EX-COMBATANT PEACE PROMOTERS, AND A CARDINAL: The first two substantive days of the research here in Mozambique have been going very well. Plus, my new research assistant (and elder daughter) Leila Rached joined me here on Sunday afternoon. It is a real blast having her here working with me! And in our hours off, the two of us are able to do various things around town that I alone, as a foreign woman, would be much more hesitant about doing.
Yesterday morning, project research associate Salomao Mungoi took us along for a long discussion with his boss Jacinta Jorge, the head of an organization of ex-combatant peace promters called ProPaz.
ProPaz is such an amazing and inspiring organization! It has more than 100 former combatants (from the civil-war era) who currently provide peacebuilding and conflict-resolution/transformation services in four of the country’s provinces. It includes former fighters with the government (Frelimo) forces alongside former fighters from the insurgent (Renamo) side– working together these days.
ProPaz was founded by two of the main organizations of former combatants from Mozambique’s punishing, 17-year civil war: AMODEG, a general veterans’ group, and ADEMIMO, an organization of disabled former fighters.
We (well actually, Leila) took pages and pages of notes from our discussion with Jacinta. She told us a little about her own personal journey through having been virtually “tricked” into serving in the country’s armed forces when she was still a teenager, through her rise in responsibilities in the officer corps (including the stresses of trying to raise a child alone while her husband was at the front-line) — to her eventual demobilization.
She told us that AMODEG had started out as an organization only for former soldiers in the Frelimo (government) armed forces. But that even before the Frelimo and Renamo leaders had signed their nationwide peace accord in October 1992, AMODEG had decided to take in former fighters from Renamo as well, and had changed its name accordingly.
I reflected a little on my recent experiences at ICTR, and with the Rwandan issue more broadly, and asked Jacinta whether she thought that the people who had committed the many atrocities that marked her country’s civil war should also have been punished.
Firstly, she responded by coming back to me with another question. “If they were punished, would that bring an end to the war, or prevent another war from happening?” she asked.
Then, she said it was actually important not to judge people for what they had done during the war, since their participation in it was often obligatory, not voluntary.
Finally she noted that no amount of reparations could replace the lives or limbs lost during the war.
So I guess that adds up to a “no.”
But what a wise person she is. “During a war, both sides are blind to the dimensions of the violence they are inflicting on the other side,” she said. “People may say at the political level that there is ‘bad’ war and ‘good’ war. But war is war, and it always results in the killing of people.”
In the afternoon (still on Monday), we went to the AMODEG heaquarters, which are located on a site that used to be a logistics headquarters for the army diring the civil war — and that a long time before that had played a historic role in the pre-independence foundations of Frelimo. Now, the roof of the main building on the site, a lovely old Portuguese colonial mansion, has long since fallen in. AMODEG’s office is in a squat, more recently built block of offices behind the old mansion. And behind the office was a playground, where during our conversation tw dozen high-spirited md-teens were having a rowdy and enjoyable game of soccer.
That seemed appropriate, because one of the questions I was asking the four civil war veterans seated with us was how they talked about the events of the war with their own children.
By and large, they said they didn’t do so. “There are so many ugly things happen in war,” one of them said, “that we really doin’t want to alk about them with our families.”
One of the things I’m asking people during this phase of the research– especially people who have had close-up experience of war and violence– is what priorities they would establish for societies that are just emerging from recent episodes of atrocious violence. An AMODEG board member was the first to reply: “psycho-social rehabilitation should be the priority,” he said. “Both for individuals, and collectively.”
When the Mozambican parties reached their peace acord in 1992, the UN invested significant amonts of money and attention in trying to help the process of demobilizing former combatants and then helping them reintegrate into society. (I say “significant”, though of course the amounts of money involved in helping deal with more than 90,000 former combatants here absolutely paled in comparison with the billion-plus dollars invested thus far in trying just 50 or so people from rwanda in ICTR.)
I asked the friends gathered at the AMODEG office whether they thought– ten years after the fact– that this UN program had been helpful. “The main gain we got from the whole event was the coming of peace itself,” one AMODEG activist told me. “Because people were so tired of war!”
Again, I asked them if they thought people should have been tried and punished for what they did during the war. “It wouldn’t have made any sense in our situation,” one said, “because everyone would have been in court!”
This morning, we went to see Cardinal Alexander Dos Santos, the frail but ethereal leader of Mozambique’s Catholic church. He had played a historic role, back in 1988-89, in finding a way for the leaders of both Frelimo and Renamo finally to sit down together and start negotiating a final peace.
Dos Santos received us in an upstairs office in his leafy headquarters compound. It was a short meeting, but Leila and I both felt we were in the presence of serene, humorous, grandfatherly, and almost saint-like figure. He laughed as he recalled a visit he and Archbishop Tutu had paid to the US in 1988, when their mission had been to try to persuade the Reagan administration that the frelimo government was not nearly as “communistic” as it had been painted.
recalling the overall process of peacemaking in Mozambique, he said all the churches had had a special role to play: “We had to work hard to create an image of all Mozambicans living together, rather than fighting,” he said. But he immediately aded that actually the task had not proved so dificult. “When Frelimo came back from the bush– well, they might know that this or that person might have killed someone– but it’s finished!” he said.
… All these conversations I’m having here seem to underscore the validity of the judgment that anthropologist Carolyn Nordstrom expressed in her fabulous book about Mozambique’s civil war, “A Different Kind of War Story.” “The citizens in Mozambique demonstrated the most sophisticated country-wide conflict resolution practices and ideologies I have observed anywhere in the world.” (p.11)
Of course, I’m trying not to go into these encounters with my mind already made up from my previous reading and my one very short earlier vsit to Mozambique. I’m going to continue to look for counter-evidence. But in the meantime, continuing to explore the various different dimensions of Mozambican people’s “conflict resolution practices and ideologies” is something that I’m definitely committed to doing here.


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