My name is Leah Chatta-Chipepa, and I like to tell people that I was born in Zambia and made in Africa. I am a true Pan- African at heart as attested by my work across the continent. I am happily married with three grown children and two adorable grandsons. I am currently working with Akina Mama wa Afrika in Kampala, Uganda where I am the Executive Director for the organization since September 2011. Prior to this, I had worked with the African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF) from 2005 - January 2011.

I hold a Bachelor of Education Degree from the University of Zambia and a Master of Science Degree in Communication Skills from Aston University in Birmingham, England. I hold various qualifications in Institutional development management, public sector reform, strategic planning, gender analysis and training of trainers.

I have previously served in various positions in both the academic and development circles. These include Lecturing at the Evelyn Hone College of Applied Arts and Science in Lusaka, Zambia; Management Consulting at the management Services Board in Lusaka, Zambia as well as Executive Director of the Zambia Association of Research and Development.

The women & feminist movement is close to my heart and my passion is serving the African woman with the aim of achieving autonomy and equality across the board for every woman on the face of this earth! I am passionate about strengthening the leadership capacities of African women in order to have them speak for themselves and drive the agenda on matters concerning them. A lot has been done but our work is far from completion. We’ve barely scratched the surface!

My dream is to see more and more young women join the movement so that whatever efforts and gains that have been made by the older generation feminists can be continued. We need more young women from all sectors; private, public and the development sector to come to the party!

Q1. What inspired the name Akina Mama Wa Afrika and how does it still resonate with the aspirations of the African Woman?

Akina Mama wa Afrika, is in Swahili, a local East African dialect and translated to English means “Solidarity among African women”

Akina Mama  wa Afrika (AMwA) was established in 1985 as  a small community based organization in  the United Kingdom to create a space for African women to organize autonomously, network with each other, share skills and expertise, identify issues of concern and speak for themselves, considering their positions as immigrants/ refugees in UK. Akina Mama wa Afrika is a non-governmental development organization and a registered charity, with a consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council.LeakAkinaMama

African women have made significant stride towards empowerment at both the individual and collective levels, however the African woman is still faced with many challenges that have continued to hinder her potential to fully develop in a continent that is endowed with resources. Akina Mama wa Afrika was founded and operates on the premise that African women have a critical role to play in their own development and shaping their own destines.

We believe that;

IF we use cutting edge methodologies and knowledge grounded in feminist praxis and engage in deep reflection and learning AND invest in enabling the personal transformation of diverse African women into effective feminist leaders AND fuel, support and connect these leaders to take collective action to dismantle patriarchy around critical opportunities and partnerships that advance our political agenda, THEN we create and sustain highly effective African feminist activism that champions social change AND ULTIMATELY contributes to a more just and secure Africa.

Therefore AMwA has hinged her works on initiatives of strengthen the links with the women’s movement in Africa and moving forward we have developed a five year strategic plan that is hinged on;

  1. a) Becoming a recognized Centre of Excellence on Transformational Feminist Leadership for African Women, with a focus on personal transformation
  2. b) Developing and sustaining a strong and dynamic community of Savannas (alumnae) for learning, support, and collaboration
  3. c) Developing and sustaining a feminist organizational structure and culture that excels at learning, creativity and innovation
  4. d) Creating and sustaining a financially viable and increasingly sustainable organization

Q2. AMWA is an international, Pan- African non-governmental development organisation however pan Africanism seems to have lost momentum with the end of colonialism in Africa; do you think it still has a place in the post- colonial Africa? What shape would it take?

Pan- Africanism is under-going a critical revival across the continent in a period where African people and leaders are focused on inward continental development and self sustenance, especially given the current crises that the west is grappling with. This has been an impetus to increasingly rely on each other for trade and development as opposed to the typical trading partners being the west. We are increasingly strengthening regional co-operation like the EAC, SADC Alliance, ECOWAS, and COMESA. The Regional strength will in turn feed into the wider Pan- African co-operation.  Even politically, we are increasingly applying home grown solutions to our political challenges particularly through the auspices of the Africa Union. For example, we have the African Union peace keepers holding forte and trying to bring peace and stability in Somalia. At this point I cannot help but celebrate the recent successful election and appointment of Dr Nkosazana Dlamini- Zuma as Chairman of the AU Commission.

As Africans, we need to work together more than ever especially with globalization the continent is becoming small and smaller and the problems being faced by different countries are becoming intertwined. As Africans we know what works best for us and we are better placed to find solutions for African’s problems and we should not wait for other people to do it for us.

Q3. Over the years AMWA has established a huge constituency of women in all spheres of leadership in Africa and beyond. What is the most outstanding achievement that can be attributed to this engagement? And what has been your experience as the Executive Director?

