Gender & Identity Life

13 extraordinary East African women you need to know

Search up “East African women.” Go ahead, try it. Now, what usually pops up?

“Why are East African women are so beautiful?”
“*insert song/artist* mentioning East African women!”
“East Africa’s best looking women!”
“Africa’s most beautiful looking women!”

This is annoying.

I do find us beautiful, especially since I am one (not more than other ethnicities/races by the way). However, why not talk about how intelligent we are? Don’t only focus on the models, but the politicians, activists, writers, and the ones who are shaking industries. You got Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia (Ayyy! Represent!), Djibouti, South Sudan, etc. Our shades of melanin are diverse as our talents.

I thought “Well if no one is going to, then I guess I will.” After searching for a while, I have gotten a list of 13 East African women who are owning what they do. It doesn’t matter if it’s music, business, art, or politics. We can do it!

1. Warsan Shire

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Somalian poet, writer, editor, activist, and teacher Warsan Shire is someone I wish I was told about before. Although she was born in Kenya, she was raised in London, England.

Shire not only has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Creative Writing, but also is credited for “film adaptation and poetry” in Beyoncé’s “Lemonade.” She is only 21 years old so keep a tab on her. Shire has only just begun.

2. June Arunga

Founder of Open Quest Media is Kenyan-born June Arunga who has a law degree from University of Buckingham and uses her voice to talk about globalization and development issue. Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative People in Business and Forbes Magazine’s 20 Youngest Powerful Women in Africa have recognized Arunga and she has be on the Global Envision, Moving Picture Institute, International Policy Network, and Instituto Bruno Leoni, and University of the People advisory boards. Arunga wants every African to have equality in healthcare, education, housing; she is a role model for young girls everywhere.

3. Ethiopia Habetemariam

Ethiopian-American Ethiopia Habetmariam is rising in the music industry. She is already Universal Music Publishing Group (UMPG) President at the age of 36. Since joining UMPG in 2003, she is responsible for signing huge songwriters, artists, and multi-platinum recording artists (like one of my favorites Ciara!). As a fellow Ethiopian-American, she makes me very proud and proves that there isn’t a limit in what black women can do.

4. Asha-Rose Mtengeti Migiro

Minister for Constitutional and Legal Affairs Asha-Rose Mtengeti Migiro is a Tanzanian politician and lawyer who served as Deputy United Nations Secretary General. Dr. Migiro uses her personal experiences and her position to change the global issues in Africa. She’s a mother, an activist, and a powerful black woman who doing everything she can in each responsibility given to her.

5. Lupita Nyong’o

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Kenyan Lupita Nyong’o is an Academy Award winning actress and an international filmmaker. Before her famous role Patsey in 12 Years a Slave she has been a part of making issues known. She filmed and produced In My Genes (2009) documentary highlighting Kenyans living with albinism and how it effects all aspects of their lives while living in a majority black community.

Nyong’o was also a star on Shuga which was a Kenyan TV series encouraging safe sex and HIV awareness for youth through stories. Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the Jungle Book, and soon Queen of Katwe. We haven’t even seen Black Panther or Star Wars: Episode VIII yet! I’m living for this!

6. Amelia Kyambadde

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Amelia Kyambadde is known as a philanthropist and politician from Uganda. She is Minister of Trade and Industry after being elected to serve on the Mawokota North County Parliament in the Mpigi District, Uganda. She was born in the United Kingdom however moved to Uganda with her father when she was four. When her father sent her to Gayaza Junior School (a boarding school) Kyambadde saw poverty and suffering which touched her heart. Since then her mission has been to close the huge gap between the privileged and underprivileged which I love.

7. The Women of South Sudan

No this is not one single woman, however I cannot have this article published without mentioning them. South Sudan became independent from Sudan in July 2011; six years after the longest civil-war in Africa ended with a peace deal in 2005. Since then they have been struggling economically and with conflicts such as disputes on the borders.

During all of this, the South Sudanese women are the glue. In a Huffington Post article, we learn that they have and raise children, clean, fetch water, get the materials needed for home, and cook meanwhile still holding a smile. No one should dare disrespect these brave, courageous, strong women.

8. Haben Girma

Eritrean-American Haben Girma is Harvard Law School’s first deaf-blind graduate and is an internationally acclaimed accessibility leader. With help from the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Girma has been able to be very successful academically.  She is the White House’s “Champion of Change” and has been fighting for rights of people with disabilities. Girma is living proof that no matter who you are you can do anything you dream to do—no disability changes that.

9. Almaz Ayana

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Unless you didn’t hear, one of the things Ethiopia is known for is Track & Field. Almaz Ayana is an Olympic long-distance runner and recently brought home the goal along with breaking the world record in the women’s 10,000 meter by 14 seconds. Ayana beat the previous record that was set 23 years ago and at 24 years old she smashed it. In the Olympics, you do see African countries represented, but they aren’t shined upon enough. She’s not only making millions of Ethiopians proud, but also fellow Africans and of course myself.

10. Chef de Colline Spès Ndikumana

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Spès Ndikumana is the inspiration you need if you don’t know if you should go for it. Chef de Colline (mayor) of Ruzo, Burundi has served leadership in community organizations before running for office. Those who opposed Ndikumana winning was mainly just against the idea of women leading. There aren’t many female chefs de colline so her accomplishment is proof that women can do other roles in society. You can learn more about this game changer on Search for Common Ground.

11. Alice Karekezi

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Whether you were too little to remember, non existent, or learned about it in history class it’s known that in 1994 Rwanda went through a 100 day slaughter. From April to July one million Rwandans were murdered by their own people. Although this genocide happened almost twenty years ago, rebuilding up a nation  isn’t possible overnight. Through this rebuilding process, Rwandan women like Alice Karekezi are the reason why there is progress. Karekezi is helping bring peace to Rwanda by speaking against gender-based violence, working with women who are sexual violence survivors, and leading the justice, human rights, and governance program at the Center got Conflict Management (which she co-founded) at National University. Her work for human rights will not go unnoticed.

12. Khadija Ahmed Barkad 

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Don’t you ever say women don’t step up to the plate when there’s trouble. Djibouti woman Khadija Ahmed Barkad lives in a climate where there’s little rain and clean drinking water isn’t common. She decided to create a water filtration company called ZamZam to fix this problem and brought throughout the capital Djibouti. Not only is she a very successful entrepreneur, but she’s impacted the country positively.

13. Edna Adan

Somalian Nurse Edna Adan is the founder of Edna Adan University Hospital. The hospital is a non-profit created to fight maternal mortality through training healthcare professionals. Adan lived in Somalia until the Somali Civil War made her fled and stop the hospital she was already building. Before returning in the 1990s, Adan worked for and with the World Health Organization. She known for her work in women’s health and education internationally, served as the only female minister (until 2006), and is even one of the 100 most influential Africans. The list of accomplishments under Adan’s name is impressive and I don’t see it ending.

By Lalissie Eteffa

Lalissie Eteffa is a student who will be starting college this fall. Eteffa loves to binge watch shows and movies for hours, but don't worry she actually steps out the house and socializes once in awhile. Her favorite thing to do is to hangout in downtown with her friends. Eteffa also enjoys discussing current events, especially on topics surrounding race and gender.