By Mohamed Sankoh (One Drop)
Many First Ladies in Africa appear to be their husbands’ headaches, which is why they always end up creating more troubles for their spouses. Take Sierra Leone’s First Lady, Fatima Bio, as an example. The manner in which she articulates some national issues, sometimes, appears to be a disservice to her or her husband’s pet project or projects.
At times Fatima Bio, in my humble opinion, comes across as the modern day version of Marie Antoinette, the wife of King Louis XVI of France, who was recorded to have been “…a hated figure in France…due to her personal faults, her perceived arrogance and lavishness…” Some historians documented that it was Antoinette who provoked “the popular unrest that led to the French Revolution and the overthrow of the monarchy in August 1792.” One of the reasons adduced for that was that when she was informed about the scarcity of bread she reportedly retorted: “Let them eat cake.”
What comes out clearly, from the above, is that a First Lady must be aware of citizens’ sensitivities. She should not say, or do, things that will hurt or alienate a large portion of society. Let’s take, as an example, that allegation in which it is claimed that Fatima Bio reportedly says that all those Sierra Leoneans who are not supporters of the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) are not true Sierra Leoneans. Such a statement is not only hurtful but insulting to me (a full-blooded unadulterated Sierra Leonean whose father is Temne-Temne and mother is Sherbro-Limba), considering the fact that such a statement is being ascribed to a “Lady” who is not as Sierra Leonean as yours truly!
One of the personal faults of Sierra Leone’s First Lady, as I see it, is that she appears to be determined to always outshine her husband even on occasions where state protocols demand that she should be in the shadows. Fatima Bio may have some good pet projects. But the manner in which she normally says or does things are, sometimes, not “presidential” at all. I will suggest that she either finds a good Media Communications specialist or go to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for a crash course on the etiquettes of diplomacy!
I will come, again, to Madam Fatima Bio in a jiffy. In the Federal Republic of Nigeria, First Lady Aisha Buhari appears to be sharing some traits with Sierra Leone’s First Lady. In October 2016, in an interview with the BBC’s Hausa language service, she “suggested [that] her husband’s government had been hijacked by only a few people, who were behind presidential appointments”. She even dropped a nuclear warhead, so to speak, that “she might not back her husband at the next election unless he got a grip on his government”.
And President Muhammadu Buhari, while on a state visit to Germany, had replied to his wife’s comments like an unrepentant misogynist: “I don’t know which party my wife belongs to, but she belongs to my kitchen and my living room and the other room”, according to the BBC website. Well, if President Julius Maada Bio could behave like the “Brigadier” he once was and “claim superior knowledge over” his wife, just like how President Buhari did and still does, maybe Fatima Bio’s presence on social media would not be overshadowing that of her husband’s.
And that’s not all. In October 2019, Aisha Buhari was again on the news for another wrong reason. This time, the daughter of one of President Buhari’s nephews, Fatima Daura, accused her of “verbally abusing her and attacking her family.” At the end of the furore, the First Lady had to swallow her words and did the needful. Those are just two examples of the many situations in which Aisha tried to take the spotlight from her husband.
And talking, sorry writing, about a First Lady overshadowing her husband; the wife of former President of Côte d’Ivoire, Simone Gbagbo, comes to mind. She was “involved in nationalist politics surrounding the Ivorian Civil War, in 2005 Radio France International reported that she was being investigated by the United Nations for human rights abuses, including organising death squads”. She was infamous for the “Kieffer Affair” (“the April 2004 disappearance and presumed death in Abidjan of French-Canadian journalist Guy-André Kieffe”).
It is now suggested that it was the “vaulting ambition” (to borrow from Shakespeare’s play, “Macbeth”) of Simone that led former President Laurent Gbagbo to play the stubborn fly that accompanies a corpse to the grave in the aftermath of the 2010 presidential election.
In terms of vaulting ambition, Simone Gbagbo pales in comparison to Grace Mugabe the former First Lady of Zimbabwe. Like Marie Antoinette, Grace was reported to have “gained a reputation for privilege and extravagance during a period of economic turmoil in the country…” to the extent that she was referred to, in the media, as “Gucci Grace.” She is reported to be one of the reasons why her husband, the late Robert Mugabe, fell from grace to carpet grass as she was an epitome of controversies.
But what seems to be the only saving grace now for Sierra Leone is the fact that Fatima Bio is yet to be actively embroiled in the internal politics of the ruling SLPP like Simone Gbagbo or Grace Mugabe (She is not the Leader of the SLPP Women’s Wing nor is she heading any organs of the ruling party.). And that she has not yet openly said, “Come, you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here and fill me from the crown to the toe top-full of direst cruelty” (to borrow again from Shakespeare’s Macbeth). Indeed, I’m glad that she still has her feminine weaknesses that she could be so upset about injustices in faraway United States of America that she could inadvertently use the F-word on social media.
But for the moment, all I see of Madam Fatima Bio is that ever-smiling First Lady who doesn’t want unripe Sierra Leonean girls to be plucked by useless men whose penises should be “barbecued”! If only she could try to look, and sound, more “presidential”, than the former Nollywood actress she once was, she will be home and dry someday.