An impressive and ever-growing league of African women in aerospace are challenging sexist views that have limited their gender thus far. We take a look at some of these pioneers from around the continent.
Africa got its first female pilot in 1964 but for many years thereafter women did not rise to take on the mantle. Instead women filled the ranks of flight attendants, leaving the men to dominate the role of pilot. However, with the number of educated and empowered women rising, so do their numbers in male-dominated fields. Here are some of the women who are breaking barriers in African skies.
Adeola Ogunmola Sowemimo (Nigeria 2019)
Nigerian Sowemimo is the first female of her nationality to pilot the gigantic Boeing 787 Dreamliner at Qatar Airways and to fly the Boeing 767 Aircraft across the Atlantic. She joins Kenya’s Captain Irene Koki, Ethiopia’s Captain Amsale Gulau and a few other African women who fly the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
Aluel Bol Aluenge (South Sudan 2018)
South Sudan’s first female pilot Aluel Bol Aluenge rose to the position of captain with major American airline company Delta Air Lines after working with Ethiopian Airlines and Fly Dubai in 2018. She hails from South Sudan’s Lakes State and is the daughter of the late Justice James Bol. She was a refugee in Kenya during her country’s ethnic and political conflicts.
Lieutenant Ouma Laouali (Niger 2015)
In 2015 Laouali became the first female Nigerien pilot at the age of 28. She was one of the Nigerien Airforce members trained by the United States as part of a programme to help fight the Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram.
Irene Koki Mutungi (Kenya 2014)
Captain Mutungi was the first female on the African continent to receive certification as captain of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft. She was also the first female pilot at Kenya Airways and stayed the only female pilot at the airline for the next six years. She has received several awards in this male-dominated category.
Esther Mbabazi (Rwanda 2012)
Mbabazi became the first female Rwandese pilot in 2012 at the young age of 26 and flies for RwandAir, the national airline of Rwanda. Her career choice was greatly influenced by the tragedy of her father dying in a plane crash.
“Times have changed,” she told CNN. “Women are out there working. Technology has changed, and everyone has the brains to do something. Now it’s not about how big your biceps are or how much energy you have.”
Patricia Mawuli (Ghana 2009)
In 2009 Mawuli became Ghana’s first female civilian pilot and the first woman in West Africa certified to build and maintain Rotax engines. She was also the co-founder of now-defunct Medicine on the Move (MoM), a local NGO that worked with the Aviation Academy to transport doctors, deliver medical supplies and services and take health education to rural communities across the length and breadth of Ghana.
Asnath Mahapa (South Africa 2003)
In 2003 Mahapa became the first black female pilot trainee in South Africa. She is the founder of the African College of Aviation (Pty) Limited, has flown for the Red Cross and World Food Programme in Central and West Africa and was appointed as a beneficiary of South African Airways level two cadet pilot training programme.
Veterans of the skies
Chinyere Kalu (Nigeria 1981)
Captain Chinyere Kalu is the first Nigerian female commercial pilot and the first woman to fly an aircraft in Nigeria. In 2011, she was appointed the rector and chief executive of the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), which is the largest aviation training institute in Africa. She is also a member of the Order of the Federal Republic (MFR) in the 2006 National Honours.
Asli Hassan Abade (Somalia 1976)
The 59-year-old Hassan Abade is to date Somalia’s first and only female pilot, having made her first flight in 1976 as part of that country’s air force. In interviews she has attributed her successful career in the air force to the support women received from the government in that era.