Women, Natural Resource Management and Peacebuilding in Africa

Written by  William A.Twayigize

From the time immemorial, in most parts of Africa, women have enormous responsibilities of managing land, forests, water catchments, and in some cases minerals. However, the society has lacked a deliberate attempt to incorporate women not only in natural resources management but also in control and decision-making (Quisumbing, A. R. (2003). This would not only improve the stagnant economies in our communities but also ensure a stable and peaceful future of our continent. In countries where there are conflicts such as South Sudan, DR Congo, Burundi, Somalia, Central African Republic, and Cote d’Ivoire, women have an upper hand in using natural resources management and control such as land, water, forests and minerals to promote peace and social coexistence (Wangahemuka, J. K. (2005). We have to understand that mothers, sisters, aunts, and grandmothers are the ones who spend most of their time with children. In some countries’ culture boys tend to respect their mothers, sisters, and aunts more than they do to their male counterparts such as fathers, brothers, cousins, and uncles. Actually, in some communities in Central African region such as DR Congo, fighters go home to ask for their mothers’ or aunts’ blessings for a peaceful return before they go to the combat (Coulter, C., Persson, M., & Utas, M. (2008). This is another powerful advantage that African women have to promote peace and effective management of natural resources in their society (Coulter, C., Persson, M., & Utas, M. 2008; Falkenburg, L. 2013).

In Africa 75 to 85% of women live in rural areas where they are responsible to manage land, water, food they harvest from their farms, and energy resources they harness from their forests and bushes in their communities (Davison, J. (1988). Many women have taken a forefront role in promoting responsible natural resources management, especially preserving water catchments. A good example is late Peace Laureate Hon. Wangari Maathai who resisted the Kenyan government in destroying water towers in the name of a short term development (Maathai, W. 2003; Maathai, W. 2008).  Women also are involved in artisanal mining in countries such as DR Congo where women compete with men to mine gold and coltan, and Kenya where women are involved in (Wells, J. 2000; Aggarwal, R., Netanyahu, S., & Romano, C. 2001. Hinton, J., Veiga, M. M., & Beinhoff, C. 2003; Banza, C. L. N., Nawrot, T. S., Haufroid, V., Decrée, S., De Putter, T., Smolders, E.,  Mutombo, A. M. (2009).

Although over centuries, African women have been the sole responsible managers of the continent natural resources, they still lag behind both economically and politically. Their men remain still in control of how and when natural resources are used and what they are used for. This alienates women from benefiting from the continent natural resources profits (Snyder, M. C. (2000; Roy, M.-A., & Wheeler, D. (2006).  More often than never, men use these natural resources to fund the wars and bargain their lion’s shares. Though women are mostly left in the dark or excluded from any decision-making opportunities, they are the ones who are mostly negatively affected by the decisions made by men, which lead to overt conflict, corruption, and dictatorial regimes (Pinstrup-Andersen, P., & Pandya-Lorch, R. (1994; Omari, C. K., Engel, J. R., & Engel, J. G. 1990; Le Billon, P. (2001; Lind, J., & Cappon, J. (2001). During the wars women and children become refugees, widows, and sexually abused. These are the reasons women should be actively involved not only in natural resources management, because they have been doing so over ages, but also be involved in decision-making process of how natural resources are managed, used, and what are used for (Lustig, S. L., Kia-Keating, M., Knight, W. G., Geltman, P., Ellis, H., Kinzie, J. D., . . . Saxe, G. N. 2004; Richardson, P., Howarth, R., & Finnegan, G. (2004). This would prevent some of the reckless decisions that lead to conflicts. Once women take active role in controlling Africa’s natural resources, they can influence decisions made to promote peace and development since women do not just promote peace for themselves but also for their children (Giller, K. E., Witter, E., Corbeels, M., & Tittonell, P. (2009).

International community, development partners, academic institutions, and African governments must change and support policies that target women and give them more proactive roles in decision-making process (Nkomo, S. M., & Ngambi, H. (2009). In this way, Africa will shift from focusing on post-conflict recovery programs that survive on humanitarian organizations than development itself. Instead it’d refocus its attention to programs that promote lasting and sustainable development with a directed economic growth. Women can also become instrumental in preventing tribal conflicts, which have been the engines of ethnic conflicts in most of African nations such as in Rwanda, Burundi, DR Congo, Uganda, and Southern Sudan, instead promote policies that enhance social coexistence and diversity tolerance (othchild, D. S. 1997; Bhavnani, R., & Backer, D. 2000; Smith, Z. K. 2000; Straus, S. 2005; McGarry, J., & O'leary, B. 2013). This will facilitates Africa and African communities to work together to invest in projects that foster sustainability and good management of natural resources.

