Friday, December 19, 2008

The Style of a Woman

The Michelle and Barack show is going to be a fun one. I have always enjoyed how the Western press pays attention to the SOs of their leaders- except for that horrible Hilary-bashing stuff. Today I saw an article from a recent paper about our restless President's most recent trip (next door, to Mozambique). The news was humdrum until I reached the end of it and realized that not only had Salma Kikwete gone along, she had some of her own business to take care of while there, addressing a Mozambican women's organization. How about that.

From what I have read, Mwalimu doesn't appear to have been much interested in that First Lady crap. Mama Maria Nyerere's public career kicked off after our Dear Leader exited this mortal coil, and she has done well as Honored Widow and Custodian of the Dear Leader's Moral Legacy. President the Second too was retiring about his family life, bringing out his First Lady for the occasional public event. Things got mildly interesting with Madam Mkapa. During her term she started a charity and encouraged, imho, the courting of State House through dealings with her in the form of generous contributions to her charity. A charity whose good works I am inclined to think are rather slight for the amounts of money given.

Ah, but Salma. Salma is another kind of woman altogether. During Kikwete's campaign, Salma showed her political savvy and public speaking skills. Amejaa tele!* This First Family of course is a lot more visible, partly because of the changing political media culture and partly because that's just how they roll. And there can be no doubt that Salma is no 'little wifey' who has been relegated to the status of Ikulu furniture.

She seems to have acquired herself a public role in such a manner that the media here- which is largely intolerant of the idea of a First Lady doing anything other than redistributing wealth by shopping- has accepted, if not embraced her. Yes, her work is predictably about the wimmins and the chilluns but she's also had a lot to say about the HIV and the quality of the schools and the hospitals and stuffs. And she fundraises, and she speechifies, and she's an undeniably present and confident female role model. I'm not sure yet where this will all end up, but she has certainly brought an interesting new angle to our First Lady culture.

It helps that Jay to the Kay has the most progressive gender politics ever seen in the country's history. While I don't always agree with the how of it, this is one woman-friendly president who has made massive strides in opening up politics to women and other traditional minorities. You gotta pick your man right, my ambitious sistren, gotta pick him right.

*She's large and in charge.

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