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Smart Money Woman with Arese Ugwu: Finances & the African Feminist



A Ghanaian actress Moesha Boduong went viral on social media a few weeks ago for an interview with CNN’s Chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour. In that interview, Moesha stated that the economy was bad and girls need men to take care of their financial obligations. According to her she had just started working and couldn’t be expected to afford rent and other lifestyle needs.

The moral outrage on social media did not impress me because; the reality is that a lot of male-female relationships in this part of the world are transactional. But I was intrigued by the fact that she didn’t think ‘as a woman’ she could ever make enough money to afford her lifestyle. This is not a woman selling guguru’ on the streets; she is an actress who has achieved reasonable success. However, from the sound of things, it hadn’t translated to financial success.

Without discounting the element of greed and wanting to do things that our incomes cannot support, I began to consider another important factor that could have led to this thinking. Have we subconsciously socialized women to think that men are naturally set up to make more than women and there’s a ceiling to what African women are capable of earning?

Many African women believe that their earning potential is capped and can never earn as much as men.

Let me explain, African women are way past the days of being relegated to only household chores and child bearing; women have become an important part of the workforce. However, a good number of women join the workforce and start a business with the mindset of ‘something to do until I find a husband or something to do so I’m not bored while my husband is at work’.

It could be argued that because of this thinking, even though women are starting more businesses and building stronger brands, they still hardly ever turn a profit but their businesses stay in business, because of the cash injections from the men in their lives.

I also considered the impact this limited thinking has on a statistic that, 51% of entrepreneurs in Africa are women. This is an exciting statistic but begs the question do these women led businesses contribute 51% to gdp per capita and do their profits have a significant impact on the bottom line of the African economy?

African women have thrived and created whole industries in beauty, fashion and event planning to name a few. Businesses like House of Tara have created thousands of jobs, but if we are honest, they are the exception not the rule. The reality is that most women led ventures are subsistence style businesses that never really scale to make a real impact.

If we keep socializing women to think they are not built to earn as much as men, does this become a self fulfilling prophecy that has a negative impact on our economy?

Does the negative narrative of what it means to be a feminist in Africa have an impact on our economy?

In Africa, the word feminist has a negative connotation. Most of the time when anyone calls you a feminist, it is safe to assume it is not a compliment. It is spat out, usually like an obscenity.

For clarity, a feminist is anyone who believes in equal access to opportunity for both men and women. In other words, if I go school and Femi sef go school, if we get the same grades, we should both have access to the same jobs and business opportunities.

Unfortunately, for many African men, a feminist is a woman that is dominant, a troublemaker, a threat to their masculinity and a symbol of economic castration. While for many African women, especially the ones from generations past, who have been entrusted with women empowerment, the feminist narrative is something that needs to be swathed away because it will ‘shake a table’ they’ve been on top of for years.

Instead of helping to change the negative narrative of feminism in Africa and helping to educate people on its true meaning, these women dismiss the notion of feminism, so it doesn’t make them seem like man hating troublemakers – encouraging women to leave their husbands. In their thwarting they have agreed with society that feminism is indeed a threat to our cultural fabric.

When our society views women who dare to ask for equal opportunity as threats, it poses a problem. When we create societal constructs that block women who are willing to negotiate for higher salaries and view them as combative, especially when they are paid less than their male counterparts with the same job title, it poses a problem. When female entrepreneurs are scared to charge market value for their goods and services because of the way they’ve been socialized to think about money, cumulatively these factors may have a negative impact on our economy.

The rules for financial success are different for men and women.

We cannot discuss African feminism without looking at the role of financial independence for women.

I wrote a book titled ‘The Smart Money Woman – an African girl’s journey to Financial Freedom’ and one of the biggest misconceptions by African men was that by advocating for financial independence for women, I was somehow telling women to make their own money so that they could do away with the men in their lives. Le sigh!

