A moment with the consul of Burkina Faso

Interviewee : Karidia K. Friggit, Burkina Faso Honorary Consul in Madrid
This interview was held in French, because it is our common mothertong both to the consul and me. Therefore here it is a translation from French to English.
«Me: What did you do before becoming consul ?
Karidia K. Friggit: Well, I have a master of English. Then I moved to London with my husband, and because of my children, I did not want to work. But I was working voluntarily in an association. The association was called London Detained Support Group. I heard difficult stories so I took psychology lessons, to understand people and put distance between them and I . Simultaneously, I made a degree of interpret, which allowed me to be more independent when I had meeting with lawyer and refugees. So we stayed 7 years in London and after we moved to Madrid. We created a foundation to build primary schools and high schools in Burkina Faso. It was notably to help girls who usually who drop out of school early. Then we were searching for a consulate in Madrid, for the foundation, but there was not any in Madrid. I began to help the Embassy to find a consul, then they ask me to assume it. So now I am honorary consul.

What is an honorary consul ? What is the difference with a general consul ?
Honorary means that I am not paid, like volunteerism. It is a honorary title for the good actions I make and to represent the government abroad. Many countries create honorary consuls because it costs nothing to the government, unlike an Embassy or a general consulate. There is an Embassy of Burkina Faso in Paris, and I represent it here in Spain. At the beginning I had my office at home. Fastly the work became important, so we decided to buy rooms in 2014. Since 2012 I am accredited, it means that I am working as a consul. I am leading the foundation and a master in Sciences Po Paris at the same time.
What does the job of consul consist in?
I make visas, I take care of Burkina people’s passports : I receive their file and I send them.
I am a listening ear for Burkina people’s personal problems. But I am not here to give solutions, I am here to listen them and to let themselves finding solutions. When they have administrative problems, I redirect them to lawyers.
I make also conferences about the situation in Burkina Faso. But it is quite difficult because we do not have all the information here, when there was the attacks, or the coup d’état for instance. We organize manifestations, such as one on the 8th March, for women, or cine debates. However, I don’t do anything when I receive eviction notices of undocumented people. But if an undocumented person from Burkina Faso come here, I will redirect him to a lawyer.
Is Burkina Faso’s community important in Spain?
I would say that we are almost 300 people from Burkina Faso in Madrid and almost 3 000 in Spain.

And must they all come to Madrid when they need help from the consulate ?
I forgot to say that there are four consulates in Spain. I am in Madrid, there is another in Valencia, another in Andalucia, Almeria, and in Barcelone. They were created according to the needs, because Spain is wide. Before it was the French embassy who was treating the visas, now it is me. So we create the consulates in the cities where there are many people from Burkina Faso and in the cities where there are people who wants to go to Burkina Faso, where there is an interest for the country, with a lot of associations related to for instance.

What about the relations between Spain and Burkina Faso ?
They are complicated. Before, Burkina Faso’s government had private relations with the Spanish government. Now the new Burkina Faso’s government, in power since last December, try to implement new relations. At the consulate, we try to organize meeting to welcome Burkina Faso’s leaders. But it is difficult for them to understand that now there is not a government in Spain. They do not understand either that they could more cultivate ties with the Communidades, which are strongly independent, such as Navarre, which is two times Burkina Faso’s GDP. They prefer to wait for the new Spanish government. Moreover there are many Spanish NGOs in Burkina Faso, they are really involved, such as Caritas, Manos Unidas, which work with my Foundation on a project over a school, los Amigos de Rimquieta, who are taking care of more than 300 children who are
living in Ouagadougou streets. That’s why, we have to work more on the cooperation between Spain and Burkina. There is also a bilateral cooperation between the two countries over the renewable energies, notably the solar energy, over the agribusiness and the pharmaceutical industry. For instance for emergency medication, the notices are in Spanish so we try to cooperate to translate
them in French or English at least.»
Thanks to Karidia K. Friggit for answering my questions and to you Alana Moceri, to allow me to meet her.

