In Africa, a few women have been presidents. Even fewer have occupied the position of Chief Justice. Gender equality in positions of influence and power has been widely discussed in Africa where women play minor roles in all the major matters and sectors, including politics.
This trend seems to be changing as countries like Ethiopia and Rwanda are forming gender-balanced governments, giving women more representation.
In spite of the efforts of these two countries, more remains to be done in the other 52 recognized states on the continent towards achieving gender-balanced systems.
As the world celebrates Day for International Justice, a day set aside to promote international criminal justice, Will shares with you the current female chief justices in Africa who are successfully upholding justice and democracy in their respective countries:
Sophia Akuffo – Ghana
Sophia Abena Boafoa Akuffo is the current Chief Justice of Ghana, succeeding Georgina Theodora Wood. She has been a Judge of the Supreme Court of Ghana since 1995 appointed to the Supreme Court by the former President Jerry John Rawlings on November 30, 1995. On January 22, 2006, she was elected as one of the first judges of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights during the 11th AU Summit, held in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. She served her two-year term and afterwards was reelected till 2014, when she served as the Vice President of the court, and then President until her appointment as Chief Justice.
Akuffo was nominated as Chief Justice on May 11, 2017, by Nana Akufo-Addo, the President of Ghana, under whom she trained as a lawyer. She was extensively questioned by parliament, confirmed and sworn in on June 19, 2017, as the thirteenth and second successive female Chief Justice of the Republic of Ghana.
Mathilda Twomey is the first female judge in the history of Seychelles and the first female Chief Justice of the island country. She started her career in law by being called to the bar at Middle Temple, London. She started out as a barrister, then worked in the Attorney General’s Chamber while working in her private chambers as an attorney-at-law in Seychelles in 1987. During the drafting of the constitution of the Third Republic between 1992-1993, Twomey was one of the selected members of the Constitutional Commission.
In April 2011, she made history as the first female judge of the country after she was sworn in as a non-resident judge of the Seychelles Court of Appeal. On August 18, 2015, she achieved another feat by becoming the first woman to be appointed Chief Judge of the Supreme Court of Seychellesafter she was sworn in at the State House. Her appointment to the office made her the third Seychellois to occupy the position in the history of a country that previously hired judges of different countries on a contract basis.
A prominent women rights activist, Ashenafi is one of Ethiopia’s most seasoned lawyers and the founder of the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association, having served as High Court Judge between 1989 and 1992. She also served as an adviser on women’s rights at the Addis Ababa-based United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. Ashenafi played an influential role in the development of the first women’s bank in Ethiopia, Enat Bank, established in 2011 and as of 2016, having chaired its board of directors.
She was appointed by the Federal Parliamentary Assembly as President of the Federal Supreme Court of Ethiopia in November 2018.
Meaza is well known for her philanthropy and leadership. She has won awards including the African Leadership Prize and Grassroots Ethiopian Women of Substance Africa Prize. She became a Hunger Project Award Laureate in 2003, being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize later in 2005.
Her biggest case as a lawyer was turned into the 2014 Ethiopian film Difret, which won the World Cinematic Dramatic Audience Award at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.
She is the acting Chief Justice of Lesotho, having been appointed in September 2018 after Chief Justice Nthomeng Majara was suspended from office over a list of misconduct charges, including her alleged failure to ensure the timeous delivery of justice, the Lesotho Times reported. Mahase, a High Court judge and now acting as Chief Justice, was recently given a standing ovation after she presented a report to the Africa Region of the International Association of Judges meeting in Cape Town in early June 2019, on the challenges experienced by her colleagues in that country
“Inadequate salaries and inadequate resourcing of the entire judiciary topped the list of problems, along with the ambiguous position of magistrates who were sometimes treated as members of an independent judiciary and sometimes as civil servants, depending on which suited government at the time,” africanlii.org reported.