Last week, nine precedent-setting, traditionally male-led chiefdoms in Cameroon’s North allowed women to begin presenting women’s matters to chiefs. The women can also now represent themselves, taking over from the men who did it for them.
Men have traditionally led in, for instance, war-making and peacebuilding, making it difficult for women to participate in decision-making.
The baby of African women’s inclusion in peace processes was long in the womb. More often than not, when African women’s inclusion is written about, it is situated as having begun just 19 years ago with the passing of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security.
Some 26 years ago, the Kampala Action Plan on Women and Peace recommended a mechanism to facilitate the involvement of African women leaders in the prevention, management and resolution of conflict at the highest levels.
It was incorporated into the African Platform of Action of the Fourth World Conference on Women, famously known as the Beijing Conference.
In 1998, OAU secretary-general Dr Salim Ahmed Salim announced the African Women’s Committee on Peace and Development (AWCPD) with Dr Specioza Wandira Kazibwe of Uganda, Africa’s first woman vice-president, as chair.
At its formation, the AWCPD spelt out what conflict analysts on Africa say today for a fee; the root causes of violent conflict in Africa include colonialism, post-Independence atrocities, neo-colonialism, proliferation of small arms, poverty, exclusion, economic, social and political injustices, unstable democracies, violation of human rights and absence of the rule of law.
The AWCPD discussed the establishment of women’s peace organisations, networks and strengthening links with national associations of women.
It advocated legal frameworks to protect women; lifting of the embargo on Burundi and involvement of Burundian women in peace processes; creation of the Congolese Women’s Caucus including armed groups and incorporation of their peace agenda within national negotiations.
Through AWCPD, Somali women participated in their peace processes as the “sixth clan”. The all-male clan system comprised four clans, and a fifth of minorities.
The AWCPD also created the celebrated Mano River Women’s Peace Network (MARWOPNET). MARWOPNET laid the foundation for Nobel Laureates Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee of Liberia.
Although the UN General Assembly awarded the prestigious UN Prize in the field of Human Rights to MARWOPNET, it was ironically, UNSCR 1325 that the Nobel Peace Prize Committee citation made reference to and its role in “underlining the need for women to become participants on an equal footing with men in peace processes and in peace work in general.”
In 2016, the African Union’s Pan-African Network of the Wise and the Office of the AU Special Envoy for Women, Peace and Security, convened a meeting in Algeria with an ambitious Silence the Guns by 2020 agenda. This was to partly happen through inclusion of women as decision makers in all aspects of peace-making.
In July 2017, the baby was born. Femwise-Africa, a Network of African Women in Conflict Prevention and Mediation was established and situated under the umbrella of the AU’s Panel of the Wise.
Catherine Samba-Panza, with considerable experience as a former president of a country in conflict, the Central African Republic, and Dr Speciosa Wandira Kazibwe, who brings on board the institutional memory of the AWCPD and is current chairperson of the AU Panel of the Wise, co-preside over FemWise.
Mukondeleli Mpeiwa, a young passionate peace builder with regional mediation and capacity building experience in Southern Africa heads the secretariat. FemWise-Africa is “a stepping-stone to ensure women set the agenda on especially health, water and food, building social capital and monitoring social contracts in each of our member states.
In five years, an Africa with inclusive peace structures comprised of 50/50 women and youth with no food insecurity or maternal mortality is possible,” Dr Kazibwe says.
FemWise-Africa knows that war does not respect boundaries and is deploying members to all parts of the continent.
The woman notables in Cameroon provide a chapter analysing the impact of the African Union’s Declaration of 2010-2020 as the “African Women Decade”.
The 2020 Silence the Guns deadline hangs over the determined FemWise-Africa team even as the highly lucrative willing seller-willing buyer arms industry juggernaut rolls on.
Each protracted violent conflict in Africa has a set of similar dynamics that includes a resource and foreign interference such as supply of arms. May women, indeed silence the guns.
Wairimū Nderitū is the author of Beyond Ethnicism, Mũkami Kĩmathi, Mau Mau Freedom Fighter and Kenya: Bridging Ethnic Divides. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org