Written by Ludivine Mouly

Let’s connect Sub-Saharan Africa

We live in a highly connected world where there are few things that go by without it being spread all over the web. The internet, and the idea of being “connected” have become a major characteristic of our Western culture. On another side of the planet in Sub-Saharan Africa, progress is being made to bring that region into a “connected” culture. Africa is a large continent, with thousands of tribes and different languages. Exposing this region to an “online community” might bring the same unifying effect, we believe, as the language Swahili did in Tanzania.

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Picture retrieved from: Mistbreaker.com

The last annual report by internetsociety.org tells us that nearly half the worlds population is connected to the internet, most of whom are connected through the use mobile devices.This development has brought upon many changes to the way in which we go about our daily lives, bringing broader opportunities. The internet is a platform that is difficult to control. Iran for instance, as the Washington Post reports, continuously fail to keep its population off blocked websites like Facebook. The internet is a great place for likeminded people to meet, and can be an important tool for individuals in countries with restrictions to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, as people can easily obtain anonymity and join forums to discuss cultural and political issues. In that sense, the internet can be a more effective tool for improving democracy than economic sanctions  will ever be.

The easy access to internet does of course come with its pitfalls, with issues like online drug markets and child pornography, but these issues aren’t unique to the internet and the online community. What is unique to the internet though, is the possibility to spread a common set of values in what we can call a “online public opinion”. If you go to popular “meme” and forum pages such as 9gag, reddit or imgur, you will see people across borders sharing images, often portraying a common set of values. These values are often in favor of democracy and against inequalities.

Furthermore, If we look at the possibilities regarding democracy, accessibility to internet would be a ground breaking means of educating  citizens and would encourage active political participation. Education, is of course the basis of democracy and indeed, people would then be  able to understand how the world is working and become critical on their own country’s functioning. Moreover, it goes without saying  that the Internet nowadays  can be regarded as the biggest resource of retrieving knowledge, as well as ideas from like minded people. By having access to Internet, literacy rates and knowledge on basic civil rights, health, sexuality, development and so on would rise exceptionally in all of Sub-Saharan Africa. It could perhaps also give citizens the means to  question dictatorships in this region, which are basically based on a form of obscurantism Internet access in this region would then  could then encourage future political participations for the generations to come. For example, Khan Academy is a free learning website where anyone who has access to Internet is then able to “learn anything”. The more , the people can access Internet, the more likelihood of younger generations gaining further education and knowledge to hopefully implement important sustainable changes in the region when they take over power positions.

Sub-Saharan Africa , however, still has a long way to go with only 17% of its population online, compared to North America’s 84%. But it’s growth rate is larger than most other regions. Projects to increase the internet access in the region are rare, but they exist. A satellite soon will be launched to provide internet to Africa according to Mark Zuckerberg. This project is held in partnership with the Facebook foundation, internet.org.

According to CNN  said Chris Daniels, VP of Internet.org the following in a statement“Facebook’s mission is to connect the world and we believe that satellites will play an important role in addressing the significant barriers that exist in connecting the people of Africa.”  The goal is to connect rural African areas to the internet. By this initiative, African people would be able to be interconnected but also connected to the whole world.The foundation also created ‘Free Basics’ which aims to provide basic mobile websites and services to mobile’s owners. Already, 85% of the world’s population lives in areas with existing cellular coverage so this project would be efficient to African people and increase their internet penetration rate. Half of the 40 Free Basics countries are now in Africa and Nigeria is the latest country to get access to its services dedicated to health, education, jobs, and finance. Mark Zuckerberg hopes also that internet connectivity would help to reach the UN’s Sustainable Development goals.

As this article argues, there are many aspects and benefits of the internet that intertwine. Through increasing internet access and exposing underdeveloped countries to the ideas of  “online public opinion”, we believe, it  can become a more effective  means compared to the traditional state-to-state aid. Giving people a platform to communicate is equivalent to making a platform to change. To change a society, people must connect. Sub-Saharan Africa suffers from “severe distances”. The internet can virtually eradicate these distances and bring young people together. Rather than demanding the ruling generation to change, let’s give the next one a platform to do so.

 

Interview with Gabriella s. Buescher: use your twenties to explore different paths.

Ida Yordi Bredal, 27-11-2015.

Gabriella S. Buescher is the Chief of political office at the Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission – UN Regional Office for West Africa, Dakar.

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Gabriella S. Buescher on fieldwork. 

