African Women in Politics: Taking the "Mama Africa" Approach is No Longer Enough

African women are entering politics now more than ever. With with 64% of seats held by women, Rwanda has the highest number of female parliamentarians in the world. Senegal, the Seychelles, and South Africa have more than 40% each. Considering that women hold less than 25% of the seats in the US congress and senate, one could say that Africa is indeed in the future. Still, on a continent historically run by patriarchal, and male dominated systems of government, the participation of women has often taken the "Mama Africa" approach. 

This approach continues the narrative that women are needed in politics to brings kindness, humility, love, and a nurturing spirit to the political process. This often submissive political participation of women leaves them to become more symbolic roles of the mother, than active change agents looking to make radical improvements in their countries.  The "Mama Africa" approach, with its soft, cushy, definition of political participation, is perpetuated by female politicians as well. Maureen Kyalya, the only female candidate to run for presidential office in this year's election, took the "Mama Africa" approach: “There is lots of tear gas in every police station but there is no medicine in the hospitals. Trust me, I am a mother. I will heal to this country with love.” It pains me to see the that the political agency of African women is often directly tied to their roles of mothers and care givers. I have been in many conferences and seminars with female Prime Ministers from all over Africa, and they always mention how their roles as mothers guides their roles as politicians. 

Even during times of activism, there is a sense that women can only bring change when they use the tools within their traditional repertoire. Esther Murugi, a member of Parliament in central Kenya, has recently called on Kenyan women  stop cooking, or having sex with their husbands until they register to vote. In 2013, Zimbabwean minister Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga advocated a similar no vote, no sex strategy. And we all remember the infamous sex strike of 2002, led by Liberian activist and Nobel Laureate Leymah Gbowee. 

I'm not saying that the pride African women feel in their roles as mothers is useless, it has proven time and time again that it is not. What I am saying is that it is limiting, leaving many of our female politicians in positions lacking of true agency, replacing it with tokenism that brings no change for future generations.