— Domani Spero
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Today is the last day of the U.S. Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C.. According to the White House, this is the first such event of its kind: “the largest event any U.S. President has held with African heads of state and government.” The August 4-6 Summit is intended to advance “the Administration’s focus on trade and investment in Africa and highlights America’s commitment to Africa’s security, its democratic development, and its people.”
While Africa’s worst human rights abusers did not get their invitations, repressive leaders who have been in power for some twenty-years or more did, and are also in town to network with CEOs and talk about peace, regional stability, investing in Africa’s future and enhancing governance. Jeffrey Smith, a senior advocacy officer at the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights and Todd Moss, a former senior U.S. State Department official argues that “A robust U.S.-Africa policy for the 21st century cannot be built with these remnants of an old guard who play the terrorism or oil card to deflect legitimate criticism and stifle democracy.” Read more of that here. WaPo’s Monkey Cage blog has an interesting table of African leaders invited to attend the summit, sorted by their country’s most recent Polity IV scores, which characterize how democratic or autocratic a state is.
These remnants of the old guard, of course, brought their first ladies with them.How can we ignore them? Here are the six members of that thankfully, shrinking club:
Mrs. Chantal Biya
President Paul Biya has been President of the Republic of Cameroon since 1982
32 yearsThe second wife of President Paul Biya of Cameroon has a fashion style that refused to be ignored. Her pink gown and headdress are enchanting, we dare you to look away. She has a community fan page on Facebook that has more colors than an HTML color chart. Check her out here in 1994 when she married President Paul Biya. How things have changed. Her hair now makes news when she comes to town and it even has its very own Tumblr page at http://chantalbiyahair.tumblr.com. In 2011, PEN USA ran a campaign to protest the imprisonment of author, Bertrand Teyou who wrote the book, La belle de la république bananière: Chantal Biya, de la rue au palais (The belle of the banana republic: Chantal Biya, from the streets to the palace). He was sentenced to a two-year imprisonment for ‘insulting’ the president’s wife.
This couple has been married for 20 years but her husband has been president of Cameroon for much longer; since 1982, so 32 years to be exact. Gosh, remember 1982? The Falklands War, Menachem Begin & Anwar Sadat in Washington DC.; also ABBA’s final public performance? In any case, she’s here in awesome pinkness. The world has not seen such flamboyance since Imelda Marcos made a splash.
Mrs. Hinda Deby Itno
Idriss Deby Itno has been the President of the Republic of Chad since 1990
24 yearsWaPo called the current Mrs. Deby, “the “fourth lady” of Chad or the 13th, depending on whom you ask.” She married President Deby in mid-2000s and “captivated the capital in a way unseen before in this male-dominated society.”Educated in Morocco, France and a college in Montreal, she was reportedly friendly with Brahim, Deby’s son, who “dabbled in college courses.” That’s the presidential son who was killed in Paris in 2007. If this president remains in power until 2019, he’d be in office for 29 years, her age when they got married. Under Deby’s leadership, Chad has been persistently ranked as one of the world’s most poverty-stricken countries, despite abundant natural reserves of oil, uranium and gold according to CBS News. Mrs. Deby is reportedly known for being well-spoken and for her flowing designer gowns and matching head scarves. Meet the First Lady of Chad in her gorgeous gold and electric blue gown.
Mrs. Constancia Mangue de Obiang
Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has been in office since 1979
Who’s Africa’s worst dictator? Probably not Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe but Equatorial Guinea’s very own “whose life seems a parody of the dictator genre,” according to Peter Maass. He is as much as a “nightmare” as Robert Mugabe, except that his country has oil, lots of oil, and ExxonMobil, Marathon Oil, Chevron, and other firms have apparently invested more than $10 billion to extract the black gold. Read his page on CBS’ The World’s Enduring Dictators, he’s a real cupcake. Mrs. Obiang was born in 1952 in the town of Angong, near Mongomo, and according to this, she studied in the school run by nuns in Bata. She was reportedly a graduate of the Martin Luther King University School of Teacher Training. Last year, she was proclaimed “the epitome of perfection”, and “Mother Africa” by a New York-based group. She attended the WH dinner in an embroidered blue caftan.
Blaise Compaoré has been President of Burkina Faso since 1987
27 yearsCBS describes President Compaoré as a graduate of Muammar Qaddafi’s World Revolutionary Center (a.k.a. Harvard for tyrants). His country has an unemployment rate of 77 percent (ranked 197th in the world.) Wow! Who’s been editing Mrs.Compaoré’s Wikipedia page? The couple has been married since 1985, so way before that October 1987 coup d’état that killed his predecessor. Mrs Compaoré attended the WH dinner in her lemon and gold caftan.
Queen Inkhosikati La Mbikiza
King Mswati III has been the leader of Swaziland since 1986
28 yearsIn 2011, The Times of India reported: “King Mswati III has a Rolls Royce, 13 palaces and 14 wives, and just received a pay increase, even as a cash crisis forced Swaziland to slash spending, feeding anger against his regime.”The World’s Enduring Dictators notes that “His most heinous act appears to be living an opulent lifestyle “fit for a king” while his country languishes in extreme poverty.”According to BBC News, Queen Inkhosikati La-Mbikiza, is the king’s third wife and was chosen at a reed dance where apparently, no one can object to the king’s choice.That BBC News story and this apple green-black ensemble made us weep.
Mrs. Zineb Jammeh
Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh has been the President of the Republic of The Gambia since 1994
20 yearsPresident Yahya Jammeh took control of the country in a military coup in 1994 and has won four re-elections since then. According to her official profile, Mrs. Jammeh was born in Rabat, Morocco in 1977 to Ambassador Soumah, “a well respected career diplomat from the distinguished Guinean Soumah family and Mrs. Soumah who hails from Morocco.” Next year, President Jammeh will be in power for 21 years, Mrs. Jammeh’s age when they got married. Her profile says: “Madam Jammeh who holds a Diploma in International Systems and Management is currently involved in an extremely busy career as the Gambia’s beloved First Lady.” Mrs. Jammeh attended the WH dinner in her very understated long, blue dress, overshadowed by her husband’s sparkling white kaftan. We understand that those kaftans had to be “waxed and beaten with wooden mallets to create a stiff shiny cloth” before such clothing can be born.
See the rest of the photos from the U.S. Africa Leaders Summit White House dinner here.
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- CBS News: The World’s Enduring Dictators | 2011
- Arab Spring Not Done Yet, Who’s Next Among the World’s “Forever” Rulers?
- Rights Watch urges US to press African leaders to end repression (en.starafrica.com)
- What ordinary Africans might want prioritized during U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit (washingtonpost.com)
- US-Africa Leaders Summit: A choice of Africa to seize the opportunity. (spyghana.com)
- $100 Million for Global Resilience at U.S.-Africa Summit (ens-newswire.com)
- Heat, hair and hankies: the best red-carpet moments from the White House’s Africa summit dinner (washingtonpost.com)
- Obama welcomes African leaders for unusual dinner (dailymail.co.uk)
- Here Are The Most And Least Popular Leaders In Africa (businessinsider.com)
- U.S.-African Leaders Summit dinner: Not exactly a state dinner but lots of pomp and circumstance (washingtonpost.com)