When a man is financially successful, society applauds him; they tell him that there are no limits to his success. The more financially successful he becomes, the more access he has to the best women, the best entertainment, the best parties, the best social circles. Money openeth doors!

When a woman attempts financial success, society tells her to slow her roll because if she gets too successful, she won’t get married. Make money, but not so much that you overshadow your man; don’t buy property, rent so you don’t intimidate your future husband! Buy a car but not one that’s so ‘big’ that it scares off potential suitors.

In Africa, women who declare themselves feminists and actively strive for financial independence are often asked to lower their standards and expectations. Declarations like ‘I want a man who is ambitious, powerful and financially successful’ are usually met with statements like, ‘You are too proud’! You want to eat your cake and have it! Expectations to want to be looked after by a man are viewed as greed. ‘Shebi’ it is you that wanted to be independent! Lower your standards.

Many successful men complain about the financial dependence of women in general, but seem to punish women who are financially independent. Instead of looking for the Beyoncé to their Jay-z they look for the Melania to their Trump, because they see a woman’s financial independence as a threat to their masculinity. Having her own money automatically means she wants to be a man and translates to being a woman who is incapable of submission. (Aunty! Please don’t come and cause trouble in my house o!).

The irony is I have never met a successful woman who doesn’t want to be looked after by a man. I have also never met a successful woman who wants to assert herself as the head of the household. Most African women who earn more than their husbands typically put on a charade, so their husbands look like the breadwinners in order to protect his ego.

How does it affect the economy, when instead of encouraging men to be more ambitious, we are encouraging women to dim their light and not strive to get to the top lest they lose the ultimate prize marriage?

Let’s change the narrative! A woman becoming financially independent doesn’t equate to ‘I don’t need a man’. It just means she brings more to the table. Instead of being a financial burden, she becomes a value addition. Her success does not take away from his success. The pie they share just becomes bigger.

Arese is the author of the bestselling financial chick lit The Smart Money Woman. She is also the founder of a personal finance blog tailored to the African millennial. Arese serves on the boards of House of Tara International Ltd and The Nigeria Higher Education Foundation as a non-executive director and is an associate member of WIMBIZ (Women in Management Business & Public Service). Arese Ugwu has an M.Sc. in Economic Development from University College London (UCL) and a B.Sc. in Business and Management from Aston Business School, Birmingham. She is also an alumna of the of the Lagos Business School, INSEAD Abu Dhabi and The London School of Business executive education programs. . Follow on Twitter: @smartmoneyarese and Instagram - @smartmoneyarese


  1. Dami

    May 7, 2018 at 3:33 pm

    Great read! Arese, you really hit the nail on the head with this one. Thank you!

  2. Layemi

    May 7, 2018 at 3:41 pm

    The last paragraph sums it all up, you couldn’t have said any better.
    Feminism no be war abeg!
    It is important that women begin to do away with the narratives and live up to our potential. Thank you Arese

  3. Aare farmland

    May 7, 2018 at 3:42 pm

    Obviously not written for men. I like the heading so I know what to do next time.

  4. Puzzles

    May 7, 2018 at 3:56 pm


    We can talk and talk and talk, the majority of people’s mindset would never change.

    For every one girl that strives to be financially independent, there’s 100 ladies who are satisfied with waiting for and fighting over a man to care of their every need, which in turn enables the man to misbehave and treat the one who work hard badly as he knows there are 100 ready to fight over him.

    When we live in a world where the Chiomas are praised for tolerating a man’s infidelity as they will be rewarded with Porsche and multi-million naira endorsements, the Annie Idibas are praised because they won the ring over other baby mamas and the Linda Ikejis receive more praise over an engagement than over career accomplishments, true feminism can’t be achieved

    • Xo

      May 7, 2018 at 9:52 pm

      I hope you realise that these women you mentioned see the infidelity of these men yet stay with them. Key word is choice. People mind your business.. Every woman is not a gold digger.
      Some people just love the bad boys and if they get rewarded, it’s their choice. Leave hem alone and face your front.