In brief Gabriella is a Director-level senior expert with over 20 years of experience in humanitarian action, emergency preparedness and response, protection, political affairs, resilience and transition. The United Nations Office for West Africa is the first regional conflict prevention and peace building office of the United Nations. Created in 2002 it has as a mission to enhance the contributions of the UN towards achieving peace and security in West Africa. It helps promote the importance of good governance and respect towards the rule of law. It protects human rights and gender in conflict prevention and management in West Africa and helps good border relations between Cameroon and Nigeria. Boko Haram in the sub-region has complicated the work but they are now pursuing confidence building and development projects of communities along the border.

As a woman who has travelled the world, and dedicated her life to development and cooperation, i was curious of Gabriella’s personal choices that led her to where she is today. Which sacrifices that had entailed, how she had known which path to choose and when to trust her instincts.

Gabriella studied Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin, and Political Philosophy at Queen’s University in Canada; in 2000, when she was working for UNICEF in New York she decided to go back for a second Master’s—she started part-time and then took a one-year leave of absence from the UN to finish the MIA in International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, as a Fellow in the Conflict Resolution Office.

When she studied journalism, it was with the goal of eventually working in the US Foreign Service but later she decided she wanted to work for an international organization instead. After her MA in Canada, she moved to NYC in her early twenties and tried to join the UN in NYC, but realized she needed ‘field experience’ and so started as a JPO for Italy at the UNESCO Regional Office in Nairobi, Kenya. She loved Nairobi but saw that one of the best agencies was UNICEF and after a year in NBI, UNICEF offered her a regular post in Mogadiscio. Somalia. From there she transferred to UNICEF NYHQ to work as an editor, and had the opportunity of going on a mission for a few months to Baghdad, Iraq. There, she met her ex-husband (who followed her to NYC) and found two other passions: emergency humanitarian work and photography. She still pursues both. She just published a photography book with five other photographers on their work in Iceland.

She has since been in several emergencies for the UN system, from working in the bush in Angola and Sudan, to running the OCHA office in Haiti; from running the human rights program for the UN Peace Keeping mission in Cote d’Ivoire to leading the UNICEF New York HQ response to the Haiti earthquake. She is currently working in a more political post in West Africa.

Gabriella has always followed her instincts and chased the next challenge. She has not had a linear career, and this might not be for everyone she says. When asked for advice for a student studying international relations interested in a career in development and cooperation, she says that she’s learned that by having such a career in the field in several countries, it makes it harder to have easy promotions and to have a career-private life balance. Yet, she might not have been considered for high level Director posts now if she had not had a wide range of experience in terms of Agency, location, and focus of work. The wide experience in four continents and with different agencies has provided her with the know-how to do coordination and evaluation work successfully.  One pays the price both in terms of career and love life, living such a nomadic life, but she has always taken chances in both areas, and still does. She has been lucky to have been married twice, to have met men who followed her (and still do), to have great friends in several countries, but has waited to have a family until now when she is ready.

In terms of career choices, follow your passion, follow your heart and you will do well, she advices. She is glad to have worked in challenging contexts such as Somalia, Iraq and Colombia when she was in her twenties and early thirties. It shaped the person she has become and it provided her with valuable work and life lessons. She also took chances leaving jobs that felt restricted her and choose some that she thought she could grow with; she took chances ending UN contracts and going back to school or working for an NGO, learned a new language or traveled. If there is a lesson she would like to share it is this: of course, try to be strategic in a tough and competitive market, but also use your twenties to explore different paths, learn about yourself; take chances, be courageous!

Interview: Expert In Armed Conflicts Aleksi Ylönen On South Sudan Issue

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Aleksi Ylönen

First of all, the main point is to introduce the person I have chosen for the interview: Dr. Ylönen. He is a researcher at the Center of International Studies, Lisbon (CEI-ISCTE/IUL), Doctor of Political Science and International Relations from Universidad Autónoma, Madrid (2011), International Master in Peace, Conflict and Development at Jaume I University and Bachelor in History at College of Charleston, United States. His research topics are politics, armed conflicts and separatism, and his countries of specialization are Sudan and South Sudan.

