Take note Church of England - first female bishop ordained in Africa

A growing number of women in Africa are attaining positions of power and influence.

The anger over the decision not to allow women bishops in the Church of England continues to intensify with scathing criticisms from those within and out of the church including the Archbishop of Canterbury.

But as the controversial decision was picked apart, a small story about the first female African Anglican bishop went mostly unnoticed.

Ellinah Wamukoya, 61, was consecrated on Saturday four days before the CofE voted against allowing women to become bishops. She will be the church’s bishop in Swaziland, her native country.

Her ordination comes two weeks after Fauzia Yusuf Haji Adan was chosen to be Somalia’s first female foreign minister.

In April, the Guardian’s Afua Hirsch wrote a critical piece of the “west’s lazy reporting on Africa” decrying the mass reporting of Africa in the mainstream media when war intensified: “Even worse is the situation when an impromptu Africa season is triggered by newsworthy events in Africa. A dramatic climax in a long-running war, preferably with the close involvement of a western power, usually leads to an African country being "discovered" by the international media.”

Looking at statistics from the Inter-Parliamentary Union and UN Women from January this year makes for more depressing reading for women in the UK.

According to the IPU, the UK is 48th in the world in terms of the number of female ministers, behind 25 African countries and 53rd, behind 15, when it comes to the figures for the number of female parliamentary represenatives. 

Of course the situation in Africa for women is not perfect like in many parts of the world including the UK, but the developments like this sometimes surpass our own – a fact we would do well to take note of.

Ellinah Wamukoya during her consecration.
BBC screengrab
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Owen Smith is naïve if he thinks misogynist abuse in Labour started with Jeremy Corbyn

“We didn’t have this sort of abuse before Jeremy Corbyn became the leader.”

Owen Smith, the MP challenging Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership contest, has told BBC News that the party’s nastier side is a result of its leader.

He said:

“I think Jeremy should take a little more responsibility for what’s going on in the Labour party. After all, we didn’t have this sort of abuse and intolerance, misogyny, antisemitism in the Labour party before Jeremy Corbyn became the leader.

“It’s now become something that is being talked about on television, on radio, and in newspapers. And Angela is right, it has been effectively licenced within the last nine months.

“We’re the Labour party. We’ve got to be about fairness, and tolerance, and equality. It’s in our DNA. So for us to be reduced to this infighting is awful. Now, I understand why people feel passionately about the future of our party – I feel passionately about that. I feel we’re in danger of splitting and being destroyed.

“But we can’t tolerate it. And it isn’t good enough for Jeremy simply to say he has threats too. Well, I’ve had death threats, I’ve had threats too, but I’m telling him, it’s got to be stamped out. We’ve got to have zero tolerance of this in the Labour party.”

While Smith’s conclusion is correct, his analysis is worryingly wrong.

Whether it is out of incompetence or an unwillingness to see the extent of the situation, Corbyn has done very little to stamp out abuse in his party, which has thus been allowed to escalate. It is fair enough of Smith to criticise him for his failure to stem the flow and punish the perpetrators.

It is also reasonable to condemn Corbyn's inability to stop allies like Chancellor John McDonnell and Unite leader Len McCluskey using violent language (“lynch mob”, “fucking useless”, etc) about their opponents, which feeds into the aggressive atmosphere. Though, as I’ve written before, Labour politicians on all sides have a duty to watch their words.

But it’s when we see how Smith came to the point of urging Corbyn to take more responsibility that we should worry. Smith confidently argues that there wasn’t “this sort of abuse and intolerance, misogyny, antisemitism” in the party before Corbyn was voted in. (I assume when he says “this sort”, he means online, death threats, letters, and abuse at protests. The sort that has been high-profile recently).

This is naïve. Anyone involved in Labour politics – or anything close to it – for longer than Corbyn’s leadership could tell Smith that misogyny and antisemitism have been around for a pretty long time. Perhaps because Smith isn’t the prime target, he hasn’t been paying close enough attention. Sexism wasn’t just invented nine months ago, and we shouldn’t let the belief set in that it did – then it simply becomes a useful tool for Corbyn’s detractors to bash him with, rather than a longstanding, structural problem to solve.

Smith's lament that “it’s now become something that is being talked about” is also jarring. Isnt it a good thing that such abuse is now being called out so publicly, and closely scrutinised by the media?

In my eyes, this is a bit like the argument that Corbyn has lost Labour’s heartlands. No, he hasn’t. They have been slowly slipping away for years – and we all noticed when Labour took a beating in the last general election (way before Corbyn had anything to do with the Labour leadership). As with the abuse, Corbyn hasn’t done much to address this, and his inaction has therefore exacerbated it. But if we tell ourselves that it started with him, then we’re grasping for a very, very simple solution (remove Corbyn = automatic win in the North, and immediate erasure of misogyny and antisemitism) to a problem we have catastrophically failed to analyse.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.