First ladies in Africa: a close look at how three have wielded influence

First ladies in Africa: a close look at how three have wielded influence

Former First Lady Grace Mugabe representing Zimbabwe at an Organization of African First Ladies Against HIV and AIDS summitEPA/Khaled Elfiqi

The role played by the wives of heads of state in Africa has been largely ignored. In a bid to contribute to this under-researched area we analyzed the political role, influence, and activities of First Ladies in a number of countries on the continent.

We put together the African First Ladies Database to analyze the functions, roles, strategies, and agency of some of Africa’s most influential First Ladies. Our focus was mostly on southern Africa. But our research also covered East and Central Africa. We included first ladies in our database based on their proximity to the executive and other decision-makers.

Three emerged as particularly influential. These were Janet Museveni, wife of Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni; Grace Mugabe, the wife of Zimbabwe’s former president Robert Mugabe; and Denise Nkurunziza, wife of Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza. All have been politically ambitious and actively supported their husbands’ rule.

Our paper addressed their political agendas, roles, influence, and accountability. We found that they were influential political actors who were active domestically, regionally and internationally. This enabled them to influence relationships and to extract political support, as well as financial gain through tenders and government funding.

Our findings raise questions about the accountability of first ladies and the transparency of their public duties and private interests. But Africa’s first ladies aren’t on their own. Similar accusations have been made against others elsewhere. For example, during the presidential tenure of her husband, Hillary Clinton was often described as interfering with White House politics and Capitol Hill decisions. Similar accusations were made against, among others, Imelda Marcos of The Philippines.

First Ladies as political activists

We found that the first ladies acted as power brokers and members of an inner circle. They actively mobilized support for their spouses. They used strategies such as their personal narratives, their country’s liberation history, religion and culture. They supported their husbands’ campaigns and downplayed, denied or simply remained silent on the failures of their husbands’ governments.

Grace Mugabe: Her political career spanned a mere three years (2014-2017) when she was elected as the President of the ZANU-PF Women’s League. This role meant that she automatically became a member of the party’s Politburo. She was successful in gaining support for her husband’s tenure as well as her own political ambitions from religious leaders, youth and the Women’s League, traditional leaders, and minority apostolic churches.

She made some noteworthy claims of support for her husband. For example, she publicly stated that even if he were to be incapacitated, Zimbabweans would vote for him because he was God-ordained.

Besides addressing religious rallies, she used nationwide “Meet the People” tours to brand herself and the President.

Grace Mugabe often welcomed and hosted foreign Heads of State and Government at her Harare home, and at State House. Her close proximity to the President gave her access to influential political networks that she exploited to buy properties and run businesses.

Denise Nkurunziza: She led the Burundi ruling party’s Women’s League (the Abakenyererarugamba). Like other African First Ladies, she used religion to endorse and support her husband’s rule. She is also an ordained Reverend.

Christians are a significant audience for the Nkurunzizas. They often hold prayer groups and wash the feet of members of the congregation. In 2017, the ruling party promoted President Pierre Nkurunziza as the “Supreme Everlasting Guide” (“Visionary”), adding to the personality cult that had been emerging around him. In 2018, Pierre Nkurunziza established Thursdays as a national Burundian Day of Prayer devoted to Christ and to fasting with prayers “without exception” for the ruling party.

Another key constituency for Denise Nkurunziza was influential women who held senior positions across the political and military spectrum.

The office of the First Lady was also used to bolster diplomatic relations between Burundi and the international community.

Janet Museveni: She was appointed as Minister of State for Karamoja by her husband in 2009. The Karamojong saw the move as a sign of the President’s affection for them.

She also served as a member of Parliament representing Ruhaama County in Ntungamo District between 2006 and 2016 and is currently the minister for education

Beyond her career in politics, she is revered by some as the “Mother of the Nation” thanks to her social outreach on maternal health.

In 2014, the Global Decency Index (GDI), invented by Decent Africa, an African fashion brand, announced that she was “the most decent African First Lady”.

Her pious, nurturing image contributes to her husband’s credibility locally and internationally.

