Nana Konadu Agyeman-Rawlings is a former first lady, presidential candidate and one of the most renowned advocates for female empowerment and advancement in the nation’s history. As the nation’s longest ever serving and most activist-oriented first lady, she came to redefine the role while carving an indelible mark on the nation’s history.
Nana Konadu was born on November 17, 1948, into a prominent Ashanti Royal family and had her secondary education at Achimota School, where she met Jerry John Rawlings, Ghana’s four-time leader whom she later married despite opposition from both her parents, she would later reveal.
Even then, she showed traces of the energy and drive that would come to define her adult life, gaining prominence as a student leader. After her degree, she traveled to the United Kingdom for further studies, earning a diploma in Interior Design from the London College of Arts. She also studied at Ghana’s Management Development and Productivity Institute, the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration, as well as the Johns Hopkins University Institute for Policy Studies, Baltimore, USA where she pursued a programme in philanthropy and non- profit organizations.
In 1982, when Jerry Rawlings returned to power, she led the formation of the 31st December Women’s Movement which played a key role in empowering and advocating for women in the country. The broad-based organization, with its trademark red berets worn by its members, provided women with employable skills, sources of income and basic literacy and numeracy knowledge.
Nana Konadu and her movement were also instrumental in the passing of the Intestate Succession Law in 1985. The law protected the rights of widows and children in the event of a man dying without a will. The group also set up more than eight-hundred-day care centres across the country and educated women on family planning methods. Through relentless advocacy and her influence, Ghana adopted the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child ahead of any other member state of the world body. So great was Nana Konadu’s active political and social advocacy that many believed it spilled over into the exercise of actual political power and she was both feared and admired around the country.
After Jerry Rawlings left power in 2001, Nana Konadu continued in an active political role, inspiring inevitable comparisons with Mrs. Hillary Clinton, the former US first lady who also went on to pursue a political career in her own right after her husband, President Bill Clinton left office in 2001. In 2010, she stood for and won elections to become Vice Chairperson of the National Democratic Congress. The following year, she resigned the position to contest against incumbent President John Evans Atta Mills for the flag bearer ship position. After her unsuccessful bid, she left the party to form her own party, the National Democratic Party.
In 2016, she became the first woman to contest for the Ghanaian presidency, polling 0.16% of the total valid votes. In 2018, Nana Konadu published “It Takes a Woman,” the first in a series of books in which she would share her life experiences. Nana Konadu remains one of the most recognizable and dominant figures in Ghanaian politics and society today.