Talented African women royally

Talented African women royally honoured at Women4Africa awards

Several South Africans and women from many other African countries were recently recognised for their achievements at an award ceremony in London. It was inspiring to see so many women who have transcended difficult circumstances to make a difference to the world around them.

Talented African women royally

The second annual Women4Africa awards took place last weekend in the presence of an African queen and princess, appropriately in London’s royal borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

The evening’s host was Princess ‘Deun Adedoyin-Solarin, a Yoruba princess from Nigeria and veteran broadcaster.  She encouraged the audience to rise for the arrival of Her Majesty, Naa Tsotsoo Soyoo, a queen from the Ga tribe in Ghana who entered Kensington Town Hall under a colourful African umbrella, followed by an entourage of drummers and musicians.

Councillor Christopher Buckmaster marked the end of his year’s term as mayor of Kensington and Chelsea by welcoming all the attendees to his borough. “I have been to 20 African countries and much of my business life has been spent in Africa, a continent that has been known not only for its friendliness and warmth but often as a place of failure. Now it’s all changing. Africa is on the move. Its annual growth is far surpassing what is happening in Europe. I’m delighted to be here as Africa moves forward. I’m delighted to be here with the women of Africa,” he said.

Two out of the four South African women nominated were the eventual winners of their categories.

Mary Anne Anderson, chairperson of the SA Chamber of Commerce, was announced as Career Woman of the Year while Neleen Strauss, owner of High Timber Restaurant, won Businesswoman of the Year.

BekaA third South African received a special award in recognition of her outstanding achievements. Beka Ntsan’wisi, a social worker and cancer survivor known as the Mother Theresa of Limpopo, runs numerous community projects in her rural neighbourhood, including a grannies football club!

Sindiso Khumalo was nominated for Fashion Designer of the Year but was beaten to the prize by Nigeria’s Amanda Rabor. Rosie Motene lost out on International Humanitarian of the Year to joint winners Noella Coursaris (DR of Congo) and Febisola Okonkwo (Nigeria).

Other inspiring women recognised included International Woman of the Year, Tonia Dabwe, whose Liberian father and Dutch mother ran a school and farm to teach people how to grow their own food. In November 1992 while the Liberian Civil War raged they were forced out of their house and Dabwe’s mother tragically went missing, never to be seen again. “A very dark stage in my life,” said the young woman on accepting her award. In 2009 Dabwe started the Mineke Foundation, named in honour of her mother, to continue her parents’ work in Liberia by rebuilding the school to offer education and vocational training to women and children. She’s also involved in an attempt to bring perpetrators of war crimes in Liberia to justice, hoping that by doing so, Liberia’s voiceless victims will be heard.


We were graced with royalty that night, but we all deserve to be treated like princesses. A lot remains to be done as far as changing attitudes of and towards women – and Women4Africa is working to empower African women and girls by supporting key charities and policy makers and engaging communities.

Amref, the largest health charity in Africa, was chosen as Women4Africa’s charity for 2013 as both share the values of supporting African women.

Amref works in South Africa, Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, South Sudan, Malawi, Tanzania and Senegal. 97% of its staff are African. It aims to transform Africa’s health from within the continent through training and support for local people, helping communities to create lasting and sustainable health change.

“In 2011 alone Amref brought better health to 12 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa. But tragically it is still the case in Africa that lives are needlessly lost because of a fundamental lack of access to healthcare,” said Amref trustee Dr Jo Ruwende said.

“Our projects are uniquely tailored to the specific circumstances and needs of the communities and countries in which we work. For example, there are only 12 formally trained midwives in the whole of South Sudan, and most of these are from neighbouring countries. It’s no surprise South Sudan has one of the world’s highest maternal mortality rates.”

As full midwifery training takes three years, it will take many years to close this gap, so Amref’s programme in South Sudan is focussing on training up community midwives in just 18 months.

Ruwende noted, “Maternal mortality is one of the most devastating challenges we face in Africa. One in every 39 mothers dies in pregnancy or childbirth, while in UK it is only one in 4,600. Half a million children are orphaned and 200,000 women die in childbirth or pregnancy every year. Most of these deaths are avoidable. The healthcare we take for granted in the developed world such as obstetricians, skilled midwives and operating theatres are not available to many women across Africa.

“To stem the tide of maternal mortality Amref has launched a campaign called Stand up for African Mothers, which aims to train and support 15,000 midwives by 2016. We’ve trained 2,000 midwives so far. The cost of training one midwife is £1,600 but this is highly cost-effective because one midwife can support 600 expectant mothers each year. Every midwife in sub-Saharan Africa is important, not just to mothers and babies, but entire communities.

As part of this campaign Amref is supporting the candidacy of Ugandan midwife Esther Madudu for nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. Working with only one colleague, they deliver 45-50 babies every month and treat more than 150 mothers each week. It is estimated that Esther has saved over 1,000 lives in the course of her career.

“Esther is an incredible woman – a mother and saviour. She represents the lifesaving work done by midwives every day without recognition. When she came to UK last year she moved and shocked us with her stories of delivering babies in rural Uganda by the light of a mobile phone due to lack of electricity,” said Ruwende.

Madudu was also honoured with a recognition award from Women4Africa. You can support the petition for her Nobel candidacy at amrefuk.org.

African queenKeynote speaker Sir Paul Judge worked for Cadbury Schweppes in Kenya and was a director of Standard Bank in Johannesburg, Africa’s largest bank. He told the audience, “I’m a Londoner but I love Africa. In Desmond Morris’ famous book The Naked Ape he notes that millions of years ago in Africa, where we all came from, to survive we had to be sharp, look out for the best opportunity and work hard — this is an unwitting description of an entrepreneur.

“And it seems those chromosomes have been passed down to the women — if you go to a market in Africa, it’s mainly women buying and selling. We talk about apes as missing links but in some ways the missing link is the power of the women in Africa. They are sometimes quite rightly portrayed as victims, but it’s really the women who do the work in Africa, in the villages, the farms and raising families.

“My message is that women have tremendous potential to improve Africa if they are given the resources and education to take control of their lives. I am glad to be supporting this event to inspire African women – you have the chance to change history,” he concluded.

It was an evening of passion; of tears and laughter; of music and fashion; of speeches and celebration… it was a long evening. I felt that a four and a half marathon was perhaps not the best format, considering many needed to catch last trains home before midnight.

However, the number of deserving women worthy of recognition is surely testament to the depth of talent coming from Africa. It was encouraging to see and meet so many women who have transcended difficult circumstances to make a difference to the world around them.

As far as African women are concerned, the best is surely yet to come.