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.
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
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."