Africa is said to have over 5 million refugees, with over 75% of them being women and children. This is in addition to over 12 million displaced persons, 75% of whom are also women and children. This situation has been brought about by the wind of intra and inter-state violent conflicts blowing across many African countries. Aside from wanton destruction of lives and damage to infrastructure, these conflicts have also caused unending refugee flows and upsurge in the number of internally displaced persons in those areas.
According to the UNHCR, violence and drought in Mali have displaced hundreds of thousands of people, both internally and across the country’s borders into Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger. In the same vein, violent dispute in the border area between Sudan and South Sudan has led to displacement of persons and dispersal of refugees from that area into other parts of Africa.
In the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), violence and human rights abuses led to the displacement of more than half a million people during the second half of 2012. Also, as at mid-2012, in the Central African Republic, about 65,500 people were internally displaced and more than 150,000 Central Africans had found refuge in neighbouring Chad and Cameroon.
This development has compounded the old cases of displacement and refugee flows. With more than one million Somali refugees in the East and Horn of Africa and some 1.36 million internally displaced persons in Somalia, that country has been described as one of the worst cases of humanitarian crises in the continent.
The concern on conflict situations in Africa and their attendant problems of instability, underdevelopment and displacement of persons was among the focus of the 7th summit of the African First Ladies Peace Mission (AFLPM) held in Abuja, Nigeria from July 24-27, 2012. At that summit, a Plan of Action was put together by the first ladies of Africa to address conflict prevention and resolution in the continent. Item 4 of the 7-point Plan of Action covers “protection of women and children in conflict zones.” Through this, the first ladies drew out plans on carrying out conflict resolution, management, peace building activities; initiating peace efforts in conflict zones to protect women and children; advocating for criminal justice for conflict perpetrators; influencing programmes on re-integration and rehabilitation of families through visits; sensitization visits to Amputee camps in Sierra Leone, Refugee and IDP camps in Darfur, South Sudan, DRC and Chad, IDPs camps in Kenya/Somalia; advocate reparation of children born out of rape and sex slaves victims and their reintegration into the society; and working with the AU border program to reduce border conflict and promote integration.
The resolution on visitation to refugee and internally displaced persons’ camps informed the freight of relief materials to Mali in March 2013 and on June 27 this year to Kenya. These effort was an initiative of Nigeria’s First Lady and President of the African First Ladies Peace Mission, Dame (Dr.) Patience Goodluck Jonathan as this is the first time the AFLPM is taking action on the suffering of the refugees and internally displaced persons’ population in Africa.
Thus, in March this year, in fulfilment of the resolve of the AFLPM to assuage the pains of victims of violence in Africa it undertook a freight of relief materials to Mali, the West African country where several insurgent groups have been fighting the government for independence or greater autonomy.
Nigeria’s Dame Patience Jonathan facilitated the delivery of relief items to the First Lady of Mali Madame Mintou Traore for onward distribution to victims of violent conflict in that country.
The materials which include food items, clothing, drugs, beddings and other essential items were delivered to the Malian capital, Bamako at a brief ceremony witnessed by the First Lady of Sierra Leone, Mrs. Sia Bai Koroma.
At that event, the First Lady of Sierra Leone, relieving the memories of a similar conflict in her country and the devastating impact on women and children, commended Dame Patience Jonathan for her purposeful leadership of the Mission and for facilitating the release of the huge relief materials to the people of Mali. She noted that Sierra Leone had tasted the bitter pills of wars and therefore understood the importance of the gesture to the people of Mali.
While receiving the items then, the First Lady of Mali, Madame Mintou Doucoure Traore expressed the sincere gratitude and heartfelt appreciation of the people of Mali to the President of AFLPM for the magnanimous gesture and exemplary support to the people of Mali, especially women and children in their time of need.
Again, on June 27, 2013, the AFLPM donated 87.55 tons of foodstuffs to refugees in Kenya. The items were presented by the Nigerian First Lady and President of the AFLPM to the Kenyan First Lady, Mrs. Margaret Kenyatta during a brief ceremony held at the National Museums of Kenya, in Nairobi.
Presenting the food items, Dame Patience Jonathan said the AFLPM has a mandate of promoting peace and harmony in the continent, adding that the foodstuffs donation by the Mission was the second after the March 2013 donation to victims of conflicts in Mali.
Dame Patience Jonathan noted that while it is a well-known fact that women do not initiate conflicts, they are usually the victims and easy targets of violent crime.
She therefore, urged the women of Africa to unite to stop violence in the continent, and calling for teamwork in checking the recruitment of children as child soldiers.
Dame Patience Jonathan, later at a dinner hosted in her honour at the State House, Nairobi, said the Mission under her leadership had been assisting victims of violence and conflicts in Africa as well as contributing to their integration back into the society.
She added: “We have continued to demonstrate our readiness as First Ladies of the continent to play our part in peace building and peace restoration in Africa.
I must say I am impressed by the efforts of the Kenyan government in addressing the plight of refugees in several parts of Africa, particularly the Somali Refugees. I thank you for giving them hope and a sense of belonging.”
Receiving the donation on behalf of the refugees in Kenya, Mrs. Kenyatta thanked the African First Ladies Peace Mission for the generous gift, saying that the foodstuffs donation which included rice, sugar, cooking oil and maize flour would go a long way in feeding hungry mothers and families in the refugee camps in Kenya.
Mrs. Kenyatta noted that Kenya was hosting over 700,000 refugees and asylum seekers, the largest in the African continent, adding that the large population of refugees in Kenya was exerting pressure on lean resources, thus making the Kenyan government to reach out for support.
According to her, most of the 700, 000 refugees in Kenya are from Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and South Sudan, of which over 500,000 are women and children. The continued influx of refugees into Kenya’s refugee camps, she said, has further worsened the problem of overcrowding and food
The representative of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Kenya Mr. Abel Mbilinyi commended the efforts of the Kenyan government and the AFLPM in addressing the plight of the refugees in Kenya.
Also, the spokesman for the refugee community in Kenya, Somali-born Said Abdullahi Abukar, applauded the good gesture of the tow first ladies (Nigeria and Kenya) to the plight of refugees in Kenya, saying “we were accepted here as a symbol of goodwill and care. This shows that our plight as refugees is in their hearts. I want to emphasize that this event and the donation will make for us a new beginning. We are grateful to you once again for this occasion.”
Mr. Abukar further conveyed his appreciation to the “African Union, particularly countries that sent their military personnel to Somalia for peace keeping mission.”
The event was attended by the Nigerian High Commissioner to Kenya, Mr. Akin Oyateru and his wife Abiola, parliament members and senior government officials from Kenya. The Special Adviser to the President on Gender, Dr. Asmau Abdulkadir was also among the Nigerian delegation.
The next phase in the peace intervention efforts of the AFLPM will be Sudan, Guinea Bissau and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), to help provide succour, through the provision of relief materials to refugees, displaced persons and victims of violence in those areas. This, no doubt, is a laudable initiative that stands Patience Jonathan in a good stead as one concerned about the pains of the deprived in the continent, and complementing the efforts of international organizations like the UNHCR, among others.
*Dr. Isiaka Aliagan is of the Office of the First Lady, Federal Republic of Nigeria
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