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AU President Gertrude Mongella: Biographical Brief

Gertrude Ibengwe Mongella was elected president by the Pan African Parliament at its first Session in March 2004. Mongella will lead the African Union during the African parliament's five year transition into full legislative powers.

Until the African parliament is elected by universal suffrage in early 2009, some its resolutions still require confirmation by the African Union Assembly of Heads of State and Government. All the other institutions of the AU government, including the African Union Commission, are subordinate to, and accountable to the Parliament.

Gertrude Ibengwe Mongella was born on the island of Ukewere in Lake Victoria in September 1955. She is married and is the mother of four children. She was 12 years old when she left her island home to attend a school run by Maryknoll nuns. Later she went to the University College of Dar-es-Salaam.

Mongella became an international figure known to many as Mama Beijing after having chaired the landmark Fourth United Nations World Conference on Women in Beijing in September 1995. In recognition of the work done by Mongella at Beijing the prestigious intrnational Gertrude Mongella Award was established by the International Federation of Business and Professional Women. The award is made to an individual or group of individuals who have worked with women at grass roots level over the past three years on an ongoing basis and has an outstanding record of success.

Ms Mongella has also served as Special Advisor to the Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa and as advisor to the Director General of UNESCO. Mongella has served on the African Women’s Committee for Peace and Development.

In 1975 she became a member of the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA). Since then, she has held several ministerial positions in the AU’s constituent state of Tanzania, including as Minister of State for Women’s Affairs. From 1985 to 1987, Ms. Mongella was the Minister of Lands, Natural Resources and Tourism. From 1987 to 1991, she was a minister in the President’s Office. As a member of the Central and National Executive Committee of the ruling political party in Tanzania, she was Head of the Social Services Department at party headquarters from 1982 to 1991. At the end of 1991, Ms Mongella was appointed High Commissioner to India.

During the ten years prior to 1991, she represented the state of Tanzania at numerous international meetings, conferences, seminars and workshops, particularly on issues relating to women and to development and the environment. In 1985, at the World Conference to Review and Appraise the Achievement of the United Nations Decade for Women in Nairobi, she was the chairperson of the African group and vice-chairperson of the conference.

In 1989 Mongella was Tanzania's Representative on the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) and led a delegation to present the state’s report to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women in 1990. That same year, she participated in an expert group meeting on Women in Political and Decision-Making Positions in Vienna, Austria. From 1990 to 1993, she also served as a member of the Board of Trustees of the UN International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW). She is currently the Special Advisor to the ECA Executive Secretary as well as to the UNESCO Director General. Mrs Mongella is also member of the AWCPD and the founder of an NGO called Advocacy for Women in Africa (AWA).

In November 1996, she chaired the Women’s Leadership Forum on Peace in Johannesburg. This meeting resulted in the drafting of the terms of reference of the proposed African Women’s Committee for Peace and Development. At that meeting, she said to African leaders: "Since we all recognise that women do not generally support armed hostilities and conflicts, can we work out specific modalities which can more directly involve women in the peace process so that they can contribute their wisdom and compassion to resolving conflicts before they flare up into brutalities? There are still too many conflict-resolving endeavours in Africa which exclude women. How long will women continue to give life just to see it taken away by force of arms?"

During the first African Women’s Forum, chaired by Ms Graça Machel in Accra in January 1997, she shared her vision of leadership. "If you want to be a leader," she said, "you have to be clear what you want and what you stand for. You must stand for principle. Principle will never let you down … You have to be able to choose what are the principles worth dying for … And you have to add on a little sacrifice. Leadership needs a lot of sacrifice - personal and public sacrifice."

Ms Mongella also participated in the Pan-African Conference on Peace, Gender and Development in Kigali in March 1997. The Conference sought to support the efforts of the Rwandan women to combat intolerance and to participate in the reconstruction and reconciliation of their nation.

As part of the African women’s peace mission to Burundi organised by FAS and the OAU, Ms Mongella visited the Bubanza displaced persons’ camps. She spoke to the women in their native language, pointing out that "our delegation is composed of women from all parts of Africa and has come to Burundi to encourage you, the women of the country, to take a stand for peace and to convince your men to stop the fighting. We should tell the leaders of Burundi and of the region to work towards peace for the people."

Mongella also served as leader of the observer team of the African Union government to Zimbabwe's presidential election in 2002.

Summary

Secretary General - United Nations Women's Conference (1993 - 1995)
High Commisioner to India - Government of Tanzania (1991 - 1993)
Trustee - UN International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (1990 - 1993)
Minister Without Portfolio - Government of Tanzania (1989 - 1990)
Minister of Lands, Natural Resources and Tourism - Government of Tanzania (1985 - 1987)
Head - Social Services Department, Government of Tanzania (1982 - 1991)
Minister of State for Women's Affairs - Government of Tanzania (1982 - 1986)
Member - East African Legislative Assembly (1975 - 78)
Member of the Central and National Executive Committee - Government of Tanzania
Special Advisor to the Director General - UNESCO
Special Advisor to the Executive Secretary - ECA

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