From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org


WCC NEWS: Mozambique: Transforming guns into hoes


From "WCC Media" <Media@wcc-coe.org>
Date Thu, 01 Oct 2009 15:23:13 +0200

World Council of Churches - News Release

Contact: +41 22 791 6153 +41 79 507 6363 media@wcc-coe.org
For immediate release - 01/10/2009 14:55:34

>TRANSFORMING GUNS INTO HOES

>By Juan Michel (*)

>Free high resolution photos available, see
>below

Seventeen years after the war ended in Mozambique, churches are
still collecting and destroying weapons and cleaning up areas of
unexploded ordnance so the land can be farmed. 

When armed conflicts end, the world's attention tends to fade
away rather quickly. Reconstruction, however, may take a very
long time. Churches in Mozambique know this all too well, as a
team of Living Letters team learnt in late July. Living Letters
are small ecumenical teams that travel on behalf of the World
Council of Churches' (WCC) Decade to Overcome Violence to visit
churches which strive to promote peace.

Early on a Saturday morning, the three-member team made up of
church representatives from Portugal, Switzerland and Brazil left
the capital city Maputo for the community of Chinhangwanine, in
Malengani, a rural area some 90 kilometres north-west of Maputo.
There they witnessed an intervention of Transforming Guns into
Hoes, a programme of the Christian Council of Mozambique (CCM). 

A farmer had discovered a bomb, thrown from an airplane many
years ago, lying half-buried in a piece of land he intended to
farm. The device, together with a number of guns and ammunition
collected in the area, was destroyed by means of a controlled
explosion. 

Known as TAE (by the acronym of its name in Portuguese:
Transformaçaõ de Armas en Enxadas), the church-run programme has
been working since 1995, three years after the signature of a
peace agreement that ended a 17-year-long civil war. The
programme's name is inspired in the vision of the prophet Micah:
"They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears
into pruning hooks". 

Shortly after its independence from Portugal in 1975, Mozambique
entered into a cruel civil war, partly due to its involvement in
the struggle against white rule taking place in neighbouring
South Africa and Rhodesia (today's Zimbabwe). Both parties
committed atrocities that did not spare the civilian population
until a peace agreement was reached in 1992. By then, war and
famine had killed up to a million people. 

Today economic growth is fast, although poverty is widespread,
with more than half of the population of 22 million living on
less than one US dollar a day. Between 2000 and 2002 successive
floods and a severe drought hit the country. 

>What to do in a country awash with weapons

"This programme was the answer to the question 'What do we do
with the guns?' that many people asked within the framework of
the churches' post-war work on dialogue, civic education and
reconciliation", says Rev. Dinis Matsolo, CCM general secretary.

TAE staff collects weapons from communities that hand them over
and in exchange receive some non-monetary goods: working tools,
sewing machines, bicycles and the occasional tractor when the
number of weapons is important. The programme is funded by
development and cooperation agencies from abroad, like Diakonia
(Sweden) and the Ehime Global Network (Japan). 

Armando Chauque, a member of the Apostolic Faith Church and
leader of the Chinhangwanine community told the Living Letters
team they were receiving some construction materials to build
badly needed classrooms for the local school. 

"It is a struggle to convince people to hand over weapons", says
TAE staff Luis Nicolau, who has worked for the programme for
seven years. The main obstacle, Nicolau says, is the lack of
enough goods to be given as incentive. Without them people tend
not to collaborate. 

According to Nicolau, some 18,000 guns and devices were
collected by TAE in 2008. Since the beginning of its activities
the programme collected and destroyed well over 700,000 weapons
and war devices. 

Where do so many weapons come from? According to one estimate,
during nearly three decades of war – over a decade of fighting
for independence followed by 17 years of civil war – some 10
million firearms were put in the hands of Mozambicans. After the
signature of the 1992 peace agreement, trust between the parties
to the conflict was far from being a reality. As a consequence,
many weapons were not handed over but rather buried and hidden. 

Only once trust was progressively being built, not least thanks
to the reconciliation work of the churches, people felt confident
enough to hand over their weapons and to reveal the location of
those repositories. But with time going by, many of them were
forgotten – for instance when the only person who knew about
them died – and so still today hiding-places are being
discovered. 

"Ours was an atypical war", says Boaventura Zita, coordinator of
the TAE programme. "Even after the peace agreement was reached
the rebels did not trust the government, so they hid their
weapons foreseeing the possibility of a new fight. The
whereabouts of many of those weapons are still unknown." 

>Transformation at work

The TAE programme covers the whole country, with some 27 staff.
The destruction of collected weapons and devices is done either
by "cutting" them into pieces in the TAE premises or, if they are
many or cannot be removed, by blowing them up with dynamite. 

This is done by specialized technicians provided by the state
security forces. According to the contract between the government
and the CCM, these are not allowed to intervene in the
negotiations with the communities or to interrogate people who
hand over guns. 

But sometimes the collected weapons are not just destroyed. Many
of them become raw material for art works. The Living Letters
team met Cristovao "Kester" Estevao, who is working on a peace
monument located on the waterfront of Maputo Bay. The work
features a huge earth globe and a dove fully made of parts of
firearms handed over within the TAE programme. This aspect of the
programme has involved several artists over the past years. 

"TAE is a programme focused on transformation", stresses
Matsolo. That is why it does not buy the weapons by exchanging
them against money, but instead offers tools as an incentive. "As
peace is not an individual issue, the communities need to be
involved as such, therefore the incentive goods are also
collective", he explains. "The aim is to mobilize and sensitize
communities for a culture of peace."

>[1,011 words]

(*) Juan Michel is WCC media relations officer.

Living Letters visit to Mozambique and Angola:
http://www.overcomingviolence.org/iepc/living-letters-visits/angola-and-mozambique.html

Photo gallery:

http://superarlaviolencia.org/es/noticias-y-eventos/fotos/visit-to-mozambique.html

WCC member churches in Mozambique:

http://www.oikoumene.org/en/member-churches/regions/africa/mozambique.html

Additional information: Juan Michel +41 22 791 6153 +41 79 507
6363 media@wcc-coe.org

The World Council of Churches promotes Christian unity in faith,
witness and service for a just and peaceful world. An ecumenical
fellowship of churches founded in 1948, today the WCC brings
together 349 Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and other churches
representing more than 560 million Christians in over 110
countries, and works cooperatively with the Roman Catholic
Church. The WCC general secretary is Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia, from
the Methodist Church in Kenya. Headquarters: Geneva, Switzerland.


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