The Forgotten Half of the African Sky

NAIROBI - In Kenya, my home country, there is a popular saying that when two elephants fight, it's the grass that suffers. Nowhere is that more evident than in the numerous conflicts Africa has seen in the past 50 years.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, marauding gangs purporting to be freedom fighters, and the government armies they fight, have for decades used rape as a weapon against defenseless women. Following the end of the Rwandan genocide, the heavy burden of rebuilding a devastated society was borne by the country's women.

Yet, when it comes to efforts to avert such crises, African women often get left out. Consider the African Union's current efforts to find a solution to the post-election political impasse in Côte d'Ivoire. Of the five African leaders picked at the AU summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to coordinate negotiations, not one was a woman.

What is even more insulting to African women is that the AU bypassed them to pick men whose commitment to democracy and human rights may be worse than that of Laurent Gbagbo, the man clinging to the Ivorian presidency despite losing the election. Of the five men appointed to lead the mission to persuade Gbagbo to step down, only two - Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania and South Africa's Jacob Zuma - can claim to have come to power democratically. The remaining three, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz of Mauritania, Idriss Déby of Chad, and Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso, grabbed power in coups, some of them violent.