Angola

Angola: Mozambique Church Council leads way to peace

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Story by Thomas Abraham
Too young to join his country's independence day parade 30 years ago, Dinis Matsolo watched his cousin carry a torch in a relay from the Rovuma River to Maputo.

When Mozambique's 16-year civil war came to an end, he was in seminary in South Africa.

But today, as general secretary of the Council of Churches of Mozambique (CCM), he is no longer on the sidelines. Neither is the Council, which helped mediate Mozambique's peace accord in 1992 and oversee municipal elections last year. As a result, one of Africa's most troubled countries is experiencing long lasting peace - and is now taking the lead in peace efforts in Angola.

Church World Service support was crucial to the work of the Council, Rev. Matsolo says. "CWS has been instrumental from the beginning, when no one wanted to support us. Our success is due to that initial support."

Church World Service support helps the Council strengthen partners in Angola and other Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa. In addition to support for exchanges between Portuguese-speaking countries and organizations, CWS also supports CCM's core activities.

With CWS assistance, CCM has streamlined its management and accounting practices. CWS support for PEDRA, a program to educate and empower young girls, enables them to stay in school longer and make informed decisions about their sexual behavior. CWS also supported CCM in responding to the floods of 2000, the worst of the century to hit the country.

In the decade between the peace accord and the elections, CCM has been involving the country's churches in actively rooting a culture of peace in the community. "Politicians are the ones who make war, but they don't die in the war," Matsolo says. "So you can't concentrate on them only. You have to concentrate on communities even though politicians are stakeholders."

According to Matsolo, the churches understood that silencing guns was not the same as having peace. "The 1992 accord opened the doors but we were faced with the question how members-and combatants-of the two major warring parties Renamo and Frelimo could live together," Matsolo recollects. "And how could we bring about democracy and contribute individually and collectively to the culture of peace?"

CCM's answer was to design a trauma-healing program. "It was not an overnight process, but like nurturing a tree," says Matsolo.

One dramatic offshoot of CCM's trauma healing program is sculpture. A strutting iron bird, plumed with the magazines of automatic weapons. An angular drummer, shaped from other instruments of war. The sculptures grew out of a CCM program to collect and destroy the weapons left in the hands of former fighters. In exchange for the weapons handed over by demobilized soldiers, their families, and communities, CCM provides sewing machines, bicycles, and other means of peacetime livelihood. CCM engaged an artists' association to reshape the former weapons into symbols of peace.

In 2002, CCM addressed another crucial issue with its "I have AIDS" project. The Council's Youth sector held seminars to enable church leaders to provide practical and moral guidance.

In sharing its lessons on peace and AIDS with Angola, CCM is once again stressing the role of the church and the community. After Angola's 2002 peace accord, Matsolo asked at a July 2003 conference there: "How many peace accords have you signed as a country? Why are they not successful?" His answer: "Because of neglect of the role of the communities."

One reason churches must be active in rooting peace in the community, Matsolo says, is that churches have been partly responsible for instigating war.

"If you talk in a discriminatory way in your congregation, it contributes to war. If parents buy toy pistols for their children, what kind of knowledge are we transmitting to the younger generation?"

As in his own country, Matsolo says Angola's church leaders must be sensitized to the role they can play in addressing AIDS.

"If politicians speak, they are heard in a partisan manner, but church leaders' messages are heard widely," he says. "Our people respect church leaders, so their message is accepted by the community. If we talk about HIV-AIDS from the pulpit, then people say this is a reality, because the church is speaking about it."

Media Contacts:

Ann Walle, CWS/New York, 212-870-2654; awalle@churchworldservice.org
Jan Dragin, CWS, 781-925-1526; jdragin@gis.net