Excuse me! Am not His Shadow
When will men in Africa awake from patriarchal stance? When will our fathers, brothers and partners understand that though behind every successful man there is a powerful woman, it is not obvious that successful men are behind every powerful woman?
On the 10th August 2009 while on a diplomatic mission to the Democratic Republic of Congo, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was confronted by a question rooted in divine sexism. A male university student asked Madam State Secretary what Mr. Bill Clinton thinks about the involvement of China and the World Bank in contracts in the Congo.
“My husband is not the Secretary of State, I am! So you ask me what I think, I will tell you my opinion. I am not going to be channelling my husband”. Hillary answered boldly and unwaveringly.
Reports by both local and international media about this event have been followed by a lot criticism. Her answer was not sweet honey for the men living in the cocoon of gender inequality. Hillary Clinton, the devoted spouse turned out not to be quite the cliché expected. From time to time in her rise to power, Mrs. Clinton contributed her personal opinion on Mr. Bill Clinton’s account but it was not to be this time round. She refused to allow her intellect, skill and the power within her be assessed under the shadow of her husband.
While some pundits say that she was a mess at an international diplomatic forum describing her answer as disrespectful, unservile and undiplomatic, others like me thought “How so? Hillary Clinton did not earn her credential as the Secretary of State because she bears the last name of Mr. Bill Clinton who happens to be a former President of USA”. She proved to the whole world that she is a worthy leader, driven by a powerful force that desires gender equality. When she broke that glass sealing seeking the mandate of the people, men and women alike for the highest office, she did not run in politics as a former first lady but as a lawyer and senator.
Ideally, the question from whatever angle it was asked was examining the ability and wisdom of a woman leader. It aimed at challenging the power of a woman, the circumstances for which she acquires power and the influence of that power. Moreover, the question bore the uncensored description of the marginal role of women as defined by the rule of men in Africa.
In her eleven day mission to Africa, travelling from Nairobi to Johannesburg to Kinshasa, Hillary was confronted by this marginalization of women. Her role as a leader was to speak on behalf of and raise the platform where women in Africa can participate in an equal footing with men in all sectors of development and every institution in society. In Kenya, she portrayed the power of women in the family institution. When confronted by the question of one Godwin Kemboi, a Kenyan man who in 2001 offered Mr. Bill Clinton a herd of cattle and goats in exchange for their daughter’s hand in marriage. Mrs. Clinton elevated Chelsea to a powerful position that only Chelsea, not her father, can make decisions concerning her own life. It was a hard lesson to be learnt by African fathers who force their daughters into marriage denying them the right of choice.
In South Africa, Hillary said how “a very famous credit company” turned down her application to have a card in her name and requesting that she may have a supplementary card to her husband. Mrs Clinton was identifying with the humiliation that African women entrepreneurs go through when denied credit by banking institutions because all collateral is in their husbands’ names. In fact, at a time when the world is suffering a recession after many years of the world’s economy being in the watch of men, Hillary challenged critics that undermine women’s power to do meaningful business. She praised the microcredit revolution that has believed in the credibility of women as entrepreneurs and urged institution to access credit to women and foster development in the continent.
It must be noted that Clinton’s trip to Africa was aimed at boosting economic ties of the continent with the rest of the world. The fact that Africa’s prime income earner is in agriculture, women who make over 70% of farm labourers earn and eat the least from the production they sweat in the sun to bring forth. Additionally, women in Africa are sidelined in the decision making process and negotiations of prices of agricultural produce. From the local farmers meetings, the absence of women is noticeable because when the men gather to negotiate with government and development agency officials, the poor women are toiling in their farms.
So, when the question comes asking Hillary to give the opinion of her husband or whoever else concerning contracts in the Democratic Republic of Congo, man had pressed on the wrong button. The power of a woman calls more on humanitarian action and less on self interests and political power play. In a country where men seek to accumulate power and wealth at the expense of the wellbeing women and children who suffer the atrocities of war, irritability such as Hillary displayed is justified. It was in bad taste to ask a questioned framed in prejudice and bias against the power of women knowing well enough that there are women in Goma, the backyard of Kinshasa who have suffered rape in the advent of war. It is in bad taste for the media to overlook the need to highlight the sufferings of women in DRC during Hillary Clinton’s visit. Her call to the international community to end the war in DRC and protect women from falling victim to soldiers and militia who use rape on women as a weapon of war has been watered down by petty politics. It is a big shame to the media since it has once again turned attention from a grave issue affecting women in Africa and focused on maintaining power to the male dominated economics and politics.
For many women leaders in Africa who struggle to break through the cultural barriers of gender inequality, Hillary Clinton is our icon of audacity. While African men cannot stomach the presence of a woman who dares to cut asunder the structures of patriarchy and blocks of dictatorship, her courage to level the playing ground for both men and women cannot be overlooked. We can only but join her to voice the need for world to respect women for who they are not because of the men tied to them.