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Conflict has raged in Mozambique for decades, but the churches are always there

Conflict has raged in Mozambique for decades, but the churches are always there

Photo: Juan Michel/WCC

03 September 2020

Conflict has ingrained itself in the people of Mozambique for many decades from the days of Portuguese colonial rule, to the ensuing civil war which only ended this century, and now Daesh along with the unseen enemy of COVID-19. So, the churches have their hands full as peacemakers.

"Before and after Mozambique's independence in 1975, the Christian Council of Mozambique (CCM) contributed to national pacification in many unrecognized ways. This was possible because the 'problem' was known, therefore possible to deal with," says Rev. Dr Felicidade Naume Chirinda. She is a Presbyterian minister and chair of the board of the CCM.

"These days, Mozambique is afflicted by three wars, namely the armed conflict in Cabo Delgado that started in 2017, the armed conflict in the central provinces of Manica and Sofala that started in 2019, and the coronavirus that is affecting the entire world," she said.

Armed conflicts and natural disasters

Chirinda said that present armed conflicts have different motivations while he also noted that parts of Mozambique have also faced recent natural disasters.

She quoted the letter of the Apostle Paul to the Ephesians 6:12-15. "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of the age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places”

"Therefore, take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day….and having shod your feet with the preparation of the Gospel of peace."

The minister said the actions of the churches these days fit into Paul's verses that call for a deep understanding of the scriptures, courage and commitment.

"It took time for us as a church to understand this condition," said Chirinda.

She issued his observation as the International Committee of the Red Cross on 2 September said that attacks on towns and villages in Mozambique's northern province of Cabo Delgado have intensified.

The attacks had forced thousands of people to flee by foot, boat or road to the provincial capital, a COVID-19 hotspot where the Red Cross helped build the country's largest treatment centre.

"It is a sobering thought for Mozambique and Southern Africa as a whole that, at the time of writing, a growing insurgent army with links to  Islamic State remains in control of Mocimboa da Praia in Mozambique's northern Cabo Delgado province," South Africa's Daily Maverick newspaper wrote on 30 August.

The Mozambican National Resistance, the main opposition party in the country accused armed forces of the state of killing civilians in Cabo Delgado, so the conflict is becoming more complex, according to Deutsche Welle.

Formed in 1976, the Mozambican National Resistance was once backed by apartheid South Africa against the ruling Frelimo movement which it saw as Marxist. In recent years it has been the main opposition political party.

Peace groups

When the first attacks happened in 2017, the churches created peace groups composed by people of all faiths to prevent, help and create spaces of mutual support and contact with local leaders.

"These groups were recognized by the government and were able to prevent some attacks until December last year. This interaction with peace groups allowed the CCM and its partners to support those affected by the Cyclone Kenneth," the strongest such storm known to have landed in the southern African nation, in April 2019.

"Our understanding of the armed conflict in Cabo Delgado changed this year due to the way attacks are organized, to the discourses and articles written by Mozambicans and foreigners, to mention just a few," said Chirinda.

"As a church, we now understand that the conflict in Cabo Delgado is not only internal. Therefore, it is calling us to understand the Scriptures and to find support in God."

Since the attacks became more frequent with "God's people being killed, their homes and belongings destroyed and burned," Chririnda said churches and civil society are collaborating. She called for dialogue, distributing goods and providing comfort through the "Word of God.”

Rev. Dinis Matsolo, bishop of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, Mozambique Synod said, "The big question is who are these people who create terror and havoc in Cabo Delgado—and what do they want?

"To date, the attacks of the so-called 'insurgents without a face' have claimed at least 1,059 lives since October 2017, destroyed a lot of infrastructure including many houses, and uprooted over 250,000 people. The situation has worsened since then, affecting about 9 of the 17 districts of that province and it is now affecting neighbouring provinces, especially Nampula that has become a refugee camp."

In resource-starved Mozambique that neighbours Malawi, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia Eswatini and Tanzania, about 50 percent of the 30 million people are believed to be Christians while about 19 percent, mainly in the north, are Muslims.

"This war is above our earthly capacities, it calls for strong faith, order and prayers with hope but, above all, for God's intervention," said Matsolo.

The Mozambican Church has always been involved in peace processes in the country, having made a massive contribution to the process that led to the signing of the Mozambican 1992 Peace Accord held in Rome.

'Creating dialogue space'

"In Cabo Delgado, we have been working on creating 'dialogue spaces' by establishing inter-religious peace groups in affected districts."

"And for the central region, we are working on approaching the leadership of the military junta to seek ways of taking part in constructive dialogue. So, the church is indeed playing its role, being part of the solution."

Matsolo said he will soon visit both Cabo Delgado as well as the camps in Nampula for insight into recent developments and will report back to the churches.

He said the church encourages president Filipe Nyusi to continue the efforts at dialogue to put an end to the suffering of the people.

"We salute in particular his understanding that the solution to the crises is more than military when he declared that 'the solution to the problem of Cabo Delgado is not just military. We recognize the need to boost socio-economic development and promote greater social harmony.'

"This pronouncement opens wider the doors for our involvement in peacebuilding efforts and support to the uprooted families. We will certainly need a lot of prayers and support from the wider ecumenical movement," said Matsolo.

WCC member churches in Mozambique