Women, you are the fulcrum of good governance in Africa
Author: Mercy Njoroge
Published by: People Daily
Have you ever watched the documentary film Pray the Devil Back to Hell? If not, then you may have no idea what “power of women” means. The film chronicles the remarkable story of the courageous Liberian women who came together to end a bloody civil war and bring peace to their shattered country. The band of women—Christians and Muslims United—came together in the midst of a war that claimed 250,000 lives, to take on one of Africa’s most infamous warlords— Charles Taylor.
In one remarkable scene, the women, dressed in white as a symbol of peace, barricaded the site of stalled peace talks in Ghana, and announced they would not move until a deal was struck. Faced with eviction, they invoked the most powerful weapon in their arsenal— threatening to bear it all (a gesture perceived as a curse in Africa). It worked.
Their demonstrations culminated in the resignation and exile of Taylor, whose government was synonymous with plundering of national resources (diamond and timber) that attracted a total embargo of the commodities by the UN. The women’s movement eventually led to the election of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in 2005, becoming Africa’s first female Head of State, and marking the vanguard of a new wave of women taking control of their political destiny in Africa.
The actions of these women are a clear manifestation of the indispensable power women possess in advocacy for human rights, peace negotiations and good governance. Their action further demonstrated the power of citizen-driven initiatives in ensuring accountability and justice. As Taylor was being thrown into jail for 50-years, the women’s movement leader Leymah Gbowee was receiving the Peace Nobel Prize for her work that brought an end to the second civil war in 2003.
Gbowee co-shared the prize with Sirleaf. In light of this, the ongoing African Women’s Leadership and Mentoring Initiative organised by Urgent Action Fund—Africa, Coady Institute of St Francis Xavier University and Strathmore University’s Governance Centre (February 16- 28), is creating the urgency to interrogate women’s contribution as citizens in their respective African countries as well as their role in complementing governance.
Historically, politics has been characterised by mistrust, but women are now breaking new ground and appealing for cross-party co-operation; countering a culture of violence by taking the frontline in promoting peaceful resolution and local disputes. Gladly, there is a growing public support for women’s increased political participation since they are perceived to be trustworthy, competent, accountable, transparent and more responsive. However, this does not conclusively mean that women are better leaders than men and vice versa.
It simply goes to affirm the need for inclusion for the crucial voice of women that is more often than not absent to propagate good governance, advocacy and leadership in Africa. Bottom-line, women leaders in Africa must endevour to live by Mahatma Gandhi’s words: “There go my people; I must follow them because I am their leader”.