Salima Mukansanga: The First Woman to Referee in The African Cup of Nations
By: Zeinab Mekky
Salim Mokansanga, born in 1998, is an international football referee hailing from Rwanda. She grew up in the Rusizi region in the western province and holds a bachelor's degree in nursing and midwifery from Gitwe University, located in the southern Ruhango province of Rwanda.
Her ambition during her school years was to become a basketball player, but due to lacking essential resources, including basketball facilities, she shifted her focus to football. In her final year at "St Vincent de Paul Musanze" secondary school, she refereed a school championship final match, marking the beginning of her journey into football officiating.
Mokansanga climbed the ladder step by step, officiating in men's second-tier leagues and women's top-tier leagues. She learned the basics of refereeing through training and obtained her referee certification in 2008. After four years, she reached the pinnacle, being promoted to a licensed referee by Caf (Confederation of African Football). She started as an assistant referee, gradually gaining experience, until she was appointed as the central referee for the 2014 African Women's Championship final match between Zambia and Tanzania.
Following the Zambia vs. Tanzania match, Mokansanga was elevated to officiating international matches. Her first assignment was at the 2015 African Games in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo. She handled the tournament's opening match between Nigeria and Tanzania, and also took charge of the semi-final clash between Ghana and Ivory Coast. Later, she officiated the Cecafa Women's Challenge Cup 2015 in Jinja, Uganda.
Nicholas Musonye, the former Secretary-General of Cecafa, praised Mokansanga's rise: "I worked with Mokansanga in several Cecafa tournaments across East Africa and I could tell her star was rising." He mentioned her dedication to learning and improvement.
Mokansanga's ascent continued, and in 2016, she was one of 47 officials at the African Women's Cup of Nations in Cameroon. She officiated the final match between Cameroon and Nigeria. Her performance in Cameroon led to her officiating at the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup in Uruguay in 2018, followed by the FIFA Women's World Cup 2019 in France.
During the 2022 African Women's Cup of Nations in Cameroon, she made history by becoming the first woman to officiate as the central referee in the tournament. She used this opportunity to advocate for more women to become central referees.
At the "FORBES Woman Africa Leading Women" summit in Pretoria, South Africa, Mokansanga won the "FORBES African Woman" award for 2023, celebrated on March 8 during International Women's Day.
Salem Mokansanga is not just a woman officiating in the African Cup of Nations; she is a living inspiration for other women, motivating them to pursue their dreams and open doors to their ambitions.