There’s a new female president in Africa, and she’s Muslim
Ameenah Gurib-Fakim — the biologist who gave the TED Talk “Humble plants that hide surprising secrets” — was sworn in today as the sixth president of Mauritius, a small island off the coast of Africa, about 500 miles past Madagascar. Gurib-Fakim was appointed to the position by Mauritius’ parliament, and is the country’s first female president. And as she tells the TED Blog: The whole thing comes as a shock.
The TED Blog spoke to Gurib-Fakim about how she became an accidental president — and how she’ll approach the presidency differently, as both a woman and a biologist.
What sparked your interest in politics?
If I tell you the story, you won’t believe it. Last year, the outgoing government wanted to change the constitution, to give the outgoing prime minister more powers. In reaction to this, the opposition party said, “We don’t want any constitutional change. And we are going to propose a woman president.”
When they asked me, I said, “I don’t see myself as a politician. I’m not going to play that game.” The post of the president is not an executive one here, but it’s a lot of responsibility. They said, “We just want you to be there. You don’t have to campaign; we will do all the work.” So I said, “Okay. Let’s go for it.” I thought, in my small mind, they were going to lose anyway; this was a case of David against Goliath. But lo and behold, they won. It was a landslide. This all happened when I came back from TEDGlobal. So there I was.
When the party won, the current president claimed his mandate through 2017. So I thought, “Well, I’ve still got time to get prepared.” Then he resigned last Friday, on May 29. That’s the story of how I got pushed into the limelight of the presidency.