One of our great achievements has been the establishment and development of the AMwA’s flagship programme: the African Women’s Leadership Institute (AWLI) that was established in 1997 with the goal of  developing a strong cadre of women leaders at personal and collective levels, to influence policy and decision-making, through the application of feminist principles. AMwA has been able to effectively reach its mission through the AWLI  and we are proud to state that:

  • AWLI alumni have been very instrumental in active lobbying and advocacy for policy and practice changes in the various regions and countries.
  • Many alumni have gone on to occupy positions of leadership in their countries. For example, the AWLI has produced over 35 members of parliament in Africa, Both the first Minister for Gender and the current Minister for Commerce in Liberia were both motivated by the AWLI as well as Members of Parliament in SADC, the East African Legislative Assembly. The AWLI also produced the first African woman to stand for Parliament in Switzerland.
  • Participants have gained a solid understanding and appreciation of feminism and gender and its relevance to development in Africa.
  • The AWLI has built a strong network of women working in a number of fields such as government, NGOs at local, national and regional levels, academic institutions, bilateral organisations, the private sector and other key strategic institutions.
  • And other women have moved on to establish organisations with  aspirations from the program for example the Young Women’s Leadership Institute in Kenya

My experience as Executive Director; the challenge is to build on the successes that the organization has achieved by the hard work and vision of those before me and take the organization to another level so that AMwA remains relevant to the needs and aspirations of the African women both on the continent and in the Diaspora...

Q4.  Feminism has been frowned upon by some sections of African men and women who consider it an elitist term. What is AMWA doing to bridge this disconnect?

Feminism is the struggle by women to identify challenge and transform the power relations between women and men that seek to keep women in position of social economic and political subordination.

Feminist Principles guide the work we do and how we do it. As part of bridging this divide AMwA strives to create and sustain a feminist organization to foster women’s leadership as a result AMwA is led and managed by women. Our thematic trainings bring together African women from a cross range of sectors such as the public, private and development organizations/agencies.

Our curriculum that is grounded in feminism is aimed to support feminist activism by making a link between consciousnesses of gendered experiences to a feminist consciousness that takes into account the systematic factors that contribute to women’s reality.

The Partners that we work with through coalitions and networks have different mandates: feminist organizations, those promoting gender mainstreaming, and human rights; promoting engagement with them provides opportunity for AMwA to work with and bridge the disconnect.

AMwA contributes to feminist epistemology through knowledge generation and dissemination with wide outreach through pictorial representation, videos literature and oral herstories to persuade other women and men to embrace African feminism and avoid the biased notion that African feminism is alien.

Q5. What is the role of the African woman in the diaspora towards the autonomy of women in Africa? Is it being felt?

African women in the Diaspora have a very important role to play towards the autonomy of the African women based on the fact that they are strategically placed to influence the discourse of the African women empowerment at the international level and link African women leaders to like minded organizations in the Diaspora to support/work with women’s organizations in Africa.

Secondly these women would act as strong channels for information exchange experience sharing and act as strong think tanks for strategic positioning of African women on the continent as well as at the international platform.

Whether it is being felt? Yes! Through work undertaken by organizations set up by African women in the different countries in the Diaspora such as DAWN (Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era) that provides a forum for feminist research and advocacy on global issues affecting the livelihoods of women especially the poor and marginalized women in regions of the south. FORWARD (Foundation for women’s Health Research and Development) is also an African women’s organization in the Diaspora that is committed to advancing and safeguarding the sexual and reproductive health rights of African women and girls.  And not forgetting MEWC (Make Every Woman Count) you have been instrumental in strengthening the African women’s voices in the Diaspora by raising awareness of the issues affecting African women and highlighting the works of different African women’s organizations on an international platform

Q6. In 2012, around 17 countries in Africa are marking 50 years of independence including Uganda, what would you consider as significant achievements of the women of Africa and where do you see them in the next 50 years?

Africa has witnessed some notable successes in Women’s empowerment over the years and one of the significant achievements of African women has been the collective efforts of women to organize and mobilize themselves to rally behind the critical issues affecting women on the continent. Today, Africa boasts of two female Heads of State, A female Head of African Union Commission, an increased number of women parliamentarians and women heading various institutions in the private and public sectors. However the progress has not been evenly distributed in all countries / aspects and it remains limited; women are still under represented in the upper echelons, less input of women’s voices in decision making right from the household to the larger community, chronically increasing forms of fundamentalisms, conflict, violations of women’s rights increased vulnerability to HIV infection and a consistent struggle to meet basic needs.

African women in the next 50 years?

