Cameroon’s top 12 women newsmakers of 2017
By Yuh Timchia – Sisterspeak237
As we roll out the carpet for 2018, we look back into last year’s sack of mixed fortunes which engendered the beaming of media spotlights on some Cameroonian women. Some of them who made our list blazed trails. Others lived harrowing experiences. But most importantly, these women’s stories point to how much inroads the charge towards gender equality in Cameroon have or haven’t made thus far.
Hitherto unknown, Mbue now struts on a path walked only by literary greats. She won the 2017 PEN/Faulkner Fiction Award for her debut novel, Behold the Dreamers. The novel also won the Blue Metropolis Words to Change Award and made the reputed Oprah’s Book Club list. Named a Notable Book of the Year by the New York Times and the Washington Post and picked as Best Book of the Year by several other publications, the novel has so far been translated into 10 languages, adapted into an opera, and optioned for a movie. Years before publication, the New York Times bestseller had already set the literary community abuzz and sent the media rummaging for what information they could glean about its then little-known author. That was after American publishing heavyweight Ramdom House at the 2014 Frankfurt Book Fair struck a million-dollar deal for the North American rights to the then unpublished novel, a first for an unpublished African writer.
Dr Songwe became the first woman to head the Addis Ababa based United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA). Starting out as a Young Professional with the World Bank Group in 1998, she consistently beat many more rungs of the career ladder. Before her appointment in April 2017, she had since 2015 been Regional Director, Africa covering West and Central Africa for the International Finance Corporation. She is also Non-resident Senior Fellow, The Brookings Institute: Global Development and Africa Growth Initiative since 2011. She previously worked at the World Bank as Country Director for Senegal, Cape Verde, The Gambia, Guinea Bissau and Mauritania from 2012 to 2015, Adviser to the Managing Director of the World Bank for Africa, Europe and Central Asia and South Asia Regions from 2008 to 2011 and Lead Country Sector Coordinator from 2005 to 2008.
RACHEL AKONO NGAZANG
In July, she became the second lady ever in the history of Cameroon to be appointed Senior Divisional Officer. In a society where women continue to face obstacles in attempting upward mobility in the corporate environment and the public service, Ngazang is among the exceptions. She started breaking the proverbial glass ceiling way before her appointment as SDO for the Mvila Division in the South Region. Prior to her appointment, she served as Secretary General at the Governor’s Office of the East Region. Before that, she had been serving as Divisional Officer for Bibemi sub division in the North Region.
Her stance on the Anglophone crisis, which she boldly voices on her popular gossip blog, Kinnaka’s Blog, had already set social media abuzz one too many times. But it was her coming out that would set it alight. “I am a lesbian,” she announced in a Facebook post on October 14, 2017. Arguably the first popular Cameroonian to ever down the cloak on their being gay in the open, Bandy Kiki added that she hoped coming out would embolden whosoever is choking in the closet because of their sexuality. She drew both profound ire and praise following this.
LAETITIA MOMA BASSOKO
With her killer smile and outstanding performance with the Cameroonian national women’s volleyball team, the 24-year-old won the hearts of Cameroonians during the Women’s African Volleyball Championship in October in Yaounde. Unsurprisingly, the lady who helped Cameroon become African volleyball champions for the first time took home the competition’s coveted most valuable player (MVP) title.
The president of the Cameroon People’s Party joined the Social Democratic Front for a demonstration in solidarity with the embittered Anglophone regions on October 21 that had been banned by authorities. Not even the horrid memories of the brutal crackdown by government forces on a protest she organised in 2011 could stop her from making good on her vow to defy the ban. Despite the heavy security deployment and rains, a small number of protests were rallied.
In June pictures of the singer with another lady went viral, fuelling rumours that she is lesbian. Noted for keeping her life away from showbiz under wraps, she later told a concerned fan on Facebook in August that the rumours are a non-event. She said her detractors sought to bury her but forgot that she is a seed that will sure sprout.
EMILIA MONJOWA LIFAKA
In an all-woman contest in November, members of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) elected her as the body’s 22nd executive chairperson for a three-year mandate. Out of a total of 192 votes cast, the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly bagged 107.
Just months into her new role as head of the pan-African banking giant Ecobank in Cameroon, Gwendoline Abunaw was faced with the colossal challenge of reassuring and retaining fretting customers that the bank wasn’t folding up as widely rumoured.
As head of the Africa Desk at Internet Without Borders, an organization with focus on Rights and Freedoms in the digital space, she was among those who championed the campaign for the internet ban in the North West and South West Regions of Cameroon to be lifted. Beside the backroom work she and other activists did, the Paris Bar lawyer and Sorbonne Law School graduate regularly counted the cost of the blockade on international media.
In May of last year, a video of a man known as Epie Ntoko sexually assaulting the young girl went viral. Epie assaulted the Kumba-based girl because of 2500 FCFA. Outraged, Cameroonians quickly got the hashtag #FindEpie trending on social media. Till date, the perpetrators of the crime, Epie and his friend Collins Nkang, have not been punished. Epie had travelled out of the country before the video, filmed a year before, was leaked by Nkang. Nkang was temporarily detained and then released.
The fourteen-year-old Kumbo native’s life took a painful twist on October 1 last year when a stray bullet caught her in the right eye. Taken for dead, graphic pictures of her disfigured face quickly became the subject of WhatsApp forwards and Facebook posts and shares. But she survived. Eileen has since been going through a series of surgeries seeking to reconstruct her face.
*Yuh Timchia is a journalist. He has worked with VoxAfrica Television and served as Kenya-based Nation Media Group’s correspondent for central Africa. He now works for the National Communication Council of Cameroon.