Like her counterparts in Zimbabwe and Burundi, Janet Museveni believes that Museveni was ordained by God – as does he.

Patriarchy still rules

Despite their own political experience, ambitions and influence, we found that the three women we studied remained subordinate to the patriarchy in their societies. A few gender biases were evident.

One was in expectations of the role of the First Lady. They were expected to be spouse, mother, caregiver, and nurturer of the sick, young and elderly. Another was that the Offices of the First Lady were fully directed from within the President’s office. This meant that the flow of information about them was skewed to project as ideal woman, trophies and a trailblazer for issues stereotyped and associated with women.

In addition, none of the constitutions of the countries we examined referred to the position.

This, in our view, reflects an impression that the role isn’t important – because it is, by and large, held by women. It also undermines democratic accountability.

We believe there should be constitutional clarity and accountability – which would herald accountability – on the formal role, powers, and functions of First Ladies.

Arina Muresan was a co-author of this piece. She is a member of our team.The Conversation

Jo-Ansie van Wyk, Professor in International Politics, University of South Africa and Chidochashe Nyere, Lecturer, University of Pretoria

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Christian Healthcare Ministry Scams?

Christian Healthcare Ministry Scams?

Sheri Lewis, 59, of Seattle, needed a hip transplant. Bradley Fuller, 63, of nearby Kirkland, needed chemotherapy and radiation when the pain in his jaw turned out to be throat cancer. And Kim Bruzas, 55, of Waitsburg, hundreds of miles away, needed emergency care to stop sudden —and severe — rectal bleeding.

Each of these Washington state residents required medical treatment during the past few years, and each thought they had purchased health insurance through an online site.

But when it was time to pay the bills, they learned that the products they bought through Aliera Healthcare Inc. weren’t insurance at all — and that the cost of their care wasn’t covered.

Lewis and the others had enrolled in what Aliera officials claimed was a health care sharing ministry (HCSM) — faith-based co-ops in which members agree to pay one another’s medical bills.

But Washington insurance officials this week said the firm doesn’t meet the definition of a sharing ministry and described Aliera’s products as a “sham” aimed at misleading consumers. Other states, including Texas and New Hampshire, are poised to take similar action.

Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler on Monday ordered Aliera, which operates Trinity Healthshare Inc., both of Delaware, to halt operations in Washington, alleging the firm was selling health insurance illegally and engaging in deceptive business practices.

Aliera falsely represented itself as a sharing ministry, which would be exempt from insurance regulations, an investigation found. Though he wouldn’t name them, Kreidler said he’s investigating two additional firms over similar concerns.

“They don’t have the direct affiliation with a particular religious group, a church, a pastor,” Kreidler said. “These appear to be ones that come in with an opportunity here to make money.”

In a statement, Aliera officials disputed Kreidler’s conclusions. The company has 90 days to request a hearing.

“Aliera has never misled consumer and sales agents about its health plans,” the statement said. “For example, our website, marketing materials and other communications clearly state that Trinity’s health sharing products are not insurance. Most importantly, they have never been represented as insurance.”

The Washington order followed complaints from nearly two dozen people, including Lewis, a dance teacher who was told her planned hip surgery wouldn’t be covered.

Across the U.S., several state insurance regulators report similar concerns.

Texas insurance officials have scheduled a hearing to consider a similar order against Aliera, which has 100,000 members nationwide and reported revenue of $180 million in 2018, documents showed.

New Hampshire insurance officials on Tuesday warned consumers about Aliera, saying they were concerned about “potential fraudulent or criminal activity.” Officials in at least five other states told Kaiser Health News they are reviewing firms operating as “illegitimate” health care sharing ministries.

Aliera is operated by Shelley Steele of Marietta, Ga., and her husband, Timothy Moses, who was convicted in 2006 of federal securities fraud and perjury. He was sentenced to 6½ years in prison and ordered to repay more than $1 million to victims.

Nationwide, nearly 1 million people are enrolled in more than 100 sharing ministries in at least 29 states, according to the Alliance of Health Care Sharing Ministries. But that’s just an estimate, said James Lansberry, executive vice president of Samaritan Ministries International of Peoria, Ill. No comprehensive data is available.

