Memorable Quotes from African Women in Power

With a population of over 1 billion, Africa is the second-largest and second most populous continent in the world. Of the total number of people, more than half are female, with an estimated 56% between the age of 15-64.

Below are 5 memorable quotes from influential and powerful women in Africa.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia

African Women_Ellen

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is globally-recognized for her role in stabilizing Liberia as the country’s president shortly after civil war. In an excerpt from her book, This Child Will Be Great: Memoir of a Remarkable Life by Africa’s First Woman President, Nobel Peace Prize winning author offers inspiring words to rising leaders.

“The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them. If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.”

Catherine Samba-Panza, President of Central African Republic

African Women_CAR

When her country spiraled into deadly sectarian violence in 2013, government leaders looked to replace the current president with an interim leader who could provide a unique perspective to peace talks. In January 2014, Catherine Samba-Panza, the Mayor of Central African Republic‘s capital city, was elected to the presidency. In an interview with The Guardian shortly after she was sworn in, the former corporate lawyer talked about her advocacy work for African women.

“The majority of my sisters and daughters in the Central African Republic don’t know their rights so they can’t defend them. But we who know our rights can help them. We must always help them: the battle is always to promote and protect the rights of women.”

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Former Finance Minister of Nigeria

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala may arguably be one of Africa’s most recognized female leaders. Shortly before moving back to Nigeria to join government as the Minister of Finance, Okonjo-Iweala was a Managing Director at the World Bank. In this 2008 TED talk, she speaks to Africa’s shift from encouraging foreign aid to increasing foreign investment.

“Africans…they are tired. They’re tired of being the subject of everybody’s charity and care. We are grateful, but we know that we can take charge of our own destinies if we have the will to reform.”

Nkosazana Clarice Dlamini Zuma, Chairperson of the African Union Commission

African Women_AU

As the head of the African Union, the South African political leader has stood as the face of the continent in political platforms around the world.

“It’s in [the West’s] advantage to know what’s happening in Africa because if they don’t come to the party eventually the party will happen without them.”

Dr. Isatou Njie Saidy, Vice President of The Gambia

African Women

Though Dr. Isatou Njie Saidy serves as second-in-command for one of Africa’s smallest countries, there is no ignoring her big voice. In an address delivered during the 2011 UN General Assembly, Saidy reminded world leaders that the continent should be approached as a diverse place and not a country.

“Africa is no longer the colony of any country and must be respected and treated as such.”

Source: http://www.africa.com

Of art, sports, serenades and youth empowerment #Senegal

Beautiful does not begin to describe Dakar, Senegal’s capital city.  I feel like the word beautiful actually does it some injustice; perhaps magnificently beautiful is more befitting. When the flight captain went on to tell us that we were 10 minutes away from descending into Leopold Sedar Senghor airport, I let out a not so quiet shrill “I know!” Excitement had clearly overtaken me. The view of the waves, the peninsula, the swaying palm trees and the clean coastline were all breathtaking to say the least.

After an 11 hour flight transiting through Benin and Mali, we had finally arrived in Dakar.

Reason for being in this magnificent city was the Third High level dialogue on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance that was being convened by the Africa Governance Architecture platform within the Department of Political Affairs of the African Union Commission.

Fast forward to when we were leaving the airport; some of us, me included, began to comment on the beauty of the Senegalese, not to mention their lean body sizes. “Hmmm… interesting,” I thought to myself.

As we drove into the city, I couldn’t help but notice and feel the vibe of the place. The place is bustling and yet despite the high temperatures in the late afternoon, several people were jogging by the road, others trading in the market squares and others seemingly enjoying after work catch up conversations.

IMAG5303_1

The most astounding thing crossed my field of vision; young children were wrestling in a sandy pitch alongside the road, with several others cheering on in excitement. I am not quite sure on why this struck me, but allow me to carry on.

The children’s smiles and laughter are still so vivid and next to them was a football pitch with what looked like slightly older boys playing. It’s safe to say that all were deeply engrossed in their games oblivious to their surroundings.

Continuing with the bus ride to our destinations, it dawned on me that we had past neither 2 nor 3 football/wrestling pitches but an estimated 7. “Phenomenal,” I thought to myself. The Senegalese government had made a conscious effort to allocate spaces for sports activities.

To be honest, I couldn’t keep track of the number of runners that we had passed. Some were in groups, others by themselves. Across the city, they could easily have been in the hundreds. “Goodness, does everyone run here?” asked one of my colleagues. Her question had indeed confirmed my train of thought.                           IMAG5376_1

Allow me to fast forward again to my first morning in Dakar. This is the view that I had. Beautiful isn’t it?

IMG_20141031_084457

But another thing aside from this had struck me; I could see dozens of people in the ocean doing some sort of exercise.

“This people really do like to work out,” I thought to myself again and brushed off.

At the end of the two day meeting, colleagues and I decided to enjoy a good meal out in the town, it being a Friday night and all. I am in fact grateful to one of them for insisting that we do so by the beach. We had somewhat accustomed to the place and it was no surprise seeing some people running by the beach while others lifting weights at 9 pm in the night.

Having enjoyed our beautifully cooked meal and being burnt out from fatigue, I left my colleagues to catch a good night cap.

What happened after is what I’d like to call the true meaning of missing out. My colleague and good friend Nerima narrated to me on how they had been serenaded as they took a stroll by the beach. Her narration is as follows.

“So this guy snuck up on us and started beating his drum which of course startled us, I think I actually jumped. At first I was thinking…hmm what is this? Then it started to dawn on us on what he was doing and we started clapping and supporting him. It made me smile, I was so happy.”

IMG-20141105-WA0002_1

IMG-20141105-WA0001_1

Be it in Goree island, which is known for its rich history dating back to the slave trade era; or the very streets of Dakar; one is bound to see both the young and the old carrying their Koras (traditional string instruments) around with them or strumming away either in solitude or to an indulged crowd.

IMAG5450_1_1

(A young man playing his kora by the pier in Goree Island)

IMAG5415_1

(A young man crossing a street in Dakar, holding in hand his Kora)

As we drove to the port to catch a ferry to Goree Island, once again, one could not help but notice all the high quality sports amenities that had been set up along the coastline. Be it basketball courts, hockey pitches or soccer pitches. It was remarkable.

IMAG5621_1

(The basketball courts)

IMAG5616_1

(Children’s play area)

This then begs the question; is it any wonder that Senegal is one of the most stable countries in Africa?

The AU high level dialogue that had been convened was a forum whose aim was to escalate actions being taken to silence the guns that are ravaging and hampering progress on our continent. These are wars whose main perpetrators and victims are the youth. I can’t think of a better place to illustrate the magnitude of what good investments in young people’s energy and passion can do. Whether jobless or otherwise, there is something about sports that allows one, especially the young, to release frustrations, be good managers of their time, build a culture of teamwork as well as be peaceful ambassadors.

From the young man who serenaded my colleagues on the beach due to the freedom of expression, or the freedom to just authentically be; to the young boys wrestling in the sandy pitches, it is evident that all have been brought together by a cultural thread of oneness be it in sport or art. This underscores the importance of creating a positive identity among ones people. The Senegalese know not which ethnic tribe they are playing a sport with nor serenading to. All they know is that they do enjoy doing this with their friends in a healthy manner. This reminds me so much of the Ubuntu philosophy which states that I am because we are. Let us all try and emulate the noble example that is  Senegal.

IMG_20141030_071124

(Dakar sunrise)

Women in extractive industries: Addressing inclusive growth #DGTrends

A woman toils at Bilbalé, while her child holds tight to her back.

(Pic Courtesy of LarryCPrice)

‘There is no shortage of growth in Africa’ read a headline in the Economist last year; of the top ten fastest growing economies in the world, six are in Africa and are rich in natural resources. Africa has been ranked as having the second largest if not largest reserve of bauxite, cobalt, industrial diamonds, manganese, phosphate rock, platinum group metals and zirconium; minerals whose main use is in everyday products.

Statistics also show that this is just the beginning; many parts of the continent are yet to be properly surveyed for their mineral potential. As seen by the growing demand and investment in Africa’s mining industry from Asian and other countries, the mining sector’s outlook is bright. Africa indeed is the story; the big story.

However, we are also aware of the challenges that this industry is facing: corruption, weak government institutions, inconsistent policies, outdated infrastructure and lack of expertise and skilled workers which has consequently led to conflict and severe instability witnessed across the continent.

What is daunting is the fact that women remain marginalized from meaningfully engaging in this industry as it has been deemed culturally inappropriate.  Yet this is the very industry that provides numerous opportunities for all.

To gain a better understanding of the challenges on the ground, I spoke to a practitioner in the gold mining industry in Kenya. This is what he had to say:

Beyond community consultations, is there a role that women can play in gold mining bearing in mind cultural barriers?

The mining industry has a myriad of similarities to the construction industry in that majority of the jobs are blue collar jobs which require physically demanding tasks. Nevertheless, we see women taking up these jobs and also playing a part; equally in the white collar job segment which requires higher education. In most parts of Kenya and globally, artisanal gold mining is rife and it accounts for close to 25% of gold output yet it is not uncommon to find women particularly in river gold panning.

What are the on-the-ground challenges for companies when it comes to gender mainstreaming in gold mining? Are public policies facilitating this enough?

Getting the right people with the right talent be it man or woman is the major priority for most companies. If the individual has the necessary qualifications, then companies are more than willing to take them on if capacity allows. Investment in training is also important in this industry particularly in Kenya where mining is at its infancy. The Mining Bill 2014 highlights the need for gender sensitivity in the industry, however, implementation is going to be the greatest challenge as exploration and mining companies will need to invest substantially on training and recruitment in order to meet the policy standards which will increase their costs of operations in Kenya.

In your opinion what can the government and private sector do better to ensure the protection of women when conflicts erupt? Is it more economic involvement in the industry?

The ultimate solution is to prevent conflicts altogether. The root cause of conflicts especially in mineral rich zones is poverty. If we look at the mineral rich regions of Kenya, most of them are very impoverished, these are counties such as  Turkana, Kwale, Taita Taveta, Marsabit etc. Economic empowerment through quality education and training is highly important to prepare young women and men for jobs that come into the market.

Lastly, preparing a community for enormous social change that being including women in its mining workforce is as much a psychological process as it is about getting the right systems in place. This is quite an uphill task that the government cannot succeed in doing alone. In your opinion does the mining bill incentivize mining companies to do this? This is based on the aspect that organizations operate by economic principles. Is there any incentive for increased women targets at the national scale and at the administrative scale within the companies?

If you look at the proposed Bill there are no provisions for inclusion of women in the mining industry however local content is encouraged. My personal belief is that the government and companies need to work with the communities themselves. The incentive in this case shall not be monetary and neither would affirmative action be appropriate because it would push companies to boost figures and achieve targets without looking at the quality of the women recruited and consequently not help them in improving their craft. Companies need to be made aware of the dire consequences of not including and empowering women in the industry and concurrently informed of the social and financial benefits. Most exploration and mining companies have Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs and organs that work with the communities where they operate. This is an opportunity for organizations that work with women at the community level to reach out to the companies and show them how to work.

women_mining_lrg

(Pic courtesy of http://web.worldbank.org/ )

To ensure sustainable growth, governments need to address structural weaknesses and deliberately and vigorously promote economic transformation with depth; this involves inclusive growth. Undoubtedly,the successful integration of women in the extractive industries ensures greater benefits for local communities and creates a more just and equitable society. The integration of women into these historically male-dominated industries is not going to be easy, but when it is done well, it will have a transformative effect on us all.

You’ve got a piece of the Congo in your pocket; Sexual Violence, Conflict and You #DGTrends

MDG : A mass rape victim and her son in the town of Fizi, Democratic Republic of Congo

(Pic Courtesy of Pete Muller/AP)

‘Electronic gadgets’, ‘sexual violence’, ‘conflict’ and ‘you’; four words that sound extremely misaligned when put together yet surprisingly, are words whose correlation is tied to the current state of affairs in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

It is no secret that sexual violence in conflict has escalated over the years and is being used as a strategic tool of war; not an inevitable side effect but a weapon in itself.

It is also no secret that every other day we are purchasing the latest phone, latest tablet, latest laptop, latest camera, latest video game, latest everything. We live in an era where electronic sales have skyrocketed and the development wave is sweeping through the African continent and globally.

It is this very wave of electronic development that has exacerbated sexual violence in the DRC. Surprised? Me too.

Our insatiable demand for electronics products is helping fuel waves of sexual violence committed on women and girls as young as six years of age.

It is reported that the Congo war has the highest rate of violence against women and girls in the world, and reports indicate that hundreds of thousands have been raped, making it the most dangerous place in the world to be a woman or girl. One can only guess the exact number as large numbers of women opt not to report the crime given the stigma that goes with rape and the low probability that the perpetrators will actually be brought to justice.

It is also reported that revenue from the global consumer electronics industry is projected to reach a record-breaking 208 billion USD in 2014.  Furthermore, a closely-related business is also booming; in 2013 alone, armed rebels generated approximately 1 billion USD from minerals extracted and stolen from mines in conflict zones in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

As the consumer electronics market grows, so does the international demand for four minerals that are inextricably linked to sexual violence in conflict-affected regions; Gold, tungsten, tantalum and tin which power our cell phones, laptops, cameras, tablets and other consumer electronics.

Miltia groups in these war torn areas are strategically using rape and sexual violence as a tool to control populations and territory, to destroy families, decimate communities and lethally spread HIV/AIDS. This high level of instability contributes to the ongoing conflict, driving the demand for conflict minerals as well as the resulting proliferation of sexual violence.

I have profound respect for Apple and Intel, corporations who pioneered action in ethically sourcing for materials for their products. Once these two corporations realized that their products were linked to sexual violence, they worked diligently to begin eliminating conflict minerals from their supply chains and it is this commitment to human rights that has further enhanced the value of their brands.

These women and girls being subjected to sexual violence are our partners in commerce and development and we cannot advance the global development agenda without providing them with adequate safety and security.

As consumers, our purchasing decisions play a crucial part in protecting the lives of women and children in these conflict regions. We can consciously choose to purchase products from companies whose commitments to human rights are credible, clear and concise.

Not only this, we can also use our voices to amplify this dialogue. The African Union is cognizant that at the heart of Africa’s violent conflicts such as in the Democratic Republic of Congo, lies the problem of democratic governance deficits mainly manifested through poor social economic and political governance, inadequate democracy, poverty and growing inequality, poor service delivery and mismanagement of natural resources, lack of respect for the rule of law, abuse of human rights, corruption, and lack of space for popular political participation. This has greatly undermined Africa’s efforts to ensure long-term stability and economic progress for its peoples especially women and girls.

It is in this light that the organ is convening a Gender Pre-Forum consultation scheduled to take place from 6-7 October 2014 in Kigali, Rwanda. This forum will be an integral part of the High Level Dialogue to be held in late October and will focus on fostering a deeper understanding of the trends, challenges and opportunities for women in strengthening democratic governance towards silencing guns in Africa by 2020.

This dialogue is aimed at identifying practical initiatives and strategies by the Africa Governance Architecture framework for enhancing women inclusion and engagement on peace building in Africa. I encourage you to be a part of this dialogue using the hash tag #DGTrends.

Change is brought about by concerted efforts to deal with a problem even in the minutest of ways. The link between sexual violence and conflict minerals is clear; let your conscience as well be clear as you purchase your gadgets and foster this dialogue.

%d bloggers like this: