The international influence on Africa and critical policy making processes cannot be denied. Conversely, the same cannot always be said of Africans – much less women – on the ground, whose voices are not always the primary influence of policy outcomes defined to serve them.
As such, the latest convening of the Wilson Center’s Southern Voices Network (SVN) on ‘Building Peace through Inclusivity in Africa’ represents a valuable opportunity to center African voices in influencing policy. Different actors shared regional and local approaches, examples and ideas for social, economic and political inclusion in Africa’s peace building and development. There was consensus on the need to address the roots of conflict; mitigate the human and economic effects of fragility; build public confidence instead of taking a military approach; consolidate local, sectorial and international responses; and ultimately, to prioritize and resource peace building and post-conflict reconstruction to avoid relapses.
For Isis-WICCE, this was an opportunity to highlight the importance of gender inclusiveness in peace building, using the case of South Sudan. “We conduct research, capture women’s voices and peace efforts, to bring the often undermined aspect of women and gender to the conversation on peace building in Africa” Isis-WICCE’s Helen Kezie-Nwoha explains.
As such, Isis-WICCE shared the situation of under-acknowledged women in South Sudan playing an active role in informal peace building efforts since the liberation struggle, through the peace process that birthed the CPA, the referendum and during the ongoing crisis. However, with a mainstream focus on ending hostilities and a definition of peace that looks at the silence of guns, women’s brand of peace building that focuses on individuals and communities- locally mitigating violence, providing peace education, building relationships, trust and reconciliation within communities – gets overlooked.
“We need to expand the definition of peace to support real democratic processes because ending military action does not automatically translate into democratic governance,” Helen adds. For her, one of the values of the SVN exchange is the opportunity to interrogate questions around Africa’s brand of peace building; the need for new definitions and perspectives; the importance of clarifying what peace building looks like as conflict in Africa changes; and ultimately, to bring women’s critical voices and potential contributions to the table.
“It struck me- and the example of Columbia shows- that it takes more than 10 years to see the fruits of peace building. This also includes mitigating risk around building peace, going to communities, having conversations, addressing marginalization and building trust to ensure real sustainable peace” Helen says, summing up why women such as the peace builders in South Sudan must be acknowledged involved in formal peace processes, transitional or post-conflict reconstruction processes.