“We try to track what’s going on out there,” Lansberry said. “Anyone claiming to be a health care sharing ministry could spill over onto our reputation.”

Samaritan is among what have been the three top players in the sharing ministries field. The oldest, founded in 1993, is the Medi-Share program of Melbourne, Fla., operated by Christian Care Ministry. The third is Christian Healthcare Ministries of Barberton, Ohio. All are explicitly religious and emphasize faith as the basis for members to share medical burdens.

Those groups originally were certified by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and required to meet specific criteria. Consumers who enrolled were shielded from the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate that required they show proof of insurance or pay a fine.

But CMS no longer certifies HCSMs and, since Congress zeroed out the mandate’s penalty in 2017, a new crop of companies, including Aliera, has sprung up. That worries some of the traditional ministries.

“HCSMs must operate with integrity, transparency, full compliance with the law, and enforcement of the law,” officials with Medi-Share, which has 415,000 members nationwide, said in a statement. “Anything outside of that violates the true spirit of the HCSM community.”

Washington investigators found that Aliera’s marketing materials rarely mention religious or ethical motivations, and they don’t meet government requirements.

Many of these entities mimic the marketing, structure and language of ACA-compliant health insurance plans — but offer none of the protections, said JoAnn Volk and Justin Giovannelli, researchers at the Georgetown University Center on Health Insurance Reforms, who wrote about the issue last summer.

“The way they advertise and the services they are providing, it sounds a heck of a lot like health insurance,” Giovannelli said. “They’re letting folks believe they have a product that has a promise to pay.”

That’s exactly what Lewis thought.

“It looked like Aliera was health insurance to me,” she said.

When Aliera denied her surgery, she had to resort to a GoFundMe site organized by friends to raise nearly $13,000 and then travel to Tijuana, Mexico, to get a hip transplant she could afford.

Fuller, who was diagnosed with throat cancer, said he was stuck with $81,000 in bills for his first month of treatment.

“They started checking my insurance and it didn’t cover nothing,” said the retired commercial electrician.

Fuller, his voice still raspy after radiation, said he had insurance through his union for years, but when the premiums spiked, he went online to find something else.

The person he talked to from Aliera said he could get insurance, no problem, Fuller said. The premium would be $350 a month, rather than the $1,300 fee for a gold plan on the state insurance exchange. “And that was with dental, too,” he added.

Low premiums also attracted Bruzas, who left her well-paid government job in Tacoma, and the insurance it provided, after her husband died in 2015. She moved to a small town in southeastern Washington to care for her parents and went online to find health insurance.

“I just sat down and Googled ‘Obamacare,’” she said. “I got a call back from a lady who said she could help me find coverage.” Bruzas was charged $219 for the first month.

Four days later, she was in the local emergency room with massive rectal bleeding. As she was discharged, hospital officials said they had “never heard of Aliera Healthcare,” she said.

The $10,000 bill was not covered. Bruzas, who works part time at a hardware store, filed for charity care and the debt was reduced to $6,500. She is paying it off slowly, $50 each month.

The Washington patients recalled mentions of “sharing” and vague references to spirituality. But none realized they were signing up for a religious cost-sharing ministry, they said.

“I would have hung up the phone if she would have said, ‘We’re a group, and we’ll review your records and pray for you,’” Bruzas said.

Aliera officials said they make the nature of their products clear.

“Aliera disagrees that Trinity’s inclusive and specific statement of beliefs misleads consumers or violates the applicable regulations governing healthcare sharing ministries,” the statement said.

It’s not clear how states can curb the new sharing ministries. If Aliera ignores his order, Kreidler said, he’ll seek a court injunction to force the groups to cease operations. But several states contacted by KHN said that because the ministries are not health insurance, state insurance officials don’t review or regulate them.

Some users of sharing ministries say the lower-priced products should be available for consumers who understand and accept the risks involved.

