Today we continue to the series on African freedom fighters as we celebrate 2 young African icons of liberty who dedicated their lives to ensuring freedom for all Africans.

Aline Sitoe Diatta

She is Africa | African Freedom Fighters | Aline Sitoe Diatta

Aline Sitoe Diatta (also Aline Sitow Diatta and Alyn Sytoe Jata; 1920 – 1944) was a 20-year old Senegalese heroine and freedom fighter against the French colonial empire. She is celebrated as a strong young female symbol of resistance and liberty. She is dubbed as the Rebellious Queen of Casamance, and an official coin calling her ‘La femme qui était plus qu’un homme” (“the woman who was more than a man”) was issued in 2008 in her honour.

Diatta was born in Kabrousse. She was orphaned and adopted by her uncle, Elubaliin Diatta. He died a few years after her adoption in a Ziguinchor jail. Diatta left the village of Kabrousse to work in Ziguinchor, later moving on to Dakar and making her residence in Médina.

Aline was one of a number of women who led anti-colonial campaigns in what was then called French West Africa during World War II. When the French seized half of the region’s rice harvest to support the war effort, she began her campaign alongside other market women. She encouraged the population to refuse cooperation with the French, to stop paying taxes, and to reject calls to replace rice cultivation with the growing monoculture of arachide (peanuts). Aline also called for reinstatement of better working conditions and rights to religious worship.

As a result of her activism, the French authorities imprisoned the boycott’s leadership. The colonial rulers targeted her because of strong following and sway in the community. The French made several assignation attempts on her life. In 1943, after Aline publicly spoke against colonial looting and enlisting of local men into the French army, the French retaliated. They attacked her house and terrorised her village until she handed herself in. She was tortured and imprisoned in Timbuktu, Mali in 1943. There she died of disease on 22 May 1944.

Queen Ranavalona I

She is Africa | African Freedom Fighters | Queen Ranavalona I

Born in 1788 in Madagascar, Ranavalona I started out in life as a girl named Ramavo or Rabodoandrianampoinimerina). She had humble origins as a commoner’s daughter. When her father learned of a plot to murder the future king, Andrianampoinimerina, he told his master and the plot was foiled. As thanks for saving his life, Andrianampoinimerina adopted Ramavo as his own daughter. In addition, he arranged for her to marry his son, Radama.

At the age of 36-years, she ascended to the throne following the death of her young husband, King Ramada. Western history has painted her with a bad brush and dubbed her as the Mad Queen of Madagascar. Yes, she was tough but so was every leader at that time. She made heavy use of the traditional practice of fanompoana (forced labor as tax payment) to complete public works projects and develop a standing army of between 20,000 and 30,000 Merina soldiers, whom she deployed to pacify outlying regions of the island and further expand the realm. This negative characterisation was because she was a freedom fighter. They called her “mad” because she fought colonisation. During her 33-year reign, she fiercely protected Malagasy sovereignty and fought encroaching colonial rule. She stuck to traditional values by overturning nearly all of her husband’s policies: she kicked the missionaries out, threw away trade agreements with France and England (1845), and fought off an attack from the French navy.

The colonists plotted many events that would quicken her son’s, Ramada II, succession to the throne as they easily manipulated him. Their plans were futile. The Queen held on to the throne and Madagascar’s sovereignty until her death in 1861.

They are heroines and their stories will not be forgotten. We salute these women for their courage and fight to keep us free!

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If you enjoyed this article, you might also like African Freedom Fighters part 3, part 2, part 1 or 5 African Warrior Queens