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Failing to empower Women peacebuilders: a cautionary tale from Angola
Failing to empower Women peacebuilders: a cautionary tale from Angola
Kenya: Averting an Avoidable Crisis
Kenya: Averting an Avoidable Crisis
Op-Ed / Africa

Failing to empower Women peacebuilders: a cautionary tale from Angola

Originally published in PeaceWomen

In the summer of 1994, against the backdrop of the Rwandan genocide and the deterioration of conditions in Somalia, one of the few hopeful developments on the African continent came from the Zambian capital of Lusaka, where Angolans from the Government and the rebel UNITA movement and international mediators were working to end two decades of civil war that had killed a half million people. In my position as President Clinton's special assistant for African affairs, I had the privilege of supporting these negotiations, which bore fruit in November 1994 with the signing of the Lusaka Protocol.

This comprehensive peace accord promised an end to the conflict and a new era of national reconciliation and reconstruction.

Addressing an audience of African scholars on the Lusaka Protocol in late 1994, I was asked about the role of women in its negotiating and implementation. I responded that there was not a single provision in the agreement that discriminated against women. "The agreement is gender-neutral," I proclaimed, somewhat proudly.

President Clinton then named me as US ambassador to Angola and a member of the Luanda-based Joint Commission charged with implementing the peace accords. It took me only a few weeks after my arrival in Luanda to realize that a peace agreement that is "gender-neutral" is, by definition, discriminatory against women and thus far less likely to be successful. The exclusion of women and gender considerations from the peace process proved to be a key factor in our inability to implement the Lusaka Protocol and in Angola's return to conflict in late 1998.

Consider the evidence. Most telling was the failure to insist that women participate in the Joint Commission itself. As a result, at each meeting of this body, forty men sat around the table. Not a single delegation - the Angolan government, UNITA, the United Nations, Portugal, Russia or the United States - had a woman on its team. Not only did this silence women's voices on the hard issues of war and peace, but it also meant that issues as internal displacement, sexual violence, abuses by government and rebel security forces, and the rebuilding of social services such as maternal health care and girls' education were given short shrift - or no shrift at all.

Those in the Joint Commission who sought to address gender issues encountered other barriers. The peace accord was based on 13 separate amnesties that excluded the possibility of prosecution for atrocities committed during the conflict. One amnesty even excused any actions that might take place six months in the future. Given the prominence of sexual abuse and exploitation during the conflict, including rape used as a weapon of war, thse amnesties meant that men with guns forgave other men with guns for crimes committed against women. This flaw also undercut any return to a culture of rule of law and accountability, and introduced a cynicism at the heart of our efforts to rebuild and reform the justice and security sectors.

Similarly, as we launched disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration programs for ex-combatants, we soon realized that the agreement defined a combatant as anyone identified as such by their military's leadership. The thousands of women who had been kidnapped or coerced mostly into the rebel forces were largely excluded by their leaders, since most of them were exploited as cooks, messengers, bearers, and even sex slaves. Thus, we had to scramble to provide any support to these victims.

Male ex-combatants received a little money and demobilization kits consisting mostly of seeds and farm tools. We then shipped them back to communities where they had no clear roles, since they lacked marketable skills and the communities had learned to live without them during the decades of conflict. As elsewhere around the world, the result was a dramatic rise in alcoholism, drug abuse, divorce, and domestic violence, and the breakdown of the coping mechanisms that gave women some protection during the conflict. Thus, the end of civil war unleashed a new era of violence against women.

Even such well-intentioned efforts as clearing major roads of landmines to allow the more than 2 million refugees and internally displaced persons to return to their homes backfired against women. Angola was plagued by up to a million landmines planted by a dozen separate military forces throughout its conflict. But road clearance demining efforts preceded the demining of local fields, wells, and forests. So as newly resettled women went out to plant the fields, fetch water, and collect fire wood, they faced a new rash of landmine accidents.

The Lusaka Protocol was largely silent on or had inadequate mechanisms to deal with a wide variety of other issues, including trafficking in persons, reconstitution of reproductive health care systems, a displacement-related burgeoning of the HIV/AIDS rate, the proliferation of small arms and light weapons in civilian hands, and psycho-social assistance to the victims of rape and other sexual violence.

Faced with these challenges, the indefatigable UN Special Representative Aliouene Blondin Beye - who later lost his life in the pursuit of peace in Angola - brought out gender advisers and human rights officers to guide our efforts. Our embassy launched programs in maternal health care, girls' education, humanitarian demining, micro-enterprise, and support for women's non-governmental organizations. Moreover, we insisted that women be involved as planners, implementers and beneficiaries for our humanitarian and reconstruction assistance programs under the guidance, "Nothing about us without us."

These efforts were greatly assisted by excellent guidance from the Women's Commission on Refugee Women and Children, Widtech, and Special Envoy Paul Hare. But it was too little, too late. The peace process was already viewed as serving the interests of the warring parties rather than the general population. Thus when the peace process faltered in mid-1998 because of insufficient commitment from both the government and especially UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi, there was insufficient civil society pressure on the leaders to prevent a return to conflict.

