Africa’s remaining female President, Dr Ameenah Gurib-Fakim of Mauritius is to resign after local media accused her of misusing a charity credit card for expensive personal purchases.
The news that Dr Ameenah Gurib-Fakim is to step down due to an alleged money scandal, after serving just under three years in office, is a big blow to African movements advocating for more women in high political office. Africa will now have Namibia’s Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila, as the only female running a high political office.
Although the date of Dr Gurib-Fakim departure is yet to be confirmed, it will likely be after Mauritius celebrates its 50 Years of independence on Monday 12 March, but her departure has been confirmed by her boss, the country’s Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth.
“The President of the Republic told me that she will resign from office and we have agreed on the date of her departure… The interests of the country come first,” most media outlets are quoting him to have said.
Among many more accolades, Dr Gurib-Fakim is globally admired as champion of gender equality and having women in top leadership positions. In an interview with New African Woman last April she stated: “I have been advocating that we need to have better representation [of women] and there is a need to fix the ‘leaky pipe syndrome’ – which loses a lot of women in the pipeline, instead of bringing them along into systems and institutions.”
But the respected scientist, is protesting her innocence, tweeting to her followers on Friday: “It is being reported that I am resigning.. I am still in post… ALL ALLEGATIONS….[sic] truth will come out when inquiry over…”
Trouble for Dr Gurib-Fakim started to brew back in 2017, when the vocal French-language newspaper L’Express first reported and started to question the financial activities of Angolan businessman Álvaro Sobrinho in Mauritius – including Sobrinho’s charity, the London-headquartered Planet Earth Institute – an NGO set up to promote “independent scientific research in Africa”.
Dr Gurib-Fakim, a renowned scientist and a L’Oréal/UNESCO Women in Science Laureate, was a Director on the Board of the Institute between 2015 and 2017.
The news comes amid reports that an impeachment process was being floated by Parliament, unless she stepped down voluntarily for bringing the country (famed for its exemplary democratic values) into disrepute, after she allegedly spent thousands of dollars on the PEI credit card on personal purchases while on trips abroad. The credit card is said to have had a 1 million Mauritian Rupees credit limit. All aside, Dr Gurib-Fakim has curved one of the most admirable careers in sciences, by an African woman.
As we reported in our interview with her our April 2017 edition, her CV is perhaps one of the finest in Africa and despite her Presidential post being largely just ceremonial, Dr Gurib-Fakim, she was one of Africa’s most educated Heads of State. The unassuming mother of two has achieved many other firsts, including being the first female dean of the Faculty of Science at the University of Mauritius. In 2007, she was a recipient of the prestigious L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Award for her research on the exploration and analysis of plants from Mauritius and their biomedical applications. She later created the first full inventory of medicinal and aromatic plants found in Mauritius and neighbouring island Rodriguez. Her analysis of the antibacterial and antifungal properties of plants from Mauritius is paving the way for their use as safe and effective alternatives to commercial medicines.
With her credentials as a biodiversity scientist, Dr Gurib-Fakim has authored and co-edited over 28 books, journals and research papers on biodiversity conservation and sustainable development and has won multiple further awards. That alone will or should inspire a generation of future African women (and male) scientists.