A biodiversity scientists and founder of the Centre for Pytotherapy Research. Entrepreneur. TED Speaker. First female President of Mauritius. Third female President in African history. African Union Award recipient for ‘Women in Science’. UNESCO Award recipient for Women in Science for Africa.
There is so much to be said about Madame President, here are the 5 lessons I’ve learnt from one of 2018’s 100 Most Reputable Africans.
If a window of opportunity appears, don’t pull down the shade
By her own admission, she never had any political aspirations or intentions. She did not choose the world of politics, the world of politics chose her. After her Ted Talk Ameenah Gurib-Fakim was asked by a journalist “You know, your name has been cited for the president of the republic,” she responded, “Ma’am, you must be mistaken, because I have no ambition whatsoever.” Within time, Prime Minister Anerood Jugnauth’s ruling coalition nominated her for the post of the President. Now whats interesting about Mauritian politics is that the President is independent, neutral and not representative of any party. When Ameenah Gurib-Fakim’s was first thrown in to the ring it was from the smallest political party and other larger political parties had their own nominations thus her landslide victory was indeed a David and Goliath situation. When others saw her potential and leadership qualities, President Gurib-Fakim did not close the opportunity, instead she stepped up to the plate, even as an underdog and came out victorious.
The obstacle is the way
As a young girl she visited a careers guidance officer to seek advise on how to become a Chemist and he told her, “No, it’s for boys. Boys do science.” I do not know then what it is girls are supposed to do, but she could have turned away from science and done something else. As a young girl with the support of her father, she chose to continue to pursue her passion for science which I think was very stoic of her and as Marcus Aurelius, wrote: “Our actions may be impeded, but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions”. If an obstacle does lie in my way, how can it possibly be used to achieve my goal? Another thing about encountering obstacles is there is this paradox because lets say when we face a strong enemy at war we inadvertently become stronger ourselves. Working hard and overcoming an obstacle that is preventing me from reaching my goal will still teach me something that will serve in the future and more often than not when that obstacle is overcome boundless opportunities arise greater than originally anticipated because honestly think about, would Ameenah Gurib-Fakim be the success she today had chose to listen to her careers guidance officer?
You can not win a football match with 52% of the team on the bench
It is is estimated that women make up about 52% of the population in Africa and Ameenah Gurib-Fakim’s statement that “you cannot win a football match with 52% of the team on the bench” is simple and self explanatory. As partners, parents, siblings, colleagues etc we should do our utmost to encourage and facilitate our wives, daughters, sisters and siblings to contribute fully in the workforce because we need more women in Africa at decision making levels. The knowledge, talent and experience we are missing out on in our private and public organisations is inexplicable. Just think, in Mauritius, and I am convinced across most of Africa, when looking at the unemployment rate women still outnumber men even though majority of these unemployed women are more qualified than the men in the workforce. something is wrong there. If we are going to win against poverty and improve the standard of living across the continent, we cannot expect to win by fielding a team of 5 players, we need all 11 players on the pitch.
Traditional African medicine has an important role in healing in a Modern World
This should come as no surprise, after all Imhotep (a black African ancient Egyptian) is the father of medicine and not the Greek Hippocrates. The fact is we have an abundance of herbal medicines and plants which could be developed into an industry. There are over 5,000 medicinal plant species which have not explored fully by Western pharmaceutical companies. We need to exploit our traditional knowledge of these plants and turn Africa into a knowledge economy, but we do not value our traditional knowledge or give it the same status as western medicine. Over the last decade the tide in Western medicine has slowly turned towards a more holistic approach – which has always been the African way – this we need to overcome the stigma and prejudice we have towards our traditional healers and ensure we have the Intellectual Property rights to these medicines and plants before the Western pharmaceutical companies exploit it.
Why great leaders fail
At TEDxALC 2016 (African Leadership College) Ameenah Gurib-Fakim gave a talk on why great leaders fail in which she highlighted the challenge of sustaining leadership and focused on listening, learning and applying what you hear and pushing your team in order to motivate them and said as leader “…considering your legacy gives you a compass to help you move with purpose and determination even in the most uncertain times”. Initially that was going to be the focus of this section but in-light of a resignation on Friday 23rd March 2018 after a scandal involving use of an NGO credit card the focus will now be on accountability. In this Ted Talk she highlighted how good leaders make themselves accountable to their peers, subordinates, customers and those that care about them and that most importantly when a leader makes a mistake they should accept the mistake and its consequences and not try and deny the mistake or pass the blame. I guess her resignation shows that, in some respect, she lives by her word and principles.