These presidents’ wives know that a likable first lady can help her husband’s public image, but that hasn’t always been enough to gain them popularity. They’re social, they’re fashionable, they’re charitable, they’re 12 popular and not-so-popular African first ladies.
Jeannette Kagame (Rwanda)
Kagame is married to President Paul Kagame. She is known for her work with orphans and widows of the Rwandan genocide and for addressing HIV/AIDS issues. She founded the Organization of African First Ladies against HIV/AIDS. Kagame is also the president of the Imbuto Foundation which, according to Oprah.com, “…supports the development of a healthy, educated and prosperous Rwanda.”
Princess Lalla Salma (Morocco)
Salma is married to Mohammed VI, the King of Morocco. Aside from being famous for her fiery red hair, Salma is known for the Lalla Salma Association Against cancer, which she founded in 2005. Through her foundation, Salma organized the very first national cancer registry, helping Moroccan cancer patients access quality health care.
Sylvia Bongo Ondimba (Gabon)
Ondimba is a fashion icon in Gabon and a major AIDS prevention activist. Ondimba started the CAN Without AIDS Foundation and she managed to get high-profile celebrities such as football star Didier Ovano to sponsor the foundation’s events.
Chantal Biya (Cameroon)
Biya, the second wife of Cameroon President Paul Biya, is loved for her sometimes outlandish hairstyles and eccentric fashion sense. Her unique style has been written about in the Boston Globe and The Huffington Post. Her signature piece are her enormous head accessories. Whether her look is criticized or celebrated, it’s talked about profusely.
Hinda Deby (Chad)
Some say that the wife of Chadian President Idriss Deby saved the man’s reputation. In the midst of a storm of media attention and scandal, the president married his new wife and the focus shifted from him to her. She was suddenly all anybody could talk about. She works as her husband’s stenographer and sometimes gives speeches in his place, which the public doesn’t seem to mind.
Dominique Folloroux-Ouattara (Ivory Coast)
Aside from looking 20 years younger than her 61 years, the wife of Alaassane Ouattarra has a baccalaureate in economic sciences, a diploma of universal studies in languages and a diploma of real estate administration. She has run several real estate groups and was the CEO of the French Beauty Services Company.
Chantal Compaoré (Burkina Faso)
Compaoré is married to former President Blaise Compaoré who resigned in 2014. The first lady is known for her work fighting gender mutilation. She worked with Nestorine Sangare, Burkina Faso’s Minister of Women Promotion and Gender, and with Koudraogo Kabore in the Ministry of Women Promotion and Gender. During her time as first lady, Compaoré gave speeches at schools and women’s organizations on female advancement.
Olive Lembe di Sita Kabila (Democratic Republic of Congo)
At 38, Kabila became one of the youngest African first ladies. She’s married to President Joseph Kabila, and the first lady and her husband caught the attention of Congolese evangelicals and prophets who apparently have “seen in visions good omens God of Israel has in store for the presidential couple.” The prophets were demanding a bit too much media attention when the first lady diplomatically reminded them that the DRC is a non-religious state.
Queen Inkhosikati LaMbikiza (Swaziland)
LaMbikiza, wife of King Mswati the III, isn’t just popular with the public, she’s popular with her husband. The king has 15 wives but he selected LaMbikiza to be his first lady. LaMbikiza has a law degree, a fierce fashion sense and a fabulous social life. She is always in attendance at high-profile events such as the Armed Forces Parade, Muster parade and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. You can spot her behind the Queen in the photo.
Margaret Gakuo Kenyatta (Kenya)
Kenyatta is known for her humble mannerisms and sophisticated-but-subtle style. Kenyatta met her husband Uhuru Kenyatta in Mombasa and the two were best friends for several years before marrying. She launched the Beyond Zero campaign, which, according to Softkenya.com, aims at, “…creating awareness and raising funds to tackle issues that affect maternal and child health issues and mother-to-child transmission of HIV.”
Ana Paula dos Santos (Angola)
The wife of President Jose Eduardo dos Santo used to be a model and flight attendant. She met her husband while serving him during a flight. She has a law degree, a teaching degree and is a member of the International Steering Committee, a global network of civil society leaders that describes itself as “committed to advancing democracy and human rights through the Community of Democracies.”
Zeinab Suma Jammel (Gambia)
The public loves to hate Zeinab Suma Jammel, wife of Gambian President Yahya Jammeh. She has been called a “gold digger” and a “hustler.” But she gained some women’s respect when, after her husband took a second, younger wife, she fled the country and threatened to divorce him if he didn’t leave his new spouse.