Creating a Culture of Peace: one less weapon at a time. A story from Mozambique by Theresa Wolfwood

The fragile peace of the impoverished African country of Mozambique rests uneasily on caches of thousands of weapons left over from sixteen years of civil war.

“Maintaining a Culture of Peace Requires an Economic Solution.”

Albino Forquilha, coordinator of the “Transforming Arms into Ploughshares” Project of the Christian Council of Churches explained to Canadian peace and development activists recently how this project helps his country. After the devastation of the civil war, Mozambique has a high level of unemployment and of violent crime. Ex-combatants, many of whom are illiterate and lack job skills feel bitter and marginalized.

A project that includes them and their knowledge of arms caches makes them feel important and rewards them with basic materials for making a living. In return for turning in weapons, the participants are given building materials, bicycles, sewing machines, seeds, tools and other equipment to help them contribute to rebuilding their own lives and their communities.

Reconciliation between supporters of FRELIMO – the governing party and RENAMO – the South African backed rebels, now a political party are an important part of the project.

Forquilha was himself a child soldier. At thirteen he was in charge of defending his school from rebel attack. Educated as an engineer in Germany, Forquilha saw that his country needed social development more than engineering and got involved in this peace project.

The UN commission at the end of the war collected 200,000 weapons but this local group knew there were many more hidden throughout the country. In its first year of operation

Lino Cut © Oona Padgham

12,000 weapons were collected. Last year over 68,000 weapons were turned in. The project which operates in only 25% of the country has been asked to expand and now donors in Canada, (CUSO is the principal donor) Japan and Germany are requested to increase their support so that more peace building equipment can be distributed.

At present only individuals are involved but plans include building community centres for needy adults to get job training, literacy classes and counseling for war trauma. Forquilha says there is a great need for information dialogue on AIDS and IV to end the traditional taboo on discussion of sexual matters. The political support for the two parties is very much a rural-urban split. The project wants to initiate a exchange of youth and to encourage a reconciliation dialogue between rural and urban youth, so that violence will not erupt again in Mozambique.

Hopes to recycle the weapons metal are unrealized because the industrial capacity to treat the metal does not exist in Mozambique. Most weapons are taken to remote dumps and blown up by the military. With the help of metal cutters some weapons are used in a unique and successful way.

Nucleo de Arte, the sculpture component of the Ploughshares project transforms weapon parts into art. This welded sculpture has been displayed and sold throughout Europe and North America. One of the artists, Gonzalo Mabunda, sees his work as highly symbolic of the power of creativity; he transforms instruments of death into objects of beauty.

There are hopes to build a peace museum to display the art, and to explain and teach the culture of peace. At present, the sculptors are all men; some women make paintings, but welding remains a male skill. More diversity might come with a museum and teaching facilities, but again economic solutions are needed. Museums are a luxury, in a land where daily life is a struggle.

One poignant example of the difficulty of building a capacity for self-development and overcoming poverty is the project of some churches. They collect war toys from children who receive biscuits in return. Peaceful toys are rare and expensive luxuries, like museums, and Forquilha worries about the flood of violent films and videos from abroad.

Forquilha addressed the neocolonialization of Africa. While the wealthy nations talk about helping Africa, Mozambique is crippled by debt repayment- 70% of its income goes for interest alone – and social restrictions imposed by IMF and World Bank. Development projects, like a massive aluminum treatment project employ a handful of locals while 99% of the profits go to rich G8 investors. Resource rich Mozambique wants equitable development and much promised debt relief to maintain its tenuous peace and give its citizens a dignified life. And, as Forquilha emphasizes, peace needs an economic solution.