I have chosen him because of my huge interest in armed conflicts, and, of course, he is an expert in the “field”. The interview had to be located in the geographical area of sub-Saharan Africa, so I decided to find someone to interview related to this area and, if possible, specialized in armed conflicts.

The interview is about South Sudan and its neighbor Sudan, but there are also some historical questions to enhance the comprehension of the interview.

In 1953, United Kingdom and Egypt decided to give the independence to the whole territory, why did they reach to the First Sudanese Civil War? Dr. Ylönen argues there were both internal and external factors. Internal factors included sentiments of fear and mistrust towards northern Sudanese due to fear of resumed domination (slavery), loss of jobs and livelihoods, etc… External factors included decolonization and emerging Cold War climate. Who fought in that First Sudanese Civil War? He declares the Sudanese government fought various rebel formations in southern Sudan, mainly the Anyanya (Southern Sudan Liberation Movement/Front). Which was the outcome of that war? He mentions Addis Ababa Agreement in 1972, which ended the war and gave southern Sudan self-governance and limited autonomy. This agreement also known as the Addis Ababa Accord, was a set of compromises within a 1972 treaty that ended the First Sudanese Civil War (1955-1972) fighting in Sudan. But this agreement ended the conflict only temporarily, and in the next decade widespread fighting resumed with the second civil war.

What caused the outbreak of the Second Sudanese Civil War? Our expert, Aleksi, talks about a mutiny in southern army troops provoked by a conspiracy among southern army officers which triggered the second period of civil war in southern Sudan. Which political organization born at that time? “Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, which is a political party in South Sudan”, says Dr. Ylönen. It was initially founded as the political wing of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in 1983. Who was their leader? Dr. Ylönen refers to John Garang de Mabior, who emerged as the supreme leader. He was a Sudanese rebel leader and politician who was appointed to the post of first vice president of The Sudan after having founded and led the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in 22 years of war against the Sudanese government and then negotiating an end to that war.

What has been the problem of Sudan why, within the total of years of its independence, over 80% of it has been years of conflicts? The problem, from the point of view of our expert, was the domination of minority elite group imposing Arab-Muslim identity to a high heterogeneous state. Which is the context that defines the complex and multidimensional crisis between these two areas? “The context defining this crisis is a problem of exclusive governance and uneven resource distribution”, declares Aleksi.

What contemplated the signing of the 2005 Peace Agreement between north and south in Kenya? It contemplated the right of self-determination of southern Sudan, where only southerners would decide to continue or not in the Sudanese state, or creating their own state. What has been the result of lack of compliance with the terms of the agreement? “In the CPA there was an attempt to preserve the unity of Sudan by making concessions to the SPLM/A (Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army). However, this did not materialize for various reasons and Southern Sudanese opted for independence”, said our armed conflicts expert.

Why did southerners see the independence agreement did not satisfy their national aspirations? Dr. Ylönen was very surprised about this question. “Did they?” he asked, “I don’t think so. Most were enthusiastic about getting independence”. Why, before having time to solve this problem, there was a military coup that wanted fix it by force? “Coup?” he asked, “There were several coups in Sudan more or less related to the southern problem”.

The issue of identity has always been at the heart of the problem between the north and the south, what is the difference in terms of identity between both areas? With the issue of identity I am referring to the fact that Sudan was at the same time an Arab country and an African country, a Muslim country and a Cristian country. The fact that Sudan was a multiethnic, multicultural and multireligious country resulted in lot of conflicts within the population. “The differences deepened due to exclusive and sometimes authoritarian governance which repressed the periphery and mostly southern Sudan. This galvanized further identity differences making them more confrontational. Although north and south Sudan are distinct in many ways, an adequate governance could have remedied such differences and perhaps allowed maintaining the state as one”, argues Dr. Ylönen.

Why does exist such a marked difference in development between north and south? Aleksi said that it was a result of governance and deliberate concentration of development in certain areas for political and economic benefit.

In late 2013, a year and a half after the formal entry of South Sudan in the international community, which was the result of the resurgence of internal conflicts and political disputes between their leaders?  “Power struggle for state leadership and crisis within the SPLM party leadership”, argue Dr. Ylönen. Why has it been so easy for the elites, both north and south, using the civilian population and sending them to the battlefield to sacrifice themselves to defend elites’ interests and privileges? “Extensive question”, said Aleksi, “Basically, loyalties to leaders and commanders. Some have fought because they had to, others indoctrinated, yet others for personal benefit…Motivations differ…”.

