A desperate and largely unknown humanitarian crisis is deteriorating in the Lake Chad Basin region of West Africa, forcing millions of people to flee their homes and leaving millions more in need of humanitarian assistance. Oxfam is providing life-saving support but help is urgently needed to prevent the crisis turning into a catastrophe.
I recently spent three days in Africa’s capital, Addis Ababa, the seat of the African Union. During this time, there was a flurry of activity in the margins of the AU summit but I found my own space to talk to various people about Oxfam’s work. The three days were concluded by attending an activity called “50 Voices, 50 Places”, organized by Oxfam’s Rights in Crisis team.
A year ago, Oxfam embarked on an Africa-wide campaign to address conflict and how it affects men women and children. Five focus countries – Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Mali, South Sudan, Sudan and Somalia – all at various stages of conflict and each with huge humanitarian needs, were selected for a film and picture project. The result, 50 Places, 50 Voices (embedded below) – is a first-hand testimony by ordinary people of how they have been affected by conflict.
The face of resilience
At the event, I was struck with the powerful messages people in rural villages and urban settings sent to African leaders to mark the 50th anniversary of the African Union and its predecessor, the Organization of African Unity (OAU). The messages were on the urgent need for peace, responsive leadership and Africa’s potential to prosper. People want food, clothing, education, shelter, good health and a peaceful environment that allows them to thrive. Despite what life had thrown at them, the pictures were those of people who were resilient in the face of hostility.
Francine Chikanine, a market trader in Goma had a simple but powerful message: “This war in Congo doesn’t end; I want our leaders to take two minutes, just two minutes, to find the root causes of war.” Getting to the root causes of war is doable, but doing something to address the root causes can be complex. Complexity does not mean it can’t be done, it simply means that more effort is required. We need to push for solutions to be found, but why should we care?
Why push for solutions to conflict?
We should care because the lives of millions of people have been destroyed by war. In Somalia for example, there are over one million internally displaced persons with another one million living in neighboring countries. There is on-going armed conflict in Sudan, South Sudan and DRC, while gender based violence continues to be reported.
We should care because; hundreds of thousands of people live in fear and cannot achieve their full potential. Men, women and children have been physically or sexually assaulted, but women and children have suffered the most. Women live in constant fear of sexual attacks when they go to fetch water, tend to the fields, or bring firewood. In November, 2012, government and rebel soldiers were found guilty of raping women in DRC. Children have been conscripted in rebel armies. Men have been left feeling powerless to look after their families.
Change is possible
So even with great strides made on the continent, there still remains a lot more to be done. One life lost in conflict, is one life too many. I am proud that through 50 Places, 50 Voices, and other activities of our AU Liaison Office, Oxfam is bringing the voices of people at the grassroots to African leaders. As the people speak about their experiences, they also express hope that change is possible.
After 50 years of existence of the African Union, and full political emancipation of the continent, time is ripe for African leaders to remove the blight of conflict, so that African people can live in peace, exercise their human rights and achieve their human potential.