With sustained international and government support, globalization and the continued commitment of the women’s movement to tackle patriarchy, I envision African Women rising from the middle management levels of operation and being forced from their comfort zones into high levels of management in the different sectors. If women have managed to reach this far in the last 50 years when the environment was more unfavorable, I trust that if women stay focused on the cause, the next 50 years hold more hope for African women.

Q7. Uganda took the lead in introducing reserved seats in parliament in 1986 and this trend has been replicated in other East African countries, has this translated to any gains for the ordinary Ugandan woman? Are they any lessons to learn?

The reservation of seats in parliament was one of the key affirmative actions adopted by the government 1986 to increase the representation of women legislators in the Ugandan Parliament. This has led to 35% women representation in parliament, pioneer female leadership positions of the Vice president, Hon. Wandera Kazibwe and now Speaker of Parliament Hon. Rebecca Kadaga.

Through the increased number of women in political leadership women have  advocated and rallied for gender sensitive policies that led to the enactment of the 1995 constitution that affirms the equality of all persons, and prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender, domestication of international instruments such  Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women CEDAW,  the protocol of the rights of women in Africa of 2003 and passing of bills aimed at the enforcement of the rights of women.

However it is complex to state that this representation has translated into significant gains for the typical Ugandan woman because many ordinary Ugandan women are still marginalized and do not access protection under these laws. There are still strong culturally and patriarchal structures, economic bottlenecks and laxity law enforcement mechanisms that continue to suppress the ordinary Ugandan woman and that have denied women the opportunity to live in a peaceful environment with; education, proper health care, violence free society ownership rights and freedom.

Q8. What is the major factor hindering women political participation in Africa? Do you have any thoughts or suggestions on possible ways to address women's political participation & decision-making in Africa?

There are various factors that underlie the persistent gender disparities in political participation in Africa, and one of the major issues lies in the absence of women’s voices in decision making processes starting from the household level. This has largely been influenced by the perpetuated notion that women are unable to lead; ingrained beliefs that politics is a masculine activity; different responsibilities heavily attached to women also mean that they often lack the flexibility or ample time to invest in political leadership as heavily as men. And lack of networks for women also makes it more complex for them to ascend to higher positions of political leadership/influence.

Africa has many women leaders with potential today, there is need to empower them and provide them the means to unleash this potential; by strengthening their capacities, expanding their networks and opportunities to be able to close the gender disparities through new models of leadership and participation. The empowerment of women is crucial as the roles of women in Africa today are being redefined in a world that offers new opportunities (such as ICTs, more gender sensitive policies and legal frameworks, etc.) and ever changing environments in general and as we move towards post 2012 development agenda and framework.

2012 World Development Report: Gender Equality and Development emphasizes one of the priority areas of focus for public action being increasing women’s voice and agency in the household and in society. This call for action demands a strategic approach towards African women’s leadership development that contributes to transformative change coupled with movement building for a just and equitable Africa in which women’s voices are heard and their issues are prioritized on the processes of consultations and agenda for the Twelve Years on and Three Years to Go on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Women must be empowered to collectively speak and make a mark on this important agenda. Post 2012 calls for new ways to be found to strengthen women’s capacities, movements & amplify voices. One strategy for doing this women’s empowerment with transformative leadership skills that can contribute to increased articulation of women’s issues to shape and influence the development of the continent.

Q9. This year the theme for the Decade of the Africa Woman is ‘Agriculture, Food Security and Environment’, what is your take on the significance of the theme for African women?

Africa today is home to some of the world’s fastest growing economies with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) projecting nearly 6% growth throughout Africa in 2012. And Agriculture is one of the sectors that is expected to boost Africa’s economic growth. According to the World Bank Agriculture is not only vital for Sub-Saharan Africa’s growth but also essential for the achievement of the millennium Development goals of halving poverty by 2015.

The Sector employs 65% 0f Africa’s labour force and women make up approximately 70% of the Agricultural workforce and yet have limited access to agricultural facilities. The identification of Agriculture, Food Security and Environment is timely, as Africa is predicated to become the world’s food basket in the next 5 years.  As women we need to appreciate our contribution in this very important sector that is in line with many national visions and a great engine for economic growth. It is important that women change their mindsets from home growing to commercialized agriculture.

Therefore there is a great need to tap into the potential of women in agriculture a source of labour that remains undeveloped. This demands a multifaceted approach that will facilitate the provision of equal accessibility to markets, inputs, and external services at all levels.

Leah Chatta-Chipepa

Executive Director

Akina Mama wa Afrika (AMwA)

P.O. Box 24130, Plot 30 Bukoto Street

Kampala, Uganda

Tel : +256-414-543-681/ Fax :+256-414-543-683

Cell :+256-712-448-267

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