Like in some communities, Africans view women as the pillars of the society and they bring together old foes, unite communities, and restore broken relationship (Qian, Z., & Lichter, D. T. (2007). Among Banyarwanda people, they call women or girls “NYAMPINGA” because they bring people together regardless of socioeconomic status and ethnic background women can be married off to any ethnic background. This is an important trait and unique that can be used to manage not only material resources by also human resources (Hilker, L. M. (2012). It should be used to manage conflict and promote coexistence among African communities. It is a high time that Africa awakes and realize that women are invaluable resources that should be given a chance in leadership to fix what their male counterpart might have failed to od in the last 50 years.  Africa has to involve all stakeholders to support programs that provide women with responsibilities in managing natural resource-based programs as a way of empowering them and nurturing them to take up leadership role in natural resources management. Such programs would enable more women to gain knowledge and skills to actively participate in small businesses such as agricultural productions where women buy and sell produces and livestock from their own community farms. This should not been viewed as feminism domination but supporting each other to propel African economy (Collins, P. H. (1990).This would promote cash transfer from livestock. This type of business increases inter-community trading, communication, and interdependence among people, which may increase mutual respect and acceptance between communities and reduce hostilities (Kabeer, N. (2005).

However, readers must remember that, traditionally, in Africa like in most parts of the world, women have greater responsibilities to be homemakers. This does not imply that women are second class but people who play the central role in both family and the society (Katjavivi, P., & Kearney, M. 2000; Bauer, G., & Britton, H. E. 2006). They are the ones who keep the family together. Whatever they earn goes right back to support their families. Though in some quarters of the continent such as in Kenya and in Uganda where media have been reporting incidences where men forget their families and go to spend all their incomes drinking and reveling (Ambler, C. H. (1991; Willis, J. 2003; Papas, R. K., Sidle, J. E., Wamalwa, E. S., Okumu, T. O., Bryant, K. L., Goulet, J. L., . . . Justice, A. C. (2010).  Different Kenyan media have reported that some rural women decided to go and protest at local government offices asking chiefs to close drinking joints in the communities so that men can go back to their home to take care of their families. “Our men are no longer our bread winners. They have deserted their responsibilities to pay tuitions for our children and find food for their families. Instead they spend all they earn drinking traditional brew”, one woman said (Willis, J. (2003). Even this is one of the incidences which cannot represent a cultural paradigm shift in our society, it is a good example of the gender differences and how they assign priorities differently. What women make benefits the entire family but in some cases what a man makes benefits an individual (Moultrie, A., & De La Rey, C. (2003).

One must also admit that shifting economic drivers in Africa would require change of a mindset. It would compel governments and policy-makers to deliberately involve more women in decision-making process to promote effective management of Africa’s natural resources (Khasiani, S. A. (1992). This will not only benefit the current generation but all ensure the survival of future posterity. In a traditionally-rooted patriarchal society like the continent of Africa, it would require more work than a simple political will. It would need a psychosocial preparation of both men and women so that they see their responsibilities in changing how women are viewed and their role in both natural resources management and peacebuilding (Karam, A. 2000; De La Rey, C., & McKay, S. 2006). They have to be allowed to understand women can contribute as well as their male counterpart if only they were given a chance to use their potential. To be able to harness the potential in our African mothers and sisters, we must accept a radical change steered by a common vision shared by all our citizens. This change must not be tainted by some political manoeuver unlike in some Africa countries where leaders use gender empowerment to win international political and economic support, but to bring about a socioeconomic change designed to eliminate socio-political discrimination. To incorporate women in Africa’s holistic development (Tripp, A. M. 2003; Wanyeki, L. M. 2003; Burnet, J. E. 2008).

African government leaders must be willing and accepting to change from what they perceive as national priorities to what is a real priority for their nations. That is to involve all members of the society in national development by enabling all people to feel being treated fairly and equally in managing the natural resources of the country, this includes women. Africans must actively be willing to facilitate the establishment of an openness and transparency as a foundation of inclusiveness. This calls for the recognition that we have got a problem to fix. In addition, readers should also understand that Africa has made impressive strides in promoting women into leadership of our natural resources. Today, Africa has more women in presidential leadership than any other continent in the world such as Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Zambian President Joyce Hilda Banda, the current Central African Republic Interim President Catherine Samba-Panza, and the African Union leader Ms. Dlamini-Zuma (Gouws, A. 2008; Adams, M. 2008.; Nkomo, S. M., & Ngambi, H. 2009). African government and development partners should continue investing in women’s leadership by empowering them with necessary skills to productively manage the continent natural resources, which include its people (Sweetman, C. (2000).  

WILLIAM A.TWAYIGIZE is a Social Scientist specialized in International Affairs with special expertise in African Affairs. He has authored on several topics including Public Health in Tanzania and Haiti, Gender Based Violence in DR Congo, Women and natural resources management in Africa, Strategic conflict resolution in Ivory Coast, and Oil discovery and Social Justice in East Africa. He previously worked with Harvard Medical School, Boston University, and the Kenyan Government.

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