But consumers need to pay close attention to details when they sign up for any health plans, said Colorado Insurance Commissioner Michael Conway, who is investigating sharing ministries operating in his state.

“Ask if it’s actually insurance,” he advised. “Ask if there’s a guarantee of coverage. Get into the policy documents. Read the contract they’re agreeing to.”

Can the religious right and left be more than a rubber stamp for their parties’ policies?

Can the religious right and left be more than a rubber stamp for their parties’ policies?

The Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, center left, holds hands with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. while singing “We Shall Overcome” during a civil rights rally at Soldier Field in Chicago on June 21, 1964. Photo courtesy of OCP Media

In the media and in our popular imagination, the religious right towers over our political landscape. So much so, in fact, that one could be forgiven for thinking that reflexive Republicanism is the only widespread expression of Christianity in politics.

The religious right’s shadow is so large that it is usually the reference point for any discussion of the religious left. Each election cycle, a spate of articles, essays and columns, mostly by white journalists, appears, inquiring why the religious left is not as important as the religious right. Is there a religious left at all?

After their party largely neglected faith outreach in 2016, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates seem to have caught the religion bug, and to hear them talk some might think the religious left has a chance this cycle to counter the religious right’s decades-long hold on American politics.

9 African American women make history in SC House

9 African American women make history in SC House

From left, Reps. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, Leola Robinson Simpson, Annie McDaniel, Chandra Dillard, Rosalyn Henderson Myers, Patricia Henegan, Krystle Simmons and Wendy Brawley pose for a photo outside the House chamber at the Statehouse Wednesday, May 8, 2019 in Columbia, S.C. This is the first time in the state’s history that nine African American women are serving in the House of Representatives simultaneously. Not pictured is Rep. J. Anne Parks. (AP Photo/Christina Myers)

During the last week of this year’s legislative session in South Carolina, eight of the state’s nine African American women serving in the House gathered to record a historic moment.

This is the first time in the state’s history that nine African American women have served simultaneously in the House of Representatives, a moment shared among a sisterhood of women who say their primary mission is to serve and create positive change.

“I think we are uniquely situated to do that,” Rep. Wendy Brawley of Hopkins said of her eight African American female colleagues. “It’s the most that has ever served In the House at one time, and I think we can be and have been a formidable force.”

They wanted to take a photo near a portrait of Mary McLeod Bethune, the famous educator and stateswoman born a daughter of former slaves in Mayesville, South Carolina as a nod to how African American women have always had a significant impact on South Carolina’s history. And they also strive to have their own impact in the legislature.

Joining Brawley are Gilda Cobb-Hunter of Orangeburg, Chandra Dillard of Greenville, Rosalyn D. Henderson-Myers of Spartanburg, Patricia Henegan of Bennettsville, Annie E. McDaniel of Winnsboro, J. Anne Parks of Greenwood, Leola Robinson Simpson of Greenville, and Krystle Simmons of Ladson. They are women who serve all parts of the state, representing almost every industry including a magazine CEO, social worker, higher education administrators, attorney, retired educator and consultant, funeral director and engineer planner.

African American women have been serving in the South Carolina House for just 44 years. Juanita C.W. Goggins of York County was elected in 1975, serving for five years. Her achievements in improving education and public health paved the way for African American women to pick up the torch and serve behind her.

From left, Reps. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, Wendy Brawley and Krystle Simmons meet during recess inside the House chamber of the Statehouse in Columbia, S.C., on Tuesday, May 7, 2019.  (AP Photo/Christina Myers)

“I don’t know if I digested how big this is,” Rep. Krystle Simmons said. “I just hope that little brown boys and girls, young girls, college age, I hope they look at me and say because of her, we can.”

Simmons just completed her first year in the legislature and the Ladson Democrat said she is not concerned about re-election but is instead focusing on inspiring young women and minorities to be civically engaged.

The mother of five has already left an impact on some lawmakers. When the issue of defunding Planned Parenthood came up, Simmons spoke of how she benefited from services other than abortion that the organization offers – such as parenting classes, which she attended after becoming a new mother.

After her remarks, some lawmakers approached her and expressed their support behind the scenes.