South Sudan retains the name of its neighbor Sudan, does this mean that a possible reunification is not ruled out? His response in this case was very firm: “No. South Sudanese leadership will not give up its independence”.

ZIMBABWE: A DIPLOMATIC APPROACH

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Alicia Moral in the 8Enise (Encuentro Internacional de Seguridad) in 2014

Zimbabwe, a country in Sub-Saharan Africa with a colonial past and years of political problems behind, is the new destination of Alicia Moral Revilla, the new ambassador of Spain in Zimbabwe Malawi and Zambia. Since May, she has been the representative of our country there while fulfilling her desire of returning to Africa, her first diplomatic destination.

She started the diplomatic career in Tanzania, where she was posted from 1991 to 1994. After, she worked in Indonesia (1996-1998), The Netherlands (1998-2003), Bulgaria (2005-2008) and is now in Zimbabwe. Ms. Moral has also worked in the the OECD in Paris from 2008 to 2012. Her extensive experience in the diplomatic corp has provided an excellent background to conduct a certainly interesting interview focused on the relations between Spain and Zimbabwe as well as on the current situation of the latter.

But, what does the diplomatic work consist of in a country like Zimbabwe? A variety of functions are assigned to an ambassador. Ms. Moral is the voice of Spain in the state and has to enhance its visibility in official and bureaucratic actions, such as sending reports to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or participate in the meetings organized by the European Union, and in cultural ceremonies, for example organizing cultural events. Another function is to be the mediator between the government and Spanish people in Zimbabwe, either residents or tourists; she is in charge of legal procedures and problems with documentation. But Alicia also works in the opposite direction; Zimbabweans that want to travel to Spain have to request their visas to the embassy in Harare, the capital.

However, it is curious that a diplomat with so many tasks is posted to a country like Zimbabwe, with whom Spain does not have a prolific relation, either political or economic, and where there are not many Spanish residents. Ms. Moral firstly gave an apparently simple response: “because Spain is an important country within the international community”. Nevertheless, this does not only mean that is relevant in multilateral organisations and decisions, but also that has huge rivalry among other powers. Zimbabwe, despite suffering a rather complicated situation, it is considered a regional power and Ms. Moral highlighted that the most important countries of the EU have their representation there: UK, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Italy, Greece, Romania and Check Republic as well as the so called emergent countries, the BRICS. Considering all this and the importance of “soft power” nowadays, “Spain has to be represented and defend the interests and values of the European Union and of the country”.

Additionally, not only the present situation is important; it is essential to have far-sighted initiatives and that’s why Spain is maintaining its relation with Zimbabwe. The economic and political forecast of the country is very positive and maybe in the future a business partnership is possible. Zimbabwe has great potential and, as Ms. Moral explained, “there will be lots of opportunities for Spanish companies in sectors like renewable energy, infrastructures, tourism, water…”. And that is why diplomatic relations are essential.

Still, the current political situation is far from optimistic. President Mugabe has been in power for the last 20 years and he, who first presented himself as a “freedom fighter”, has taken advantage of his position, for example expropriating of farms without compensation, and is responsible of massive human rights violations. Zimbabwe is surely “a rich country in terms of natural and human resources” as Ms. Moral emphasized. For example, the level of education is much higher than those of other African countries and there are plenty of natural resources such as gold, diamonds, metals, sugar, tobacco, maize, etc. However, she outlined that many reforms are necessary to attract foreign investment to take advantage of this richness and to increase the development level as income reaches the people. But these people alone cannot make the change; growth will only come if the government makes these needed new policies.

Mugabe is still in power but, regarding his last actions, the international community believes that now the government is seriously committed to make reforms to develop its economy and to implement a new and fairer constitution. That is why Spain is taking steps to strengthen its diplomatic relations with Zimbabwe through Alicia Moral, who has experience in the field and in Africa. In our globalised world, there is an increasing need of soft power and Spain, as well as the international community, is aware of this fact, also bearing in mind that the most promising continent right now in terms of new economic opportunities and growth is Africa. The world must keep an eye on Zimbabwe’s political context to see if the expected growth is real or if, lamentably, the country remains stuck in its unstable and complicated situation.

