A Better Normal for Africa
United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary
U.N. Economic Commission for Africa
Vera Songwe is the United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA). Upon her appointment, she became the first woman to lead the institution in its 60-year history.
As Executive Secretary, Songwe’s reforms have focused on developing and implementing “ideas for a prosperous Africa”. They have emphasized the critical importance of macroeconomic stability, innovative finance, private sector participation, the digital transformation, trade and competitiveness in fostering growth and improving livelihoods.
She was listed as one of Africa’s 50 most powerful women by Forbes in 2020 and named as one of the ‘100 Most Influential Africans’ by Jeune Afrique in 2019. In 2017, New African Magazine listed her as one of the ‘100 Most Influential Africans’ and the FT named her one of the ’25 African to watch’ in 2015. Songwe is acknowledged for her long-standing track record of providing policy advice and her wealth of experience in delivering development results for Africa. She has written extensively on development and economic issues including on debt, infrastructure development, fiscal and governance issues. She is well published and contributes to the development debate across a broad spectrum of platforms including in the Financial Times.
Prior to ECA, she held a number of senior leadership roles with the International Finance Corporation and World Bank.
Securing Africa’s Food Supply
Dr. Akinwumi Adesina
African Development Bank
Dr. Adesina is the eighth President of the African Development Bank, and the first Nigerian to hold the post. He was Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development for Nigeria.
Championing agricultural investments in one of Africa’s fastest growing economies, Dr. Adesina was aggressively implementing bold policy reforms and pursuing innovative agricultural investment programs to expand opportunities for the private sector, moving agriculture away from a development program to a business.
Dr. Adesina is a consummate scholar of African agriculture and economics with more than 20 years of experience managing successful agricultural programs across Africa.
Until his appointment as Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development in 2011, he was the Vice President of Policy & Partnerships for the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) where he fostered cooperation among African governments, donors, farmers’ organizations and the private sector to stimulate agricultural growth and to unlock new opportunities for farmers.
Dr. Adesina also serves on the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition, recently launched at the G8 Food and Nutrition Summit 2013 in London.
Dr. Adesina has a Ph.D. in Agricultural Economics from Purdue University, Indiana, USA and a Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Economics (First Class Honours) from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife, Nigeria.
Driving the Climate Change Agenda for COP 27 in Egypt
Hon. Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr
Freetown, Sierra Leone
Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, Order of British Empire (OBE) became Mayor of Freetown in May 2018 and dedicated herself to an inclusive vision of the city’s renewal. Her three-year “Transform Freetown” plan details 19 concrete targets across 11 sectors and covers issues ranging from tackling environmental degradation to facilitating the creation of jobs in the tourism sector.
Born and raised in Freetown, Mayor Aki-Sawyerr’s vision is to improve the lives of Freetown’s residents and to make Freetown a destination city.
Passionate about her country and the environment, Aki-Sawyerr campaigned against the trade in “blood diamonds” during the civil war in Sierra Leone and cofounded SLWT, a charity that has supported disadvantaged children for 20 years.
A finance professional with over 25 years of experience in strategic planning, risk management and project management in the public and private sectors.
She is a Chartered Accountant and holds an MSc in Politics of the World Economy from the London School of Economics and a BSc Hons in Economics from Fourah Bay College. She is married with two children.
Solutions for a Water-Secure Future
Vice President & Regional Director, Africa
World Resources Institute
Wanjira Mathai is the Vice President and Regional Director for Africa at WRI.
She formerly served as Co-chair of WRI’s Global Restoration Council and a Senior Advisor to the Global Restoration Initiative. She is the current Chair of the Wangari Maathai Foundation and the former Chair of the Green Belt Movement in Kenya.
An inspiring leader, Wanjira has over 20 years of experience advocating for social and environmental change on both local and international platforms. Over the years, Wanjira has also served important strategic and advocacy roles raising the prominence and visibility of global issues such as climate change, youth leadership, sustainable energy, and landscape restoration, at Women Entrepreneurs in Renewables (wPOWER), the Wangari Maathai Foundation (WMF), and the Green Belt Movement (GBM) the organization her mother, Wangari Maathai (2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate) founded in 1977.
Wanjira currently serves on the Board of the World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF) and as a Leadership Council member of the Clean Cooking Alliance. Wanjira is one of a few Six Seconds EQ Practitioners in Kenya and was named one of the 100 Most Influential African Women in 2018 and 2020.
