Source: TrustLaw
Political leaders in Senegal should sit around a table and hold talks to end weeks of unrest as the country nears a Feb 26 presidential poll, a network of women's groups said on Tuesday.

“We’ve seen the violence that has been happening in recent days and we think there is room for dialogue instead of tearing the country apart,” said Bineta Diop, the head of Femme Africa Solidarite (FAS), a women’s rights organization.

FAS is leading an initiative for peaceful elections to prevent the kind of violence that afflicts many countries in Africa after voting takes place. It hopes the initiative could be a source of mediation between political groups.

“There is no mechanism for politicians to dialogue and we are trying to reach out to them to say sit down and talk and if you need a listening ear we the women are here for that,” Diop told TrustLaw. "Women can be that bridge between the various groups."

Senegalese security forces have clashed with protesters in the capital Dakar and its surrounding suburbs on a near daily basis in demonstrations against President Abdoulaye Wade's candidacy in Sunday's election.

Scenes of youths setting tyres on fire, smashing car windows, barricading roads with wooden stalls and pelting police with rocks while the police retaliate with teargas, rubber bullets and rocks, have raised fears of growing instability in West Africa's most peaceful country.

Members of the "Y’en a marre" (French slang for 'enough is enough') movement spearheaded by young Senegalese rappers say they will not stop their protests unless Wade withdraws his bid to run for a third term.

“Have people been listening to the young people? Most of the times they are left there and treated like monsters,” Diop said.

“What we see as women is that those are our sons, those are our young brothers and we believe we can sit down and talk to them before the situation worsens and they turn into soldiers like in Liberia or elsewhere,” she said.

It was important, she said, that leaders of African countries like Senegal focused on addressing social needs such as expanding education, creating employment and fighting poverty.

The initiative for peaceful elections will be running a virtual situation room where women meet, monitor, brainstorm and decide on action to bring peace during the elections period. It will also train and deploy 50 women from several Africam countries as election observers.

Diop said that such women-led peace initiatives had been successful in the past in West Africa.

She mentioned efforts by the Mano River Women’s Union Peace Network that worked on peace and conflict resolution issues during the civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Analysts have also credited similar peace initiatives by Nobel Laureate Leymah Gbowee’s for bringing an end to the civil war in Liberia in 2003.



A Senegalese woman waits for polls to open at a voting station during presidential elections in the capital Dakar, in this photo taken on February 25 2007. REUTERS/Tientan Ling

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