By Cristina Huergo

“SUPPORT AFRICAN WOMEN IS TO SUPPORT THE CONTINENT”

Last Wednesday 18th, I had the pleasure to get to know and interview Ana Salado Suarez, director of communications of “Fundación Mujeres por Africa”, which explained how “Mujeres por África” emerged, who are part of it and what are the different projects being carried out.

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Ana Salado and Victoria Lopez from ” Fundación Mujeres por África”

She started telling me the history of “Mujeres por África”, she told that it was created by María Teresa Fernandez de la Vega, deputy prime minister during the last mandate, when in February 2012 she found organizations that fund her idea, basically influenced by the strength and enthusiasm of African women to build a better world and then she realized that she wanted to help these women.

She also talked about the principles of the foundation, Ana summarized them saying: “The foundation is based on the trust in women, that part of the world that for so long has been under the domain of the other sex.” She added, “ Support African women is to support the continent, is to support the development and progress.” She summarized their objectives saying that what they want is to contribute to the development of Africa helping its women, this mean that they are “empowerment” them, qualifying them, walking with them in their labor that is fundamental for the continent.

After talking about the history of “Mujeres por África”, its principles and objectives, I asked her about the different projects that are being carried out and which have more important. She started explained their four difference working areas that are health, education, economic and empowerment, which most of the time, they overlap each other.

In health, she talked about the maternal-child health projects like “Stop Fistula”.
“Stop fistula” is a project that fight for the cure of fistula austerity that according to the UN “between two and three and a half million women living with fistula austerity, most in Africa, and it is estimated that each year there are between 50,000 and 100,000 new cases.” Ana added that the seriousness of this disease and figures that illustrate contrasts with the great ignorance that exists for the majority of society.
“Stop Fistula” aims to prevent and cure more cases of fistula. Which has two stages, on the one hand, the action of a preventive character that promotes access to health services for the most vulnerable women, and the remedial action that is to operate already with the disease. She said, “It is our flagship project”.
But, we also talked about others health projects as “Pintando África: Mujeres contra la Malaria” that is being carried out in Ghana.

In the education area, stand out “Ghana Wings!” project which involves the formation of Ghanaian women in three strategic areas for social transformation and development: education, health and social leadership assistance. About 100 women are the beneficiaries of the project. It has three specific programs: Nursing Leadership Program, the training of trainers and Social Leadership.
“With the “Ghana Wings” project, we hope to advance in the perception towards women as they are, truths protagonists of progress in Ghana, and finally, take a step forward on the path of development and welfare undertaken by the country.” she exclaimed.
Also, there are more projects as “Niñas de Rimkieta” in Burkina Faso or “Niñas de Malawi” in Malawi.

In the economic area, she discussed “Mujeres al volante”, this project takes place in Sierra Leone, it is one of the most emblematic actions of the Foundation in the area of economic development because it places women in Sierra Leone in a strategic and service point to the public sector. The project has enabled the launch of the first professional taxi service quality in the capital of Sierra Leone, supporting a cooperative of women drivers, automotive and mechanical of managers, to promote their economic independence as well as the viability of the service.
Ana added that the beneficiaries start a professional career and enter the working world, rising as stars of the economic development of their country.

And in the “empowerment area”, the most important project is “Mujeres por Mali” because during the conflict in Mali, women have been victims of violence, including rape and other crimes, and their voice needs to be strengthened now that the country’s future is at stake.
“The challenge is big and the participation of Malian women will help the country to overcome it successfully”, she said. “Mujeres de Mali por la Paz” helps to improve their bargaining power and their role in the process of national dialogue reconciliatory, from a personalized training tailored to their particular needs.

These projects are examples of the many projects that they are taking place in this moment. An important characteristic of the Foundation is that it do not give any preference to any project, basically because they believe that all are equally important and necessary.

Finally, she briefly commented the multiples organizations with which they have agreements to carry out these projects, among them are the UN, CYCA, New York University (NYU), Banco Santander.

To conclude, Ana repeated me the importance of African women and why “Mujeres por África” thinks that it is pretty important to help them. “The contribution of African women to development is very special, they have helped sustain life in these societies full of conflicts, revolutions …” she said.

