Women in the driving seat - Mary Chinery-Hesse, Jean Mensa take charge

BY: Hadiza Nuhhu-Billa Quansah
Women in the driving seat - Mary Chinery-Hesse, Jean Mensa take charge
Women in the driving seat - Mary Chinery-Hesse, Jean Mensa take charge

Ghanaian women had a boost last week as two major appointments went in their favour when two strong and hard working women who have been important voices on economic, human rights, governance and developmental issues were elevated.

They are Mrs Mary Chinery-Hesse and Mrs Jean Mensa.

Mrs Mary Chinery-Hesse was invested into office as the first female Chancellor at a colourful ceremony held at the Great Hall of the University of Ghana on August 1. The Oath of Office was administered by President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo.

Former President Kufuor and a former President of Liberia, Amos Sawyer, among others, graced the occasion while old students of Wesley Girls High School, as well as Alumni of Volta Hall, made presentations to Mrs Chinery-Hesss.

Likewise, Mrs Jean Adukwei Mensa was also sworn in as the new Electoral Commissioner to take over from the Mrs Charlotte Osei-led commission.


Mrs Mensa would be deputised by the Head of the Political Science Department of the University of Ghana, Dr Eric Bossman, and the Director of Electoral Services at the Electoral Commission, Mr Samuel Tettey. A corporate lawyer, Mrs Adwoa Asuama Abrefa, was also sworn in as a member of the commission.

Mrs Mary Chinery-Hesse

Luck seems to always be with Mrs Chinery-Hesse as she always stands out to be the first female of various ground breaking fields. It is on record that she was the first female product of the University of Ghana (UG), the first African woman to attain a position of Under Secretary-General in the history of the United Nations, first ever woman Deputy Director-General of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and now the first female Chancellor of the UG, which is the oldest and largest of the 13 Ghanaian public universities.

Mrs Chinery-Hesse, formerly known as Blay, has had illustrious careers in Ghana’s Civil Service and at the United Nations (UN). In the UN and in numerous other Organisations, she continues to be an important voice on economic development issues, an ardent defender of human rights, particularly women’s rights, as well as an active advocate for African imperatives, conflict resolution and mediation.

Her first post at the United Nations was that of Resident Coordinator of the UN Systems and Resident Representative of the United Nations Development Programme, serving in New York, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, the Seychelles and Uganda. She was the first ever African woman to be appointed to that position.

She was then appointed as the first ever woman Deputy Director-General of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), after 70 years of the founding of that UN agency, a position with the rank of Under Secretary-General of the UN. Again, this gave her the distinction of being the first African woman to attain a position of Under Secretary-General in the history of the United Nations.

She also served as Chairperson of the UN’s Consultative Committee on Programme and Operational Questions for several years, and was as well the Chairperson of the Commonwealth Expert Group of Eminent Persons on Structural Adjustment and Women, which produced the landmark Report, “Engendering Adjustment”.

Upon her retirement from the UN, she was appointed to the office of the Chief Advisor to the President of the Republic of Ghana in the Cabinet of former President John Agyekum Kufuor.

Educational achievements

She holds an Honours Degree from the University of Ghana in Sociology and Economics and was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Laws (honoris causa) by her Alma Mater, the University of Ghana, in 1991.

Interestingly, Mrs Chinery-Hesse was the first female product of the University of Ghana to be so honoured. She undertook her Post-Graduate Programmes in Development Economics at the University of Dublin and at the World Bank Institute in Washington DC where she was inscribed as a Fellow of the Institute. She is an Old Girl of Wesley Girls’ High School and Mfantsipim School.

Career path

Mrs Chinery-Hesse has innumerable high-level positions under her belt. In her younger days, Mrs Chinery-Hesse was Senior Principal Secretary (Chief Director) of the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning in Ghana and a Member of the National Council for Higher Education in the 1970s.

Among some of the position she held was her membership on the Council of African Advisors of the World Bank and on the Eminent Persons’ Advisory Panel of the Organisation of African Unity which crafted the strategy to convert the OAU to the African Union. Her activities took her to the Chairmanship of a High-Level Panel to Review Progress in Implementing the Programme for Least Developed Countries.

Other significant appointments had included Membership of the Zedillo Commission of Eminent Persons on Financing for Development, and the UN Blue Ribbon Panel of sixteen wise world leaders on Threats, Challenges and Change, tasked to rewrite the global security architecture and reform of the United Nations, especially the Security Council.

Additionally, she was a Member of the Board of the prestigious Global Humanitarian Forum in Geneva, Switzerland, with several Nobel Peace Prize Laureates. For many years, she chaired the Board of Trustees of the Voluntary Fund for Technical Cooperation of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland.

She is also the Chair of the Goodwill Ambassadors of the Kofi Annan International Peace Keeping Training Centre, and that of the Board of the Centre for Regional Integration in Africa. She serves, among others, as Friend on the African Union Panel of the Wise and on the Pan-African Network of the Wise (Panwise), integral components of the African Peace and Security Architecture.

Mary Chinery-Hesse, who is the current Chair of Zenith Bank, Ghana, has received several prestigious awards and decorations, both nationally and internationally. These include the highest National Award, the Order of the Star of Ghana.

Although a retiree, her advice continues to be actively sought and valued by many governments and International Organisations on a variety of themes. Indeed, Mrs Chinery-Hesse has been busy and active though on retirement.

Chinery-Hessey has promised to work hard to regain the glorious image of the University of Ghana.

Mrs Jean Mensa

When it comes to issues on public policies, democracy and governance, Mrs Jean Mensa equally stands tall. Her appointment came after the removal from office, on Thursday, June 28, 2018 of the former Chairperson of the EC, Mrs Charlotte Osei, and her two deputies, Mr Amadu Sulley and Mrs Georgina Opoku Amankwaa, by President Akufo-Addo.

This came after the committee established by the Chief Justice, Justice Sophia Akuffo, to investigate petitions brought against them, recommended their removal.

Until her appointment as the new chairperson of the Electoral Commission she was the Executive Director of the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA).

For her, what attracted her to the IEA which was founded in 1989, was the manner in which it uses research to provoke national discussion and influence policy which was then fairly new in Ghana.

The IEA is well-known as Ghana’s premier public policy institute and Coordinator of the Ghana Political Parties Programme. Mrs Mensa is a lawyer by profession. She has carved a niche for herself in the field of policy research and advocacy as well as in the development of policy alternatives.

These include the Presidential Transition Act of 2012; the Revised 1992 Constitution of Ghana (draft); the Political Parties Funding Bill and the Revised Political Parties Bill. Mrs Mensa was a tireless advocate of the review of Ghana’s 1992 Constitution and served as a Commissioner of the Government-established Constitution Review Commission.

She is currently a member of the Government Committee tasked with preparing the Affirmative Action Bill.

IEA sparking national debate

The IEA was established in 1989 by a Ghanaian economist, Dr Charles Mensa, who happens to be the better half of the newly appointed EC boss. Basically, the IEA- Ghana was set up to make a difference in Ghana, the West African sub region and the entire African continent.

Its mission is to promote good governance, democracy and a free and fair market economy. The institute believes that the creation of an environment in which economic, social, political and legal institutions function openly and freely is the key to sustainable economic growth and human development.

Mrs Mensa had her secondary education at the St Mary’s Senior High School, an all-female second cycle institution at Korle Gonno, a suburb of Accra. She is married with three children.