  5. Amaka

    May 7, 2018 at 3:58 pm

    @Arese, I totally agree with you that African men are being groomed to believe that a woman that is financially independent, is not a wife material and cannot be submissive. The truth is that when you respect and love your wife, she will go miles to make you happy. Unfortunately, we are from the part of the world that sees a woman’s success as unwarranted, and should be dimmed immediately. I always tell myself that I am glad I was born and raised in the United States, where I don’t have to worry about a low self esteem man that will want to suppress my success because he wants to be in charge. Each time I listen to my parent talk to me about how my success will not allow a Nigerian man to want to ask for my hand in marriage. I always give them this best answer that I have carved out very well. Then that Nigerian man does not qualify to marry me, will not be good for me, he does not know what he want from a woman, and possibly I am not meant to be married by a Nigerian man. I believe that any woman that is financially independent, can do things that will make her man happy. Finances are usually the problem of many marriages, and here you see those that want to suppress a financially independent woman. I just don’t know what men really want. When they see a woman that will marry a man three times her grandparents’ age, because the man has money, they will call her gold digger, yet a successful woman is a problem. I am proud of my successes, my wealth, my hard work. I really don’t think I need a man to become an accomplished woman, if that man’s problem is my success and wealth. I can go to sperm bank and place an order for what I want in a child, and I will use it to have my children if that’s what it is to be an accomplished woman. I refuse to lower my God given talent, success, and wealth, just because a Nigerian/African man, will feel intimidated.

    • John

      May 7, 2018 at 4:29 pm


      You won’t be miss..bye bye…delusional much

  6. Radiant

    May 7, 2018 at 4:34 pm

    My view is that we should “spend” more words on the correct narrative.
    Rather than “spending” most of it on reiterating, retelling. repeating the wrong narrative and then at the end use one paragraph to say “let’s change the narrative”.

    • Nicex

      May 7, 2018 at 4:57 pm

      God bless you, the narrative is same and it is tiring. Nigeria men and society are being blamed left right and center. The message that women can and should do better is what the message should be, forget all the titles eg feminist and maninist as it causes so much confusion, just do what it take to be the best there is.

      I think a great difference between men and women is that men mostly act while women speak more often. We all need to start acting and speaking at the same time. Enough with just talking.

  7. John

    May 7, 2018 at 4:39 pm

    1)For clarity, a feminist is anyone who believes in equal access to opportunity for both men and women. In other words, if I go school and Femi sef go school, if we get the same grades, we should both have access to the same jobs and business opportunities.


    it is getting tiring .. no reasonable human being believes that nonsense narratives

    2)Many successful men complain about the financial dependence of women in general, but seem to punish women who are financially independent. Instead of looking for the Beyoncé to their Jay-z they look for the Melania to their Trump,

    Why the shade on melania..always trust women to shade and bully other women whothey think doesn’t tiptoe to thier feminist propaganda. And you wonder why feminism is regarded as a joke.

    So melania is an inferior woman…good to know…I will still take her over the hypocritical Beyonce any day anytime( who is only good at deceiving and milking black woman)…come and beat me.

    Actually, come to think of it …there is no difference between Beyonce and melania

    JUst that one is conservative and the other liberal

    Both are with their supposed cheating husbands.

    The joke is on you

    I wonder why you didn’t mentioned Michelle obama though.

    • Lliki

      May 7, 2018 at 6:21 pm

      Can you all write some good articles without mentioning and blaming men for once!
      Do what I say and not what I do women ???
      Beyonce is their “god”…..

  8. Jummy

    May 7, 2018 at 8:10 pm

    LOL. Feminism is funny. Advocate for your fellow woman… until you don’t like her husband.


    May 8, 2018 at 2:57 am

    Bless you RADIANT. “My view is that we should “spend” more words on the correct narrative.
    Rather than “spending” ANY of it on reiterating, retelling. repeating the wrong narrative and then at the end use one paragraph to say “let’s change the narrative”.”

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