By BEN MESSAOUD, Sonia
Our organisation calls itself the 'National women's movement to save the peace and national unity in Mali'. It was created during the Touareg conflict, started in Northern Mali in June 1990 by rebel groups. Following this event, there were several attacks and reprisals between the army and rebel movements. People were killed and the country nearly descended into civil war. We took part in the Mali national conference in 1991. It was there that we became aware of the political, social, economic and military stakes in this conference and we decided to mobilise the women because we were all originally natives of the North, the area where the conflict started. We have therefore mobilised ourselves and created our organisation.
We organised a conference debate among women during which we expressed the wish to organise a study on the northern conflict.
Swiss collaboration provided funds to enable us to start our activities. We were empty-handed and jumped at every opportunity to go North and speak with our parents and brothers, who had become rebels, to try and re-establish peace. We made contact with the army, the rebel movements and the population at large, and also rebels who had dispersed to other countries such as Algeria. We sent them moving messages to try and make them see reason. We used as a base our positive values of pacific co-existence, those values which link the different communities, to develop messages of public awareness aimed at the different players, to reduce the violence and to bring about more tolerance and solidarity.
The northern part of Northern Mali, where the conflict started, is an area where the settled population and nomadic population have always lived in harmony. But difficult climatic conditions and the different droughts which have hit this area, have made it so that these populations, living under hostile conditions, have developed social standards and tolerance values essential to their survival.
Each time we addressed messages of peace and organised action to break the violent spirits of the men by appealing to our traditions, they were affected. We saw men shed tears and we saw others bend their heads while we spoke. We broadcast messages on the radio and television, asking the ORTM to help us send them out in the different national languages. These messages were constructed to touch their hearts and minds. We were therefore able to develop important local contacts with the combatants and with those in control of the state who were very sensitive to our initiatives.
The populations were quite reticent at the beginning, but as we evolved, we began to realise how important our action had become and soon reticence turned to membership.
Since the Baule conference and the fall of the Berlin wall, we have come to realise that conflicts in Africa are becoming more and more often internal. The fundamental reasons are linked to slow advancement of democratisation, injustice and lack of liberty. The problem of changeovers in political power presents itself the most often. Once in power, people do not want to relinquish it; power often becomes a source of income for some leaders.
- (One of Mrs Maiga's two colleagues) : 'The principal cause of conflict is poverty and lack of development. The nomads lost everything they possessed. Many died with their herds, some moved away and yet others changed their way of life. All this creates internal conflicts between us, settled populations and nomads from Northern Mali. We have never experienced a similar conflict within living memory. We are all relatives. They know where our fields are and we know where their pastures are. The great drought has perturbed our way of life and our way of thinking but the movement had the presence of mind to bring men together. We are populations who communicate orally. We always finish by talking round a tent and this is what the women did to create awareness, communicate, educate and call on other women, as women are more sensitive to these problems. As we say at home ' women, being seated, can see the problems more clearly than the men, caught with a gun in their hands'.
- Mrs Maiga : Now peace has resumed. we are in the process of consolidating this peace, but the arms have not yet been collected and there is therefore a shortfall in relation to this process of peace consolidation. There has been a moratorium on light arms and women have been involved in it. We participated at the first reunion of civilians on the margins of the reunion of experts and Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the CEDEAO at Abuja. It was the women's movement which was invited in the name of Mali's civilian population. We made a declaration of support for the moratorium and agreed that, on our return to our respective countries, we would inform, raise awareness and mobilise the people.
COMMENTS : A woman who has the courage to come and sit down before men and cry in front of them , that is very important. A woman with the courage to come and solicit something from men makes it very difficult for them to refuse. These are the important aspects that we have identified and have been able to exploit in relation to our social values. There are symbolic gestures which fire the imagination of men. For instance when a woman lifts up her right breast, she is reminding the assembled men of the importance of maternity and life and addresses them as sons of a mother who breast-fed them and who therefore has the right to be listened to when it comes down to protecting life.
Dr. Maiga Mariam Djbrilla is President of 'National Women's Movement to Save the Peace and National Unity in Mali' (MNFPUN). She is also President of the Coalition of Civilians for Peace and the fight against the Proliferation of Light Arms. Her movement has played an extremely important and effective role as mediator in the conflicts in Northern Mali.