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  African Union

African Parliament Elects Gertrude Mongella the Leader of Africa

Posted: 2004-03-19
From: AUF / Mathaba
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On the Inaugural Session of the Pan African Parliament, representatives from all over Africa have elected Gertrude Ibengwe Mongella president to lead Africa into a new era of unity and peace.

Negotiations among interested parties to choose a leader went on for weeks before the opening of the session. Mongella seemed to be the overwhelming choice of many in a field of many strong presidential candidates, including Frene Ginwala and Angelo Beda. On the floor she was nominated by members from Nigeria and Sierra Leone, and had the backing of most representatives from eastern Africa.

The Chair of the Assembly of Head of States, Joachim Chissano called a vote even after Angelo Beda, the last candidate to hold out, conceeded in favor of Mongella. The concession by Angelo Beda, who has served as Speaker of the Sudan Parliament, caused cheering, clapping and drumming of desks, as members streamed out of their seats, weaving among the desks towards Gertrude Mongella for victory hugs and impromptu dancing, stopping en route to shake the hands of the Ghanaians and Sudanese members who had conceeded.

Ms. Mongella won with 166 votes, with 21 Against and 13 Abstantions. In the speech after her election Mongella said she had been "positively shocked" and "humbled" by the vote of confidence from the members.

In her statement Mongella said, among other things:
"I humbly take this position knowing that in the Constitutive Act of the African Union, the African people have resolved to achieve greater unity and solidarity to defend sovereignty, territorial integrity and the independence of its members.

The African people have also resolved to accelerate political and socio-economic integration of the continent. The inauguration of the PanAfrican Parliament is a sign of democratic maturity in Africa. The OAU as we knew it did a wonderful job for the liberation of Africa. We are moving now, taking that along with us and - particularly if you take into consideration of African culture, we are story tellers, we keep our histories - OAU will remain with us as a foundation as we move on to be the Africa Union.

In doing so, the newest thing which was not in the AU is the African Parliament where the voices of people will be represented from all corners of the continent, by the voices of the members of parliment, men and women.

For those who know me, if I don't say what I'm going to say now they will wonder whether I have lost my mind. I want to say to my sisters in Africa, the struggle we have started for many years - abolishing slavery on this continent along with men, abolition of colonialism, dismantling of apartheid, we are now in a Union where we can see the practical implementation of gender equality.

And this has come together because we have worked together. If you count the men in this gathering they are more than the women. I think the change has been more on the men's side than the women's side. They have supported this election. Our presidents have made resolutions in the Maputo summit to push the gender equality on the African continent.

I just want to say that - for men and women - these principles, the partnership between men and women, the struggle for peace on the African continent, will still remain the guiding principles in my heart as I execute my duties as the president of the PanAfrican parliament."

President Mongella now becomes the focus for the hopes of Africans all over the world. Her diplomatic and leadership skills are going to be challenged over the course of the next five years, especially by members of the Assembly of Heads of States and Governemnt, and by the entrenched bureaucracies of various African institutions, especially the AU Commission, and governments unwilling to accept the requirements of African unification.

She has to raise the profile and power of the Parliament vis a vis the states, raise the prestige and authority of the Presidency, lead domestic and international initiatives, and turn Africa into a respected and prosperous state. She is going to need a lot of good will and public support in order to succeed. Although she needs to handle the Heads of the States with kid gloves, she cannot let them continue to undermine peace and integration.


Gertrude Ibengwe Mongella was born on the island of Ukewere in Lake Victoria in September 1955. She is married and is the mother of four children. She was 12 years old when she left her island home to attend a school run by Maryknoll nuns. Later she went to the University College of Dar-es-Salaam and has a degree in education.

Gertrude Ibengwa Mongella became an international figure known to many as Mama Beijing after having chaired the landmark Fourth United Nations World Conference on Women in Beijing in September 1995. Ms Mongella has also served as Special Advisor to the Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa and as advisor to the Director General of UNESCO. Mongella has served on the African Women’s Committee for Peace and Development.

In 1975 she became a member of the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA). Since then, she has held several ministerial positions in the AU’s constituent state of Tanzania, including as Minister of State for Women’s Affairs. From 1985 to 1987, Ms. Mongella was the Minister of Lands, Natural Resources and Tourism. From 1987 to 1991, she was a minister in the President’s Office. As a member of the Central and National Executive Committee of the ruling political party in Tanzania, she was Head of the Social Services Department at party headquarters from 1982 to 1991. At the end of 1991, Ms Mongella was appointed High Commissioner to India.

During the ten years prior to 1991, she represented the state of Tanzania at numerous international meetings, conferences, seminars and workshops, particularly on issues relating to women and to development and the environment. In 1985, at the World Conference to Review and Appraise the Achievement of the United Nations Decade for Women in Nairobi, she was the chairperson of the African group and vice-chairperson of the conference.

In 1989 Mongella was Tanzania's Representative on the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) and led a delegation to present the state’s report to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women in 1990. That same year, she participated in an expert group meeting on Women in Political and Decision-Making Positions in Vienna, Austria. From 1990 to 1993, she also served as a member of the Board of Trustees of the UN International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW). She is currently the Special Advisor to the ECA Executive Secretary as well as to the UNESCO Director General. Mrs Mongella is also member of the AWCPD and the founder of an NGO called Advocacy for Women in Africa (AWA).

In November 1996, she chaired the Women’s Leadership Forum on Peace in Johannesburg. This meeting resulted in the drafting of the terms of reference of the proposed African Women’s Committee for Peace and Development. At that meeting, she said to African leaders: "Since we all recognise that women do not generally support armed hostilities and conflicts, can we work out specific modalities which can more directly involve women in the peace process so that they can contribute their wisdom and compassion to resolving conflicts before they flare up into brutalities? There are still too many conflict-resolving endeavours in Africa which exclude women. How long will women continue to give life just to see it taken away by force of arms?"

During the first African Women’s Forum, chaired by Ms Graça Machel in Accra in January 1997, she shared her vision of leadership. "If you want to be a leader," she said, "you have to be clear what you want and what you stand for. You must stand for principle. Principle will never let you down … You have to be able to choose what are the principles worth dying for … And you have to add on a little sacrifice. Leadership needs a lot of sacrifice - personal and public sacrifice."

Ms Mongella also participated in the Pan-African Conference on Peace, Gender and Development in Kigali in March 1997. The Conference sought to support the efforts of the Rwandan women to combat intolerance and to participate in the reconstruction and reconciliation of their nation.

As part of the African women’s peace mission to Burundi organised by FAS and the OAU, Ms Mongella visited the Bubanza displaced persons’ camps. She spoke to the women in their native language, pointing out that "our delegation is composed of women from all parts of Africa and has come to Burundi to encourage you, the women of the country, to take a stand for peace and to convince your men to stop the fighting. We should tell the leaders of Burundi and of the region to work towards peace for the people."
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