Basirat Nahibi-Niasse is the founder of Women Advancement for Economic and Leadership Foundation in Africa (WAELE Africa), a non-profit focused on empowering African women, economically and politically as well as ensuring their participation in peace and conflict transformation across 52 countries on the continent.
AN: The Women Advancement for Economic & Leadership Empowerment Foundation in Africa (WAELE) has been in existence for nearly 15 years now; what inspired the founding of this organization?
This organization is a child of necessity! I was the president general of the Better Life Program for African Rural Women (BLPARW), which was a pet-project of Her Excellency Late Maryam Babangida, the former Nigerian first lady, established in September 1986. However, we had some kind of misunderstanding, the people who founded the BLPARW in Nigeria felt that I was not a military officer’s wife – so I shouldn’t be part of it – thus I left and it was when I left BLPARW that we started WAELE AFRICA in Nigeria.
Therefore, I will say that it is indeed a child of necessity, we had mobilized people from within and outside of Nigeria; hence, we felt it would be unkind of us to abandon the people we had already mobilised. So, we had a meeting with my colleagues and it was unanimously agreed that we should not just forsake them. And that was how WAELE AFRICA was founded.
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AN: What is the vision of WAELE AFRICA?
WAELE AFRICA was established to empower African women, economically, politically as well as to ensure the participation of women in peace and conflict transformation. In these three areas, we have done a lot across Africa. Amongst others, we organise an annual international peace summit which in 2017 was held in Tanzania while in 2018, it was held in Namibia and this year’s, which is the 9th, is going to be held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Likewise, we have done a lot in the area of economic empowerment and as they say: “Charity begins at home.” So, we started by empowering women in Nigeria. For example, in Akwa-Ibom state, women were empowered with equipment such as cassava processing machines, palm oil processing machines, sewing and knitting machines. Women in Borno state were given milling machines, sewing machines and knitting machines as well; while in Ondo state, milling machines were also distributed to women.
We also have a financial empowerment programme for widows under which we have empowered widows in the states of Benue, Adamawa, Cross River, Enugu, Kebbi and Lagos. This year, we are going to empower women from across 18 states of Nigeria and also from across Africa. Hundred women will be given the sum of twenty-thousand naira each at zero interest rate; they are not going to return the money to us, instead when the widows return the money it will be put in a revolving fund to empower another set of hundred women, and so on. So, the money remains in the state.
This is what we have been doing across Africa – in countries like Kenya, Namibia, Chad, Mauritania, and Niger Republic. When women loose their husbands – who in most cases are the breadwinners of the family – life becomes difficult for them. So, we are going to empower 200 more widows from across 20 African countries including Nigeria. We are giving to them 100 USD dollars each at zero interest which will later be returned to the WAELE AFRICA executive in the respective countries to empower more sets of women.
Based on our 2019 action plan, the widows’ financial empowerment program is starting on the 5th of March 2019 across the selected African countries. In addition, the foundation laying ceremony for WAELE AFRICA women and children specialist hospitals will also commence across the continent, this year. They are specialist hospitals that will exclusively cater for the health needs of women and children; in Nigeria, we are building one in Lagos state and another in Katsina state. More so, we are going to build similar hospitals in Ijara District of Garissa County in Kenya, Zanzibar in Tanzania, Manicaland province in Zimbabwe, as well as in Banjul, The Gambia.
Furthermore, the WAELE AFRICA 2019 pre-summit meeting will be held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia between July 18 and 22, 2019 while our annual executive meeting is going to be held in Nairobi, Kenya; it is scheduled for July 24, 2019 and will be followed by a 3-day leadership training focused on transformative women leadership for our members from across Africa, scheduled for July 25-26, 2019. We are also going to provide 50 water boreholes in Nigeria and Ghana, while in South Sudan we are going to provide water treatment plants for some rural communities where there`s no available clean drinking water.
The 9th WAELE Africa International Summit on the Role of African Women in Post Conflict Reconstruction: Reconciliation and Rehabilitation will be taking place from October 31st to November 3rd 2019 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The summit is dedicated to South Sudan with a focus on the involvement of women in post conflict resolution. In fact, initially it was going to be hosted in South Sudan but because of the unrest that is currently bedeviling the country, we agreed on Addis Ababa, since Ethiopia offers visa on arrival.
This is because last year, we had training in Nigeria and it was difficult for our members to come to Nigeria, which is why we are now looking at countries that offer visa on arrival, like Rwanda, Kenya, and Mauritius. Lastly, we are going to provide financial support to women-led Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) in Africa to carry out projects.
AN: How do you now feel about WAELE AFRICA, in terms of the successes that you have achieved so far?
When we started it was basically WAELE Nigeria but now we have been registered as an African organization. Fifteen years of WAELE AFRICA has not been easy, it has been very challenging but we have made giant strides. We have resolved disputes between countries – diplomatic issues. For example, in 2008, there was a dispute between Sudan and Chad. Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir closed Sudan’s border with Chad and the embassy of Sudan in Chad. I led a group of 28 African women to Sudan and we were able to resolve the issue. Later on, in 2014, we provided relief materials to the victims of the conflict in South Sudan.
Recently, we received an invitation letter from the embassy of Burundi; they invited us to help resolve the conflict between Rwanda and Burundi. However, we have not been able to do anything about it; but I hope that in the future we are going to proffer solutions to it. Thus far, I feel we have done quite great things in different places and I’m grateful that God is using us as a tool to make impact on the lives of people. I am happy we are making a lot of impacts!
AN: What are WAELE Africa’s plans for African women, going forward?
We have quite great plans moving forward; as for now, WAELE AFRICA publishes a monthly magazine, in both French and English. Apart from that, we now have our certificate for the WAELE AFRICA Women Television – the first of its kind in Africa – so we are already in the process of setting that up and we already have our license.
AN: What role will the WAELE AFRICA Women Television play in advancing the cause of women on the continent?
It will give voice to African women and showcase all those African women leaders that have achieved great things in their country but have not been recognized. So, in essence, WAELE AFRICA Women Television will promote and defend the rights of women in Africa and bridge the gender gap on the continent.