When the inaugural cohort of Amujae Leaders joined together in Monrovia, Liberia in early March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic was beginning to spread in other parts of the world but had yet to unfold across Africa. It was against this backdrop that the women began to explore how they could serve in the highest levels of public leadership—with a particular understanding of how to lead in times of crisis—while empowering the next generation of women to rise with them.
Representing eleven countries and four regions across Africa, and drawn from a diverse range of personal and professional backgrounds, the cohort already has a shared track record of demonstrable achievements in public life and a common drive to uplift African women and girls. Over a period of two days, and under the theme of Intentional Leadership, the women took part in a series of activities to equip them with the skills and capabilities required for leadership. The EJS Center is delighted to release its report on this inaugural Amujae Leadership Forum.
Coached by high-profile women leaders who have gone before them, including Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (former president of the Republic of Liberia), Joyce Banda (former president of the Republic of Malawi), and Catherine Samba-Panza (former president of Central African Republic), the Amujae Leaders worked in an environment of open communication and with an intimacy provided by their shared sisterhood. In addition to building networks, the activities were designed to help the women reflect on their values and aspirations, understand and acknowledge the barriers they may face, and develop strategies to ascend in public leadership. They were supported by sessions delivered by subject experts, including guidance on how to manage their public profiles, and on developing a new understanding of the power of parity.
Highlights across the two days included a panel discussion called ‘Leading in the dark,’ during which Madam Sirleaf shared her reflections on leadership during the Ebola epidemic that had affected so much of Africa, and how those lessons could be applied to the COVID-19 outbreak when the Amujae Leaders returned to their communities. She was joined on the panel by Amujae Leaders Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, OBE the Mayor of Freetown, who relocated to Sierra Leone at the height of the Ebola outbreak and ended up as the Director of Planning at the National Ebola Response Centre (NERC) and Dr. Zanetor Agyeman-Rawlings, a Ghanaian General Practitioner and Member of Parliament who has led disaster relief efforts and sanitation projects.
President Sirleaf, President Banda, and President Samba-Panza also took to the floor in a presidential panel discussion moderated by Amujae Leader and former Economy and Finance Minister of Guinea, Malado Kaba. During the session, the presidents recounted their journeys to the highest elected office, candidly sharing the challenges they faced along the way—and how they overcame them. President Sirleaf set the tone for the discussion by saying, “Let’s be clear, I was the soul of my party and the master of my campaign…”—an openness that allowed for bold, intimate, and fearless discussions about the path to the highest levels of leadership, and the very real barriers to be confronted along the way.
Following the inaugural forum, the Amujae Leaders took center stage at the launch ceremony for the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Presidential Center for Women and Development. They were introduced to over 200 guests, who were encouraged by President Sirleaf to be advocates for the first cohort of Amujae Leaders and for the wave of women leaders that the EJS Center is working to unleash across the continent.
At the conclusion of the forum, the Amujae Leaders reflected on their experiences and the friendships that had developed throughout the two days. Comments included, “I now have a sister in every corner of the continent,” and, “we have been given a very special chance for women to meet, to be connected, and to stay connected and support each other.”
Read the full report on the inaugural Amujae Leadership Forum here.