“There were so many that came up to me after that talk that said they wanted to be with me, but couldn’t,” Simmons said. “My problem is that you’re making an uneducated decision because you’re basing your decision off of hearsay.”

Simmons flipped her district, beating a Republican who has long held the seat.

One of the lawmakers made history of her own. Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter was given the honor in January of gaveling in the 123rd session of the South Carolina House as the longest serving member of the chamber. She is also the longest serving African American in the state’s history, elected in 1992 having spent years behind the scenes encouraging other women to run for office. The Orangeburg lawmaker said the House is not the same place it was when she started.

“I would like to see a return of actual debate of issues. I want to return to when we were more focused on substance than symbol,” Cobb-Hunter said. “I know that my value, my message is not for the 123 people sitting in that room.”

Recognizing the contributions of African Americans is important for the Orangeburg lawmaker who said she helped spearhead efforts to construct and dedicate the African American monument on the Statehouse grounds. That and the removal of the Confederate flag are vivid memories, both representing some progress in the state.

“Just the symbolism of that is just great,” Cobb-Hunter said of seeing an image of an empty pole laying on the Statehouse grounds in 2015. “That’s a vivid memory when we took the flag off the front lawn.”

Though some progress is evident in the position and power African Americans now hold in the Legislature, Brawley acknowledges there is still more work that needs to be done. The Hopkins lawmaker said the biggest challenge some of her colleagues face is navigating a system designed to help the people in power ignore legislation they don’t like with little accountability.

“Good ideas that can help advance the cause of South Carolina sit in a languishing committee because we are not willing to be nonpartisan enough to push good legislation,” Brawley said. “None of us are afraid to speak up and give voice to issues that will make a difference.”

And whether it was their first year or their 28th year in the Legislature, they are passionate about their service and the difference they can make.

“We have to fight. We’ve had to fight for everything we’ve got,” Brawley said. “I don’t see going to the General Assembly as lightening the load. It means the responsibility is probably going to be a little harder.”

Meet the ‘Successful Moms of the Bible’

Meet the ‘Successful Moms of the Bible’

Successful Moms Book Cover

Good parenting advice is hard to find. In fact, many of us have spent a lot more money than we’d like to admit on self-help books when all of the advice we’ve ever needed on being a great parent could be found right in the Bible. Enter the perfect resource for moms of the 21st Century: Successful Moms of the Bible.

Author Katara Washington Patton, a fellow mom-on-the-go, brings us an in-depth look at the stories of ten, strong women of the Bible who serve as great examples of being a successful mother by any means necessary.

“It’s based on biblical characters but it really is for contemporary moms,” Patton says about the first installment of her new 3-part series. Each chapter begins with an overarching lesson based on the stories of each biblical character.

“I really tried to mix it up,” Patton says. “Of course, I had to include my favorite, Ruth, so she came naturally, and of course, I had to include Mary, the mother of Jesus.”

Patton also included ladies that may be a bit less familiar, including Jochebed, the mother of Moses. Patton’s chapter on Jochebed embodies the concept of protecting your children at all costs. “That woman had guts,” she says. “She saved her son’s life!”

Although her goal was to share the stories of other moms, Successful Moms of the Bible also gives us a glimpse of Patton’s own close-knit relationship with her mother. “My mom died ten years ago in May, so writing about moms is very close and personal to me as we honor the 10-year anniversary of her death,” she says.

Patton says we can expect the other two books in the Successful series within the next several months. Successful Women of the Bible is scheduled for release in August 2016 and Successful Leaders of the Bible, the third and final installment, will be available early 2017.

Single Moms of the Bible is available on Patton’s website.

Who are some of your favorite moms of the Bible? Let’s talk about it below.

