As Zainab Bangura jets in, is Sierra Leone ready for a female president?


August 10, 2016 By Ahmed SahidNasralla (De Monk) & Amadu Lamrana Bah

Amidst growing speculation that she will throw her proverbial hat in the ring to lead her party, the ruling All People’s Congress (APC), into the general elections in 2018, Haja Zainab Hawa Bangura flew in last evening on board Air France to deliver a public lecture on the topic “My personal and political quest for gender justice” at the 10th Annual Rajiv Bendre Women in Public Life Lecture Series, organised by the 50/50 Group of Sierra Leone at the Family Kingdom Resort on Friday, 12 August, 2016.

Mrs. Bangura is the current Special Envoy of UN Secretary General Ban-Ki moon on Sexual Violence in Conflict, a position she was appointed to in 2012. In her current capacity, she provides strategic leadership in the fight against conflict-related sexual violence, helping to mobilise resources and build political will.

To date, there have only been four Sierra Leoneans appointed as Under-Secretaries -General of the United Nations – Dr. Davidson Nicol, Dr. James Jonah, Dr. Kandeh Yumkella and Haja Zainab Bangura.

However she remains the first Sierra Leonean woman to serve at that level, and the second Sierra Leonean Under-Secretary-General to work at the United Nations Secretariat in New York; the only other being Dr. James Jonah.

She had also previously worked with the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), where she managed the largest civilian component of the Peacekeeping Mission, promoting capacity building of government institutions and community reconciliation. In 2007, President Koroma appointed her Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, in which capacity she served for three years until she was moved to the Ministry of Health and Sanitation in December of 2010.

Over the past year, Zainab Bangura’s name has been rumoured as a possible nomination for the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize to being considered as a suitable replacement for her current boss, the UN Secretary General, especially given the campaign to have the first female Secretary General. Few months ago, there were also rumours that her name had also been mentioned to step into the shoes of Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, whose term as Chair of the African Union Commission comes to an end this year.

Zainab’s name has for a long time now been mentioned for the top job here in Sierra Leone, but with the recent political trend in the USA, speculations have escalated that she just might be Sierra Leone’s own Hillary Clinton, especially after having won the Hillary Rodham Clinton Award for Advancing Women in Peace and Security. If she does enter the race, much like Hillary Clinton, she may be the most qualified person so far to vie for that office. She would bring into the race over 20 years of policy, diplomatic and political experience in the field of governance, conflict resolution and reconciliation. She also has some private sector experience, having worked as an insurance executive during the early days of her professional career.

Despite the growing speculation, it must be noted that she has remained tight-lipped about her intentions. As a matter of fact, she has continuously maintained that she is happy with her current job and is focusing on that, as well as supporting President Koroma and representing Sierra Leone on the global stage as best as possible. It must be noted, however, that the current Secretary General’s mandate comes to an end on 31 December, 2016 and it is customary for a new Secretary General to come into office with his own core team. As such, there is indeed every likelihood that Haja Zainab may be coming back home at the end of the year.

Whether she comes home or not, whether she enters the race for State House or not, one question that remains in the minds of many of her supporters is “Are we as a country now ready for a female President?”