Closing the Inequality Gap
Africa, Human Rights Watch
Mausi Segun, executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Africa Division, oversees the work of the division in approximately 30 countries. Segun joined Human Rights Watch in September 2013 as the senior researcher for Nigeria. Segun has conducted field investigations to several parts of northern Nigeria, authored extended press releases and dispatches on the cycles of violence in north central Nigeria, the humanitarian crises, the abduction of girls and women and the violations committed by both sides in the Boko Haram insurgency in the northeast. She has written pieces and opinions for the New York Times, The Independent UK, Sunday Independent SA, and Salon and has been quoted in the Huffington Post, Washington Post and other major news media.
Before Human Rights Watch, she worked with Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission where, as southwest zonal coordinator, she worked tirelessly to document and promote human rights in six southwest states.
Prior to joining the Commission, she worked as a senior legal officer with the federal ministry of justice.
She has written countless papers on various rights and governance issues.
Mausi has a bachelor of law degree from Obafemi Awolowo University Nigeria, and a Masters in Human Rights Law from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.
Creating African Vaccination Manufacturing Capacity
Massmart Holdings Ltd.
Kuseni Dlamini is the Chairman of Aspen Pharmacare Holdings Ltd, a leading global specialty and global pharmaceutical company with operations in over 50 countries and a product footprint across 150 countries.
He is also Chairman of JSE-listed Massmart Holdings Ltd, a leading African retail group operating over 400 stores in 13 Sub-Saharan countries.
He is a Member of the Board of the The American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM) in South Africa and is also a member of the Board of the Southern Africa-Canada Chamber of Commerce (SACANCHAM). Recently, Kuseni was appointed Chairman of Sandvik Mining Southern Africa Holdings (a subsidiary of the Stockholm-Headquartered Swedish multinational, Sandvik AB).
Kuseni is the former CEO of Old Mutual South Africa and Emerging Markets. Prior to this he was the Head of Anglo American South Africa, a member of the Executive Committee of Anglo American plc in London and was the Director of Anglo Platinum. He is also the former Executive Chairman of Richards Bay Coal Terminal Company (RBCT) Ltd and a former Chairman of Anglo Operations (Pty) Ltd in South Africa. As part of his career in mining, he held a number of senior positions at Anglo Gold Ashanti and De Beers Consolidated Mines Ltd in South Africa and London, in the United Kingdom.
Kuseni is a graduate of the Universities of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, and Oxford where he was a Rhodes Scholar.
In March 2008, he was named a ‘Young Global Leader (YGL)’ by the World Economic Forum (WEF) and, during the same month, MiningX selected him as one of the top 100 most influential people in South African mining. In June 2008, the Mail & Guardian newspaper named him as one of the top 200 young people worth taking to lunch and in the same year and month, The Economist referred to him as “A Rare Commodity”.
In 2010, the World Economic Forum appointed him a member of the Global Agenda Council on Economic Growth and Poverty Alleviation. In 2011, he was appointed co-Chairman of the annual World Economic Forum (WEF) Africa Summit which brings together Heads of States, leading politicians and business leaders to debate the state of Africa in a changing world on an annual basis.
Kuseni is active in professional bodies and charities which include the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA), Common Purpose and the Advisory Board of the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) Business School, where he is the co-Chairman of the Advisory Board. He was recently appointed Chairman of the Council of the University of Pretoria, the biggest contact university in South Africa and is the former Chairman of the Board of South African National Parks (SANParks), one of the largest conservation agencies in the world, where he was responsible for developing a successful anti-rhino poaching strategy.
The Coca-Cola Company
Bruno Pietracci is president of Africa for The Coca-Cola Company.
Prior to his current role, Pietracci served as president of the company’s Africa and Middle East business unit. Pietracci was named to this newly created position in 2020 after previously serving as president of the company’s South and East Africa business unit.
Pietracci has a 20-year track record of transforming the company’s business, which has benefited our people and the communities where we operate.
Pietracci joined Coca-Cola in Brazil in 2008 as vice president of strategic planning and research. In 2010, he moved into operations to lead the Southern Brazil region. Pietracci was later named general manager of the Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador markets, partnering with Coca-Cola FEMSA and Arca Continental to growth the business in that region. In 2016, Pietracci relocated to Atlanta in the role of vice president of operations for Europe, Middle East and Africa.
Pietracci also served as a member of the board of directors of Coca-Cola Beverages Africa.
Prior to joining Coca-Cola, Pietracci was an associate principal at McKinsey & Co. in Brazil and Lisbon, working in marketing and sales with consumer-packaged goods and telecommunications clients.
He holds a degree in mechanical engineering from the Universidade Estadual de Campinas in Brazil and an MBA from INSEAD in France.