First ladies fight for peace

In a bid to support initiatives to restore and strengthen peace on the unrest-prone continent, wives of African heads of state or their representatives have formed a conflict-resolution group.

The African Network of Women Peace Negotiators was created on 15 February in the Congolese capital, Brazzaville, at the sixth conference of the African First Ladies Peace Mission, known by its French acronym MIPREDA, which was launched in 1997 in Nigeria to advocate for peace, stability and harmony in Africa.

"Brazzaville will be the starting point of action of women for peace on the continent," said the first lady of Chad, Hinda Déby Itno. The Chadian capital, N'djamena, came under heavy attack in early February by rebels bent on toppling the government of President Idriss Déby.

"Unlike men, who are the first to set them off, we have the opportunity and means to extinguish all these hotbeds of tension and crisis in our country," she added.

The first ladies painted a grim picture of Africa and condemned the violence meted out to women and girls during conflicts, particularly in the Darfur region of Sudan, Somalia, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and recently in Kenya and Chad.

"At the dawn of the third millennium, it is shocking to see that Africa remains the seat of most evils afflicting humanity. Foremost among these evils is the blind violence and impunity," said Antoine Sassou Nguesso, wife of Congo's President Denis Sassou Nguesso.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a message delivered to the first ladies by the UN Development Programme's Resident representative in Congo, Aurélien Agbenonci, said 65 percent of the UN's budget for maintaining peace went on Africa.

"Africa is one of the forgotten conflicts, the bloodiest the world has ever known since the Second World War," said Gisèle Mandaila, Belgium's secretary of state for family. "The figures speak for themselves; civilians, mostly women, pay a heavy price for these conflicts."

Turai Yar'Adua, wife of Nigeria's President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, was elected to head the organisation.

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