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13 - 20 February 2008 
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Taming First Ladies: Lessons from Canada

The ambiguity, suspicion, confusion and unconstitutionality surrounding the role of first ladies in African countries has forced me to venture into the First Lady’s life in Canada. I aim at trying to clear the air regarding this ambiguity by looking at how Canada dealt with it.
If you ask any Canadian to give you the name of Canada's First Lady ( who in this case is the wife of the Prime Minister as Canada has no President) or give an account of  part of her daily life, he will have less to say about her or answer by asking a question: "Who is she in our country’s politics so as to bother your mind?”

Frankly speaking, the Canadian First Lady has no power trappings  or political weight. She is not even popular and does not like populism. First Ladies here would like to cut their own niche. If one is a teacher, doctor, lawyer or house wife, she will be comfortable to be known so. She does not attract any attention on the streets. She comfortably rubs shoulders with other people. More often than not, she remains a woman and a wife, nothing more or less.

Her husband’s power has nothing to do with her. She does not make any political capital of it whatsoever. If she envisages on being a politico, she does so just like a any common person but not a wife of the leader. To her, using her husband’s power to reach her goals is sexual discrimination. To be precise, I was not interested in writing about this issue. But what happened- for the second time- in Kenya led me to rethink freshly.

Prior to what happened in Kenya,  the wife of  the prime minister was seen biking with one of her children in the back seat of the motorcycle.  Those whose noses are stuck in other peoples’ business had their tongues wagging.  They aimed at discrediting their enemy the PM who defeated them in elections. The Premier told them he was comfortable with his wife’s biking and she was at liberty to use whatever means to drop or pick their kids from school.

That is Laureen Teskey Harper. Her life has never been changed by the powers of her husband.  She was a biker before her husband came to power and she is still the same. No cavalcade and other fanfares or pomposity. Taxpayers here will never allow her to spend their money. She knows and agrees with that. The person to whom they voted for is her husband not her.

The second episode involves the wife of one African president- I shall not disclose. If it were not for what happened one time in one European capital, I would not have wasted time to bow to pressures surrounding the roles of first ladies. The president, his wife and others were in the official tour in that capital. After doing their business, they got a chance to speak to their citizens living in that European country. They met in one hotel at least to brief each other on a couple of things. You know the way politicians behave when touring. They make sure that citizens wherever they are must be attended to (although at home, they don’t have that time). The president was the first person to climb onto the dais followed by his ministers and lastly his wife.

When the First Lady was given the podium (as usual with pomposity tenacity and  like a politician), she used her husband’s party slogan to greet the citizens! "Kidumu MCC"! she shouted before the baffled audience that were not members of the party.  Her husband the president smelt a rat. He did not wait. He chipped in, "Do you think all people belong to my party?"  Laughter and ululations were heard from the audience.

The damage was already made. People started murmuring. Others voiced their anger and views on too much unconstitutional power the wife of the president commanded. One person asked why first ladies evolve when their spouses ascend to powers.

The two incidents and the Tyson-like wife of President Mwai Kibaki are wake-up calls for African countries to address the confusion and discomfort surrounding  rulers' wives.  In many African countries, the unconstitutional position for the First Lady goes beyond limit. Even the children of the first family act like "little presidents." Moi’s children ruined the treasury  just because they were the children of the president! Lucy Kibaki seems to have sipped a lot more from the cup of power so as to even attack a media house and beat journalists! This is nothing but abuse of power. It can be committed by anybody if the role of the first family is not tamed soon and timely.

I like Lucy Kibaki for showing her true self. But I don’t like her unbecoming behaviour which in essence will cost her husband dearly so to speak. I was pretty deeply shocked and ashamed of Lucy when she slunk across the dais, podium, patio or whatever it was in the state house and slapped the MC in face.Is Lucy trying to outfling her husband?  

This can cause damage to Kibaki at this moment when he needs the votes of the Kenyans most. Lucy’s yap-yap and mediocrity will costly cost her husband this time. Does she really know the repercussions of her misdeeds on her husband? If she does, well, her excellency, sorry, the first lady-bear with me-is likely to suffer from a certain bulimia. 

I’m not a doc. But it is on record that Alzheimer's disease once forced Ronnie to beat his love, Nancy. This may be my chief suspect in the first place. Is this power intoxication that provokes this temporal insanity or something else? 

If African presidents remain above the law and become laws themselves, chances are; many Lucys are likely to feature high in the near future. To be honest, African first ladies are unconstitutionally taking us for a ride.  

That is how Canada did away with what Kenya witnessed. This can be witnessed by any other country. Take leaf from Canada. But mostly and strongly, our constitutions need to provide for the barring of this power intoxication. What adds up to this is the fact that almost all African first ladies are but unconstitutional supremos who came to power without even a single vote!


By Nkwazi Mhango
Mhango is a Tanzanian living in Canada. He is a Journalist, Teacher, Human Rights activist and member of the Writers' Association of New Foundland and Labrador (WANL)

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