Saturday August 2 2014

‘Don’t let the girls down’

 executive director,  Patricia Munabi Babiiha, during the Women

Dr Kadi Sesay chats with FOWODE’s executive director, Patricia Munabi Babiiha during the Women in Politics Conference last week. The former Sierra Leone presidential candidate was the keynote speaker at the conference and urged women to continue taking up positions of power. Photo by Rachel Mabala 

By Stephen Kafeero

I was born on March 4, 1949 in Rotifunk, Moyamba District, in Southern Sierra Leone. I attended EUB Primary School and had ny secondary education at the Magburuka Secondary School for Girls in Magburaka, Tonkolili District. I graduated Fourah Bay College, did my masters’ from the University of Sheffield, England went to the University of London for my PhD.

I started as a university lecturer at Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone which is the oldest university in sub-Saharan Africa; I rose to the position of senior lecturer and head of the English department.

I was there for 20 years. After that I was appointed to be the chairperson for Sierra Leone’s National Commission for Democracy and Human Rights. I did that for six years and was appointed the Minister of Development and Economic Planning for three years and later Minister of Trade and Industry for over five years.

Joining Politics
I wasn’t a politician before but I decided to have a position within the party.

I decided that it was very important for me to have a position within the structure of my party and to hold a position to be able to rise further than I was so I became the deputy national chairman and leader of my party, Sierra Leone People’s Party again, which is the oldest party in West Africa and the party which led Sierra Leone to independence.

Having been there, as a woman I decided that it was time for me to go higher for the presidential candidature of the party.

I contested and there were 19 members contesting and I came fifth. Although I did not win, the candidate who won Rtd Brigadier Julius Maada Bio invited me to be his vice presidential running mate to contest the election with him and I agreed and in 2012 we ran for president but unfortunately the elections were rigged although we got 38 per cent of the vote.

Now we are working very hard with him within the party and we have decided that we shall maintain the same party ticket, him as president and I as his running mate in the next election.

It sounds straight forward when I say I started as a university lecturer, it looks easy but I come from a family background that is not wealthy and that meant I really had to work hard because as a child I struggled.

Fortunately, everybody thought I was very intelligent and that is why I think the education of the girl child is very critical because it really does not matter where you are coming from because once you are educated; it really opens doors that would otherwise be closed to you.
Sometimes you get a position and there are men who think that position should have been given to a man. I come through that all the time but one time where I really experienced marginalisation is when I wanted to be a presidential candidate. I could see that many people believed that position is for the men.

Otherwise all the positions I have held have been open ended positions mostly held by men and I was respected for that always making sure I worked harder than the men so that I would excel and nobody would think I got the position and could not excel.

Raising her children
I lost my husband when my children where young and as a single parent I struggled on my own to actually get them educated which is very challenging because Isha, my second daughter, wanted to go to the best universities in the world either Cambridge or Oxford and those universities are very expensive and I had to work hard to support her.

But coming from an educational background, I realised the best investment I could give her was education. She went to Cambridge, graduated with a very good degree and went into the media. She worked for ITV in London, Sky sports and eventually CNN where she has been for eight years. She works very hard.

Losing her first born
We knew that my eldest daughter, Jane would die sometime; she wasn’t a perfect child from birth so we had to struggle with her from birth to give her a normal life but when it happened it was a shock because everybody in the family was in love with her. Because of my religious background, I think God has rewarded me adequately by having two smashing children, Isha and Mamud, a successful businessman.

Message to women in Uganda

Based on my experiences, women have to continue to be steadfast, courageous and continue fighting. It is not going to be easy despite the fact that many women around the world have done well.

You see that you have very many women that hold powerful ministerial positions like foreign affairs, finance and defence. It used to be men holding these positions. We have come a long way but we cannot go on at this pace because if we do so we will not achieve gender parity in the next 40 years.

We need to get our governments to engage, honour international commitments and to realise that women make up over 50 per cent of the population in all countries and some more and that they have a right to be part of the decision making process.

I think women need to believe in themselves, work hard and should just keep fighting. There are various angles that women need to use to get to the top like building alliances within the women’s movement because growing up some of us didn’t know whether we shall be in politics.

But while the women struggle to get to the top we need to maintain the balance, if you have a family maintain it, whilst going to the top.

What the women’s movement in Uganda is doing is laudable, it is not just about Uganda but about women everywhere.