I leave it to an enterprising researcher to fully document the case, but I have no doubt that the exclusion of one-half of the population from the Angolan peace process - and from institutions of governance and the formal economy - meant that inadequate attention was paid to areas essential to consolidate peace and reconstruct the country. This contributed to the return to another three years of fighting that ended only with Savimbi's death in 2001.

The adoption in 2000 of UN Security Council resolution 1325 brought the promise of a systematic approach and concentrated energy to address these issues, but thus far, has largely been a dream deferred. Courageous and talented women trying to help build peace around the world still face discrimination in legal, cultural and traditional practices. Sexual violence and threats against women in power structures still impose a stigma of victimization that makes the most impressive women think twice before stepping forward. And yet there are more and more cases -- from Liberia to Rwanda to Nepal to Uganda -- where women are contributing to peace and reconstruction processes.

There is much to do to make such cases the norm. As a global community, we must safeguard and strengthen women peacebuilders with personal security and training. We must ensure a critical mass - beginning at 20-30 percent - of women in peace talks, reconstruction conferences, and governance mechanisms.

We must focus on rebuilding social structures with particular importance to women, such as reproductive health care and girls' education. We must end the culture of impunity that turns a blind eye toward violence against women. We must bring more women into the security forces of post-conflict countries.

Even within the UN system itself, we have a long way to go. As the world hailed the election of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as president of Liberia, the UN Secretary General issued a report in September 2006 identifying the benchmarks that would allow for the drawdown and withdrawal of UN peacekeepers from that country. Of 39 benchmarks on security, governance, rule of law, and economic revitalization, there was not a single mention of women or gender. Of the remaining seven benchmarks on infrastructure and basic services, only the last item mentioned the need for girls' school enrolment.

This situation is dangerous. Including women in building peace it is not just a question of fairness and equity. Peace agreements and post-conflict governance and reconstruction simply work better when women are involved and gender is taken into account. With the growth of new peace negotiations and peacekeeping mission globally, the case of Angola is a cautionary tale that we ignore at our peril.

Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta, his wife and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga arrive at the Forces Memorial Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya, on 22 January 2016. ​REUTERS/Noor Khamis
Statement / Africa

Kenya: Averting an Avoidable Crisis

Kenya’s ongoing electoral standoff could be compounded further if opposition leader Raila Odinga proceeds with a "swearing-in" ceremony that might elicit a tough response from President Kenyatta. To avert the risk of further protests, destruction and bloodshed, all actors should redouble efforts to broker a last-minute deal.

Kenya’s political crisis could come to a head on Tuesday 30 January 2018. Opposition leader Raila Odinga is expected to stage a swearing-in ceremony as the “people’s president” after two contentious elections in 2017. President Uhuru Kenyatta – who was declared victor of those elections – is reportedly readying a tough response, including the arrest of opposition leaders. This could provoke protests, further police crackdowns and much avoidable destruction and bloodshed, while deepening already dangerous levels of polarisation. Time is running short, but both sides should urgently show restraint: Odinga should call off the ceremony; President Kenyatta should agree to an audit of Kenya’s electoral authorities. Kenyan leaders also should consider some form of national convention to discuss reforms to lower the stakes of political competition.

Last year’s presidential election, held on 8 August, pitted incumbent President Kenyatta against veteran opposition leader Odinga. The electoral commission announced a Kenyatta win, with 54.27 per cent of the vote. Odinga challenged the validity of the vote at the Supreme Court. In a historic decision, the judges annulled the election. Their ruling did not show evidence of mass fraud or question the outcome of the election, but found widespread irregularities and illegalities in the tallying, tabulation and transmission of results. The court ordered a new vote “in strict conformity with the constitution and applicable election laws”. This decision was welcomed by many as a healthy – and, in Africa, unprecedented – sign of judicial independence.  

In its aftermath, however, both Kenyatta and Odinga responded with measures that deepened the crisis and widened societal division. Kenyatta, who would have gained from supporting a rerun that could have given him a clearer mandate, instead lashed out at the judges. His allies in parliament passed legislation curtailing the role of courts in future elections, while state security forces killed dozens of protesting opposition supporters. In turn, Odinga insisted, without offering compelling evidence, that he had won the 8 August election. He issued a raft of conditions – most of which were reasonable but many unrealistic in the period before the repeat ballot – for his participation. Some two weeks before the repeat election, he withdrew, citing inadequate electoral reform. Without the main opposition leader, the 26 October vote became in effect a one-man show: Kenyatta garnered 98 per cent of the vote, but with a turnout of only 39 per cent, down from 77 per cent in the first round.

The oath-taking might in principle satisfy core supporters but in practice would achieve little in terms of advancing their interests.

