Tanzania’s new President Samia Suluhu has been busy. Days after naming former Finance Minister Dr Philip Mpango as the new vice president, she shuffled the ministerial deck.
On Wednesday, she appointed veteran diplomat Liberata Mulamula as the new Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, replacing Prof Palamagamba Kabudi.
Mulamula had been permanent secretary at the same ministry since May 2015, and prior to that was ambassador to the US.
The appointments of Mpango and Mulamula were both technocratic, and we wait to see if they signal the direction President Samia might be planning to steer the ship after the death of her predecessor John Magufuli over two weeks ago.
However, Mulamula’s appointment did something else; it consolidated the rise of women Foreign ministers in East Africa.
She wasn’t the first woman in the job. Dr Asha-Rose Migiro held the job between January 2006 and January 2007.
When talking regional foreign affairs, Mulamula will be sitting across the table from Raychelle Awuor Omamo, who has been Kenya’s Cabinet secretary for Foreign Affairs since 2018. Previously she was Minister of Defence. She swapped positions with Monica Juma, who was previously Foreign Affairs minister, and is now the minister at Defence.
To her left, will be South Sudan’s Foreign minister Beatrice Khamisa Wani-Noah, who has been the troubled nation’s Foreign minister since March 2020.
And if the issue they are sweating over includes the wider neighbourhood beyond the East African Community, in the room we would also have Dr Mariam Al Mahdi, Sudan’s Foreign minister.
On the other end of the table, would be Sylvie Baïpo-Temon, who has been the Central African Republic’s Foreign minister since December 2018.
Taking up the last seat in the room, would be Marie Tumba Nzeza, who has been the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Democratic Republic of Congo since September 2019.
Until three years ago, the Rwandan Foreign minister would have been Louise Mushikiwabo, who was in the office from 2009 to 2018. She is currently Secretary General of Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF). And a little further back, Burundi would have sent Antoinette Batumubwira, who was its Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2005 to 2009.
Not too long ago, foreign affairs was a job for the boys. Not just any boys; fierce men who were also the Big Men’s trusted boys. The improved representation in politics and government in Africa can only explain a small part of this change.
A bigger reason could be that the world has changed, and women have through activism and good old fashioned mastering the subjects, seized many of the issues over which diplomacy is contested — climate change, for example. If you are negotiating an iteration of the Paris Agreement, you are likely to go further if your Foreign minister is a woman.
So is the global inequality debate, human trafficking, migration, and an inclusive world order; a growing number of the leading lights there are women. Not to mention, the leaders in many countries that give money to new age causes (Sanna Marin in Finland, Erna Solberg in Norway) are all women. How do you begin sending a pot-bellied bloke to them to beg for money to sink boreholes?
Charles Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”. [email protected]