Updated: Jun 17
In her opening line at the Transform Africa Summit, Fatoumata introduces herself, “Growing up a shy little girl in Senegal I used to ask myself a lot of questions and, actually to bother my family with them. And I remember [at] that time, my most favourite question was to try and understand why our continent was so rich in natural resources, yet the least developed.”
Fatoumata BA asks a question most Africans utter in frustration and disappointment. Africa, as a continent, lags behind the western world, not due to a lack of resources, including a bright and creative labour force, but because the past has not been just or free; and the present still suffers the effects of dictatorial and oppressive leadership. In this climate, African females like Fatoumata do what females have always done - become active problem-solvers. The Innovator magazine describes Fatoumata as, “A computer prodigy who got her start at eight years old by hacking into her brother’s computer.” As a female tech entrepreneur from Senegal, her love for technology and business have made her one of the most innovative leaders in the African business landscape. Therefore, it is no surprise that in January 2019, Fatoumata received the Aenne Burda award for creative and visionary leadership from Digital, Life, Design – Hubert Burda Media.
As part of my research, I watched the award ceremony on YouTube. In her acceptance speech Fatoumata honours a number of women. The first is her mother, whom she proudly describes as intelligent and hardworking, and always at the top of her class, but without access to the opportunities and education opportunities that Fatoumata got. Unfortunately, this is the reality for the disadvantaged in Africa, particularly females. The poverty and lack that so many women in Africa must suffer is symptomatic of the prevalent abuse of power and authority. When I watch the video of Fatoumata accepting and dedicating the award to her mother; and as I hear the audience responding with applause in honour of her mother, it is beautiful and contagious. It is why more women should be crashing through ceilings and breaking down barriers. Amazing women, like Fatoumata, do what they do for their mothers who sacrificed all they could because there was barely enough to uplift their daughters.
Fatoumata also thanks her female colleagues from Jumia and Janngo, which are tech companies she worked in and founded, respectively. She describes them as “incredibly inspiring and hardworking.” African women are not just problem-solvers but they are hard workers too regardless of what space they occupy. They are trained from a very young age to work hard. Too much responsibility is put on the female child; and she is burdened with too much expectation without recognition. That is why when Fatoumata continues, “I was not afraid to fight any battle because I know they will be here and fighting hard with me,” I can relate. I think of my own supportive network of hardworking females who see in me more than what a man would see. African girls are raised in preparation for marriage and motherhood. It is our mothers and sisters, aunts and grandmothers who are given this task and it is always so affirming when these women see more in us and teach us how to fight battles and win wars that would relegate us to a life of domestic indenture. When I hear women like Fatoumata acknowledge the hard work and victories of other women, I am inspired to work hard and win for others not just myself. She says, “I believe I was lucky enough to have access to some opportunities, first of all education, and then technology that enabled me to build a career and a path for myself. And that is why I cannot see my life in a different way than building opportunities for myself, but mostly for others, because they are even more talented than I am. Trust me, and if they were given a chance to be born in the right place, to have access to the opportunities, they would be here getting all these Aenna Burda awards before me.” Lastly, Fatoumata recognizes the African female entrepreneurs who have ventured into business for survival. She is pleased to mention that at 27% of its entrepreneurial population, Africa has the highest number of female entrepreneurs in the world.
Fatoumata has helped elevate others from the grip of poverty, but there is one programme that really stands out as an excellent example of a Black female who harnesses her resources and skillset to elevate other Black females. This programme is discussed in her interview with Jennifer Schenker. While with Jumia, in Nigeria, Fatoumata led a programme that distributed tablets to 130 business women in the informal sector so they could sell their goods. It is reported that within two years, about 45 000 people were using this system, with 14% earning double the average national salary.
Fatoumata shares that one woman testified, “I managed to get and earn back dignity in my household because I’m also a centre of profit, I’m not only a center of cost.” Being a married woman in Africa culturally places the woman lower than the man as head of the household. I can see how the added strain of not being financially independent could further lower a female’s status in a family. After all, people normally respect those who are financially independent over those who are not. The statement, “I managed to get and earn dignity in my household,” is one many women on the continent wish they could express. African women want to earn the respect their male counterparts earn through business and entrepreneurial ventures. African women are not happy being viewed as dependents, the same status as their children. Females are held down by cultural expectations and gender roles, disparities in pay and opportunities, which makes them vulnerable to domestic violence. The economic systems and structures of many African countries are designed to deny the African female the dignity that comes with financial independence. What Fatoumata and others like her have done is create channels that do not require the female to battel her male counterparts to get ahead. She has empowered women by building platforms specifically designed for their privilege. That is what female empowerment is to me.
In my opinion, Fatoumata is an African Black Female superhero from which a Future Black Female can draw inspiration. Many of us have environments and communities, cultures and systems that are not ideal for our success. But like Fatoumata BA, we can grab every opportunity that comes our way and use the skills we gain for economic success and for the success of others.
DLD Conference (2019) Africa- The Next Big Thing –Tomorrow Starts Today (Fatoumata Ba, Jennifer Schenker) | DLD 19. Available at: https//youtu.be/5NUguXq0zJE [Accessed 08 November 2019)
DLD Conference Optimism & Courage Aenne Burda Award Ceremony (Fatoumata Ba & Martin Weiss) | DLD 19. Available at: https: //youtu.be/iLARm23gXsE [Accessed 08 November 2019]
Images from www.crunchbase.com and www.kapitalafrik.com