Since then, the standoff has only worsened. Kenyatta has rejected all efforts by religious leaders, civil society, the business community and diplomats to persuade him to engage his rival. Odinga continues to demand fresh elections and, given Kenyatta’s rejection of talks, repeatedly threatened to organise his own swearing-in ceremony and declare himself the “people’s president”. Having postponed several such ceremonies over past months, he has now set the date for 30 January. Kenyatta’s naming, on 26 January, of his full cabinet – appointing only ruling party supporters, in essence closing the door to any form of power-sharing – has foreclosed one option for defusing tensions. This has arguably further spurred the opposition to proceed with the 30 January ceremony, which it plans to hold in Uhuru Park in downtown Nairobi. Authorities say that venue is off limits, setting the stage for possible clashes between security forces and Odinga supporters arriving in the capital from opposition strongholds or informal settlements around the capital.

Pulling back from the brink

Odinga and Kenyatta are playing a high-stakes game of brinkmanship. Given deep social polarisation and a history of violent clashes between protesters and police, the two leaders’ actions could result in significant bloodshed. They need to pull back. Donors, civil society and business leaders should press both sides to accept some form of compromise to avert a dangerous escalation on 30 January. Western diplomats in particular, who continue to enjoy access to and influence with both men, should redouble efforts to broker a last-minute deal.

Such a deal would involve, first, Odinga calling off tomorrow’s ceremony. The oath-taking might in principle satisfy core supporters but in practice would achieve little in terms of advancing their interests. In return, Kenyatta should initiate talks with the opposition and accept an audit of the electoral system. Thus far, the ruling party portrays such an audit as unwarranted and Odinga’s demand for reform as a sign he cannot accept defeat. But a credible voting system is critical for Kenya’s democracy. While election officials operated in a tough environment, under relentless attack from politicians, the fact is that they failed to gain the trust of much of the electorate, which viewed them as both ineffective and partisan. An independent, time-bound audit would study the electoral commission’s work and develop recommendations for improving future elections.

Donors, civil society and business leaders should press both sides to accept some form of compromise to avert a dangerous escalation on 30 January.

If efforts to strike such a deal are unsuccessful, and the parallel oath-taking goes ahead, President Kenyatta should order the police to exercise restraint and avoid lethal force against protesters. He should also refrain from a crackdown on the opposition, which would only stir protests and further damage an economy struggling to recover from the crisis around last year’s elections. Kenya is routinely named as one of Africa’ most attractive destinations for foreign investment. But repeated clashes on the streets, particularly if they risk further instability, will do little to attract such investment and the badly needed jobs it creates. Politicians from all sides should refrain from inciting violence.

Lowering the political temperature

While the current crisis was triggered by the disputed 8 August vote, its roots run deeper. Since independence, successive Kenyan leaders have entrenched a system of ethnic divide-and-rule, inherited from British colonial administrators, and used an all-powerful and largely unaccountable presidency to reward ethnic allies. Notwithstanding reforms prompted by the violent crisis after the 2007 election, which resulted in a new constitution in 2010 that devolved power, established new checks on executive authority and entrenched judicial independence, Kenyan presidential elections remain winner-takes-all battles for power and control over state largesse. They involve fraught struggles between ethnic coalitions rather than contests over competing policy agendas or political visions for the country.

Ideally, a last-minute deal along the lines described above could create space for further steps to cool the political temperature and seek ways to improve the nature of political competition in future elections. Parliament, in which Kenyatta’s ruling party and its allies holds a plurality of seats with 193 out of 349 seats, should consider the creation of a position of official opposition leader, with a budget and perks. This would offer an olive branch to Odinga, reflect the support he commands (according to the electoral commission’s results he won some 45 per cent of votes in August) and help dial down tensions. It also would be a step toward greater inclusivity. Indeed, such a measure should be considered even if Odinga’s ceremony goes ahead.

Kenya’s leaders should also consider some form of national convention to review ways to reverse the zero-sum nature of elections. Power-sharing, which was used to resolve the 2007 crisis, appears no longer to be an option, since Kenyatta has named his cabinet. Both camps, however, might be open to talks on reform that could help end the cycle of election-driven political crises. These could consider farther-reaching reforms than those in the 2010 constitution, perhaps even examining the presidential system itself to widen representation in the executive. Such reform would likely be unpalatable so soon after a presidential election, but might be considered ahead of the next vote, scheduled in 2022. Moderates like respected former chief justice Willy Mutunga have called for such a convention to discuss fundamental structural reforms that might avert similar crises in future.

Kenya is one of Africa’s better established democracies and the economic and transport hub of East Africa. But its image and position are tarnished by repeated election crises. The 2010 constitution goes a long way toward improving Kenya’s political system and is justifiably a source of pride for the country. But last year’s protracted election crisis suggests further reforms are necessary. The country’s leaders – and Kenyatta and Odinga in particular – should move away from their confrontational positions and instead seek a path toward greater stability and prosperity.