Gender, governance and conflicts in Africa
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"Civil War is Africa's self-inflicted wound. More than one African in five lives in a country that is fighting a war, and nearly 20 countries have experienced civil war since 1960. The continuing conflicts that ravage the African continent represent a heavy social and economic burden. During a war, most of the country's resources tend to be diverted away from development and towards supporting the conflict — War is estimated to cost $1bn per year in Central Africa, without counting the cost of aiding refugees, which is estimated to be about $500m in the region" (Bolle, 2000: 61). "Women's contributions to war and peace have long been underestimated. In fact, women often contribute to the outbreak of violence and hostilities—in many cases, they are instrumental in inciting men to defend group interests, honour, and collective livelihoods. Women also play a key role in preserving order and normalcy in the midst of chaos and destruction. In times of conflict, when men engage in war and are killed, disappear or take refuge outside their country's borders, it is women who are left with the burden of ensuring family livelihood. Women struggle to protect their families health and safety—a task which rests on their ability to cope pragmatically with change and adversity. It is therefore not surprising that women are also a driving force for peace" (Sorensen, 1998: iii). "Women's under-representation or lack of involvement in official efforts at resolving internal state conflicts is taken as a given in most situations. While they often bear the brunt of the war brutalities, and are increasingly involved in combatant activities, they are seldom part of the inner circles of peace negotiations, peace accords, or policies at the formal level to resolve conflict" (Boyd, 1994: 3). The above three quotes basically summarize the main thesis of this paper, which argues that most of Africa's conflicts and related disasters are self inflicted wounds arising from bad/ undemocratic governance, partially manifested in gender inequities in the structures and processes of public governance, which in turn are reflected in the near absence of women's voices in key decision-making on strategic issues, including those regarding war and peace. This paper further argues that the question of resolving, managing and meaningfully addressing post-conflict reconstruction, cannot be divorced from the question of governance, as sustainable peace cannot be assured in the absence of a conducive governance framework. The paper also argues that despite women's marginality at the war-mongering tables, they are not only victims of war and other forms of violence, they are also active participants before, during and after civil war, serving as instigators, combatants, service providers, and reconstructors of the post-war battered political-economy and society. But in all of these roles, most of women's peace initiatives take place outside the formal governance frameworks, and hence their long term impact/influence on the overall objective of sustainable peace, cannot easily be determined. The paper therefore makes recommendations that suggest the vital need in all African countries for democratic governance and, for greater participation of women in key positions of decision-making, including the military and other security related institutions.