Although their positions are not elective, African first ladies are some of the most vocal women leaders in the world. Some of them have even end up being more popular than their husbands since they are considered the voice of reason when their better halves go off course.
From pushing for women’s rights to running major campaigns against maternal deaths and many other community-based projects, African first ladies have been instrumental in shaping the continent to what it is today. But by the same token, some of them seem to always find themselves on the wrong side of things, causing major public outcries with their controversial statements and deeds.
Here are some of the top five most controversial African first ladies in history.
Grace Mugabe, Zimbabwe
Throughout her husband’s prolonged reign, Grace Mugabe has always been in the media for all the wrong reasons. From ordering the eviction of poor squatters from their homes to picking fights with top government officials, the Zimbabwean First Lady always makes the headlines.
Her latest media frenzy is the controversial assault on a South African fashion model who was reportedly dating one of her sons. The 52-year-old First Lady is accused of assaulting 20-year-old Miss Engels with an electricity extension cord at a hotel in Johannesburg, South Africa a week ago.
The ugly incident has spiraled into a diplomatic row between South Africa and Zimbabwe after South African authorities accused the First Lady of ignoring an arrangement to hand herself in for questioning. Mrs. Mugabe has since returned to Zimbabwe amid calls for her arrest by local and international human rights activists.
Lucy Kibaki, Kenya
The late Lucy Kibaki was the wife of the former President of Kenya Mwai Kibaki who ruled the country between 2002 and 2013. Apart from her philanthropic initiatives aimed at supporting the disadvantaged members of the society, Lucy was also known for her no-nonsense personality.
She is particularly remembered for the controversial incident in which she stormed into the Nation Media Group offices at Nation Center demanding the arrest of a reporter who had written a story about her previous confrontation with her neighbor, the former World Bank Country Director Mr. Makhtar Diop. The late First Lady is alleged to have stormed into Mr. Diop’s house at midnight in Muthaiga Estate, Nairobi, where he was hosting a private party, and forced him to turn the music down.
Also, the controversial First Lady once physically assaulted a master of ceremony during a State House dinner party in 2007. It is alleged that the MC had mistakenly introduced her as Lucy Wambui Kibaki (Wambui being the President’s alleged second wife) instead of Lucy Muthoni Kibaki. Lucy died in April 2016 after a long illness.
Janet Museveni, Uganda
Born Janet Kainembabazi Kataaha, Janet Museveni has been the Ugandan First Lady since January 1986 when her husband Yoweri Museveni assumed office. Aside from her role as the First Lady, Janet has also served in various positions, including the Minister of Education and Sports, Minister of Karamoja Affairs, and the Member of Parliament for Ruhaama County.
The 69-year-old First Lady is known to make controversial remarks especially when addressing government critics. In 2016, Janet is alleged to have made some bizarre comments about the LGBT community while addressing a church congregation in Kampala. She reportedly said that “if cows did not practice homosexuality, how could we, the human beings, start arguing over homosexuality”.
Janet, who currently serves as the Minister of Education and Sports, made headlines earlier this year after she issued a directive ordering all head teachers in public schools across the country to provide students with President Museveni’s autobiography titled “Sowing the Mustard Seed”. Local activists faulted the directive saying it was a plan by the First Lady to manipulate and indoctrinate the youth.
Aisha Buhari, Nigeria
But her most recent controversy happened last year when she openly criticized her husband’s style of leadership during an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Mrs. Buhari allegedly expressed her doubts about voting for President Buhari if he ran for a second term in 2019. She claimed that the government has been hijacked by a few individuals who are behind all public appointments.
Simone Gbagbo, Ivory Coast
Commonly referred to as the “Iron Lady” Simone Gbagbo is the wife of the exiled former President of Ivory Coast Laurent Gbagbo. She served as the Ivorian First Lady between 2000 and 2011. The 68-year-old politician is said to have been involved in the nationalist politics that led to the infamous Ivorian Civil War in 2002.
In 2015, Simone was sentenced to 20 years in prison for her role in the post-election violence that followed after the disputed presidential election in 2010. She had been charged with undermining state security. Her husband is still on trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC).