Author:Gbowee, Leymah

Violent conflicts remain the single most deadly social phenomenon and impediment to development in Africa. In the last two and a half decades, over 4 million people have been killed in violent conflicts in Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Chad, Angola, Sudan, Uganda, the Central African Republic, Congo Brazzaville, Burundi, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Cote d'Ivoire. Several other states including Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya, Cameroon, Niger, Guinea Bissau, and The Gambia are also paying the high price of violence. As in my home country of Liberia, many of these conflicts stem from a politics of exclusion and the failure to meet people's basic human security needs.

The severity and recurrence of these violent conflicts and unconventional wars vary from genocide to small-scale ethnic and communal clashes. The result is a region faced with grave but diverse security challenges, and populations burdened by illicit trafficking in drugs and weapons; displacement; food crises; disease; recruitment of child soldiers; youth unemployment; rape; and environmental damage. The nature of these vectors of violence, and the fact that they often take place in the bush, close to rural communities, exposes local populations to violence far from the eye or protection of the state. Fighters frequently disregard humanitarian and human rights laws, and the intricate, multi-faceted, and multi-party character of these conflicts makes it impossible for state actors alone to prevent, manage, or resolve them. What we need is a broad and inclusive strategy that draws on the involvement of, and partnership with, non-state actors.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, there were many efforts to put an end to the violent conflicts across the African continent. Almost all such attempts at conflict resolution left out the critical voices and presence of women. These male-dominated spaces reinforced the pre-war exclusion of women, despite the subsequent impact of the conflicts on their lives. The humanitarian needs, interests, and concerns of women were never addressed in post-war agreements and structures. Similarly, the concerns for their families and those of the communities that women are socialized to support were overlooked. The legacy of these exclusionary projects persists today.

I come from the relatively small country of Liberia in West Africa. Liberia has become somewhat synonymous with war. The nation was embroiled in one of the world's worst civil wars for 14 years, from 1989 to 2003. The effect of the conflict on the livelihoods of women is hard to overstate. During the civil war approximately 250,000 people were killed, one million internally displaced, and 500,000 forced to flee to refugee camps. My own family sought refuge in Ghana. The conflict left the country in economic ruin, a legacy of not enough...

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