What Does Effective Female Leadership Mean in Africa?

Africa is a continent filled with incredible potential. The land is laden with resources, and the entrepreneurial flair of the people is extraordinary. Many challenges exist in Africa, notably poor infrastructure development, lack of effective transportation networks, gender inequality, insufficient academic and skills training opportunities, malaria, the provision of safe drinking water, et al. Yet, despite these obstacles the indomitable spirit of Africa is alive and well. Thanks to the efforts of progressive thinkers and visionaries, change is afoot.

Leadership in Africa has traditionally been governed by patriarchal frameworks. These entrenched systems are slowly crumbling as educated women enter the workforce seeking to make meaningful contributions to the economic growth and development of their countries. The empowerment of women is arguably the greatest catalyst to economic growth we have ever seen. Historically, women in Africa have assumed the roles of caregivers and homemakers while the men served as heads of the household.

Times they are a changing. Progressive thinking has facilitated greater adoption of gender-neutral policies in the workplace and across social strata. While changes are coming slowly, the movement for gender-based equality is underway. Already, existing systems in countries like Angola, South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, and Mozambique, et al are trending progressive. Strong African leaders have emerged over the years, including Isabel Dos Santos, Inonge Mbikusita-Lewanika, and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

Leadership with a Heart and Soul

Yet, despite the growing number of strong female leaders, African women make up barely 5% of CEOs in boardrooms across the continent. The African Development Bank (ADB) surveyed data and found that just 12.7% of boardroom seats in the top-listed companies across Africa are occupied by women. While gender equality is a concern, change is taking place across the private sector and African economies are stronger for it. The IMF found that most African countries rank at the bottom of the list in terms of gender equality, with Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Morocco as laggards. But there are several progressive countries in Africa including Angola, South Africa and Rwanda which are performing extremely well.

Entrepreneurial icon, Isabel Dos Santos has adopted a unique management style. An electrical engineer by trade and a leader by design, she has applied herself to serving the interests of fellow Angolans. She spearheads large-scale investment and development initiatives across the region, as an innovative business leader. Her companies include the digital satellite television operator, ZAP, the supermarket chain CANDANDO, Unitel, SODIBA, and EFACEC, among others. Combined, these successful businesses employ thousands of people and provide career growth and development opportunities to thousands more.

Her leadership style is one of empowerment. Her companies provide young people with an opportunity to improve their education and advance their careers. She draws inspiration from her family, and treats all people with compassion. Her innovative approach to management and leadership ensures that everybody has an opportunity to blossom and reach their full potential. To this end, she pushes hard for an egalitarian socio-economic order. While Angola’s GDP rose sharply in Q4 2018, large economic disparities remain in the country. She is working hard to close the gap through education and skills training, the empowerment of women, and the provision of economic opportunity for all. Angola’s economy is largely built on mining and public administration services, with agriculture and construction adding to GDP growth.

Source: Isabel Dos Santos Instagram

Education Is the Key To Prosperity

Multiple examples abound of Isabel’s tireless efforts to bring transformative change to Angola. Her focus on education is pervasive. She believes that education is the cornerstone of success. This is especially true in patriarchal countries where women have been sidelined, and relegated to the status of caregivers and homemakers. Her companies actively recruit women, train them, and promote them to positions of authority. Over the years, she has worked hard to empower local communities at grassroots level. She helped establish a strawberry plantation in the province of Huila which created work for 120 women. Now, they have formed a self-sustaining ecosystem with substantial growth potential. Similar efforts are underway across the country.

In terms of infrastructure growth and development, she understands that change is possible when people have the resources to reach their full potential. Her leadership is evident across multiple sectors, including finance, technology, education, hospitality, energy, and entertainment. By cutting a broad swath across the population, she has been able to deliver actionable results for the people. Her pet projects include high-speed Internet connectivity, electric vehicle technology, alternative fuels, and widespread development of transportation networks. At a recent international symposium, she met with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping, and other high-ranking CEOs to push the issue of foreign investment in Africa.

Her leadership style is also bold and ambitious. She is the face of transformative change and she proudly champions the cause of the underdog. From youth empowerment to the eradication of malaria and childhood diseases, her teams are working hard to bring about transformation in Angola. Her interactions and engagements with people are genuine, and her passion for the people rings true throughout. When quizzed about her vision for Africa, she responds in a pragmatic way: ‘I would dearly love to see Angola and the entire African continent filled with talented young people who are pursuing their dreams. Change is possible through education. Anyone who dreams of changing Africa must surely realise that education is the key. It begins with educating our girls. This is the challenge I’ve accepted.’