Calling All Moms

Calling All Moms

Calling All Moms for Urban FaithWhether you’re a teen mom, a divorced mom, a stepmom, a stay-at-home mom, a foster mother, a mother of a special-needs child, a mom who has lost a child, a mom who is struggling with addiction, or a perfectionist mom who’s realizing she’s not perfect, here’s the most important thing you can do to be a good mother …

This Sunday is Mother’s Day. If we’re not careful, this commemoration can go the way of other annual observances — like Earth Day, Columbus Day, and Presidents Day, to name a few — and become nothing more than a perfunctory nod dictated by the calendar. Moreover, with all the intense concern about teenage pregnancy, abortion, foster children, child abuse and neglect, and single parenting, the significance, honor, and privilege of motherhood can get lost in the mire. I’d like to make a concerted effort to not let that happen by sharing some thoughts and giving some shout-outs on motherhood.

Being a mother is a biological fact. Being a good mother is extremely challenging, especially in the face of so many competing priorities, societal pressures and cultural shifts. Everything from the price of diapers to how much water we drink can impact our effectiveness. And I’ll be honest, there are times when I’d rather not be a mom.

I have a reputation as a serious, self-sufficient girl and that often clashes mightily with the goofy antics of a teenager and the occasional depression of a chronically ill young adult. Right now my biggest private joke is what a motley crew my sons and I are: a prematurely menopausal woman, a hormonal teenager, and a twenty-something with a brain injury. Sometimes I count my blessings just to get everyone where they’re supposed to be, and that I haven’t given my oldest son my estrogen pills instead of his own medication. Did I mention I also have a teenager? Hmm … where was I??

Anyway, all of the pressure and responsibility sometimes weighs on me and distorts my view of what it really means to be a successful mom. I get caught up measuring myself against the typical litmus tests: attractive, winsome kids who are good students and active in many extracurricular pursuits, and who don’t smoke, drink, curse, or have sex, who are respectful of authority, and who love church and youth group; a family that follows an orderly but appropriately busy schedule; a great looking house that shows little to no evidence of children even being present … on and on it goes.

When I feel myself sinking under that load, I remember an internal conversation I had with the Lord when my oldest son was still in high school. Long story short, God reminded me that He’s looking for faithfulness, not perfection. For someone who profiles as a perfectionist on just about every personality assessment known to man, that’s a hard message to internalize. But I believe it, and I encourage other moms to believe and internalize it, too.

That leads me to my shout-outs.

To all the teenage or premature moms: It doesn’t matter so much how your journey of motherhood began, but it matters tremendously how you navigate through it, and how it ends up. Whether you’re 15, 17, or 22, be faithful. Love yourself and your children one day at a time, or one minute at a time if necessary.

To all the moms struggling against addictions and other life issues: Whether your bondage involves drugs, tobacco, sex, alcohol, partying, self-pity, shopping, depression, rejection and abandonment issues, dangerous relationships, or some combination of these, be faithful. Dig deep and change your focus from feeling better, to being better. Give your undivided attention to recovery so that your mothering can improve. And don’t be afraid to tell your kids your story.

To all the moms in difficult marriages: Having a bad husband or an unfulfilling relationship doesn’t mean you can forego your responsibilities to your children. Be faithful. If you have to read bedtime stories, review math homework, or braid hair with tears in your eyes, do it. The tears and your kids’ childhood will pass sooner than you think.

To all the stepmoms, play moms, foster moms, godmoms, and adoptive moms: Thanks for not letting the absence of a biological tie keep you from being faithful. You’re a wonderful example for us all.

To all the church mothers: Thanks for faithfully showing us the way to God like any good mother should.

To all the moms who have lost a child: Whether it was a miscarriage, an abortion, a stray bullet, friendly fire, an accident or something else that took your child from you, be faithful to remember that progeny and to thank God for the privilege of being the mother of that child.

To all the single moms: Even though you can’t be mother and father, be faithful. Pray hard, because their lives — and yours — depends on it. I’m a witness that God really is a father to the fatherless.

To the moms of special-needs children: You may not be able to cure their disease, raise their IQ, or prolong their life, but you can be faithful. Give them the best physical and emotional care you can, and you’ll have the peace of a job well done.

To all moms out there: Celebrate yourself this Mother’s Day. If you haven’t been as faithful as you should be, it’s not too late.

Happy Mother’s Day, Ladies!