“Our Africa” – New critical thinking by African women

“Our Africa” is a series of “critical analysis and fresh thinking” by African Women. The essays highlight the key issues facing African women and “the economic and political forces shaping” the continent. The series is edited by Jessica Horn, Jane Gabriel, and Amel Gorani.

On the launch of the series Mariame Toure Quattara writes on women farmers organising to denounce agricultural policies in Burkina Faso; Amina Mama on how women must and can respond to the impact of growing militarism on our lives; and Jessica Horn reflects on the lives of two African feminists, Kenya’s Wambui Otieno Mbugua and Nigeria’s Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti

On 30 August 2011 Wambui Otieno Mbugua passed away in her home country Kenya, after a life of dedicated and fearless activism. She may not have been a household name of the variety beamed through our television sets across the globe, although she certainly was a household name in the hearts of many an African activist. And yet the landscape of the battles that she fought and the issues she fought for are now given audience in mainstream policy forums. As a young leader in the Mau Mau rebellion against British colonial rule she risked her life in the name of her people’s freedom, facing sexual violation at the hands of a British colonial officer. She was adamant that silence was not an option, and called for her rapist to be prosecuted. Throughout her life Wambui Otieno continued to question the masculist pen in which the rules of society were written – choosing against the logic of ethnic nationalism to marry a man of a different ethnic group, challenging customary rules that deemed her without a right as a woman to decide on where her dead husband would be buried, and later withstanding public criticism at her decision to choose a second husband decades younger than her. Eulogies by contemporary African activists such as Muthoni Wanyeki – former director of the Kenyan Human Rights Commission – attest to brightness of the flame that Wambui Otieno lit.

The figure of Wambui Otieno Mbugua evokes the memory of another trailblazer, Nigerian Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti. As discussion on the legacy of musician/activist Fela Kuti is revived through the Broadway musical about his life, we are also reminded that it was his mother, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti who laid the foundations of much of his resistance politics. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti was an indefatigable voice against the injustices of her time. In the 1940s she successfully organised the market women of Abeokuta, the city in which she lived, against a tax levied on them by the colonial-backed traditional ruler of Abeokuta (an event framed as the Egba Women’s War). In the same collectivist spirit she co-founded a number of mass-based women’s organisations in Nigeria. In a literal embrace of freedom of movement, she was the first Nigerian woman to drive a car.