 

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Key members of “Fundación Mujeres por África”

                                                                                        By María Asiain Belloso

 

Ana Salado: “Women are Africa’s greatest engine”

Ana Salado talks women, development and cooperation. Speaking of morally-rewarding jobs, here is hers.

Madrid – Ana Salado does not have a regular job. As the Communication Manager of the non-profit Mujeres por África, her tasks go beyond having to keep up with the reporting of projects, receiving visitors, updating social media or covering news regularly. She is also a loyal brand ambassadress of the organization; using an expressive language as she speaks, full of hope and passion. “It all starts with awareness, then there comes the knowledge. Whenever you open a window, you realize there is a whole new world behind it yet to be discovered”, she says to describe the foundations of MXA.

The Madrid headquarters of this NGO tell stories through its tribal decorations. Their main goal is to be a transparent organization, keeping in constant touch with people, both in Spain and in African countries. “We are an organization for development, not a NGO dedicated to help. We promote development in Africa through women with medium and long-term projects”, she explains. The majority of them are implemented in Africa, monitored by a coordinator who travels to the region where the project is being implemented and who reports to Ana and the rest of the team. “We also have a few projects that only take place in Spain, as Africanas en España, providing coverage and support for those nearly 500,000 African women established in Spain and Ellas investigan, an initiative aimed at bringing scientist African women to Spain for a gap year”. This was launched in 2014 and works in association with six Spanish research institutes, being one of them Severo Ochoa.

The president and founder of MXA, former vice president María Teresa Fernández de la Vega, also plays a key role in the communication of these projects. Ana recalls her once saying, “African women have become my great cause to fight for”, and that is how it all started three years ago. “Most of her time is taken up by Mujeres por África”, explains Ana, “she also is State Advisor for the government but manages to remain active and involved. Most of her head and heart are put into our projects”.

Every single project MXA is engaged in is different, but they all share a common goal: empowering women. In order to achieve this, the collaboration of national governments and their knowledge about the implementation of projects is essential. Women have a leading role in Africa as peace agents, and MXA as well as national governments are well aware of it. They are instructed to include women into peace agreements. “Women have starred many peace movements,” says Ana, “their inclusion into governments for these arbitration purposes is slowly developing. Achieving peace is the beginning of everything when there is an armed conflict”. For the most of the Sub Saharan countries, there has been at least one armed conflict in the past 50 years, being women and children the main victims. As Ana tells, “in the case of women, they are used as war weapons by combatants as a strategy to consume the enemy. We must not forget that during war times, women are the only support the civil society has since men are for the most part incorporated into the battlefields.”

Women carry the weight of the household, and that is why they benefit from social services designed specifically for them. Some countries have ministries dedicated to women, which have ratified the Maputo Protocol for Women’s Rights. Ana believes those campaigns help to raise awareness within society. “It is admirable how women are conscious of their rights and capabilities of evolving and contributing to the economy.” Despite common knowledge, women in the African society are extremely aware of their rights, and they know they have to fight for their empowerment. The drawbacks of culture and traditions have a big effect on the evolution of mentality, but Ana is convinced that happens in every culture. “There are some amazing movements for women’s rights, such as the ones in Ghana or Kenya”. She explains that the one in Kenya unifies all women associations of the country, summing up to thirty thousand female activists. “Their influence is so high that it has led to constitutional changes in some occasions.”

Even though Mujeres por África does an outstanding job, there is a lot of work to be done, especially in terms of awareness. “The main thing people can do from home about our women is becoming interested in Africa.” Ana is convinced in Spain we have lived for many years turning our heads against the huge unknown that Africa is, so now it is time to approach them, stop the prejudices, and react. “Sometimes we forget some of our every day life needs are fulfilled by resources from this continent. If people want to help from home, Mujeres por África has a supporting branch called Amigos de la Fundación. Their role is merely as supporters, it does not imply contributing economically. “It is good feedback for us to know there are some people who support the cause, at no cost.”

DSC01563bInterviewee Ana Salado with interviewer Marta Parra, in the Mujeres por África head office in Madrid.

Note: This interview has been translated originally from Spanish.