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The Chameleon and the Buffalo: Peace Boat passengers learn about trauma and reconciliation in Mozambique

Photo: At the port of Maputo, Peace Boat arranged an arts and music cultural festival with partners in Mozambique. The festival featured traditional Japanese arts such as Taiko drumming, and Mozambican dances. (Joseph Hincks)
At the port of Maputo, Peace Boat arranged an arts and music cultural festival with partners in Mozambique. The festival featured traditional Japanese arts such as Taiko drumming, and Mozambican dances. (Joseph Hincks)

The power was out at the Cidadela das Criancas orphanage and the visitors from Peace Boat waited in the dark canteen. Somebody switched on a torch and then, a shriek: shiny bugs swarmed the open windows at the new light; they collided with faces, popped on the vinyl tablecloths and scuttled over laps. “At that point, I just wanted to go back to Japan,” said 21-year old passenger Jinno Akari later.

When Peace Boat docked in Maputo on December 18, Jinno joined a small group of passengers on a two-day programme to learn about reconciliation initiatives after Mozambique’s civil war, which claimed the lives of more than 1 million people between 1977 and 1992.

Photo: Mozambique has seen an influx of foreign capital in recent years, however the majority of its population still works in industries such as agriculture and fishing. (Joseph Hincks)
Mozambique has seen an influx of foreign capital in recent years, however the majority of its population still works in industries such as agriculture and fishing. (Joseph Hincks)

Portugal’s colonization of Mozambique, which ended when the Europeans abruptly pulled out of the country in 1975, is regarded as particularly divisive and destructive – even in the context of African colonialism.

Mozambique’s late first President Samora Machel reportedly said that while lions ate Kenya and Senegal, Mozambique was eaten by hyenas.

As Mozambique struggled to rebuild its economy after independence, unrest– fueled and fanned by a South African apartheid regime nervous about its newly independent northern neighbor – began to grow. The subsequent civil war between the Soviet-aligned Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO), which had previously taken up armed struggle against the colonizers, and Mozambican National Resistance (RENAMO), an anti-communist group sponsored by the Rhodesian Intelligence Service and South African’s apartheid government, raged for 16 years.

Today, Mozambique is considered one of Africa’s ‘frontier economies.’ Bolstered by political stability, major foreign investment in natural resources, and steady macroeconomic management, GDP per capita has tripled since the end of the civil war 22 years ago.

However the peace treaty between RENAMO and FRELIMO, whose presidential candidates have been elected since the end of the war, has looked fragile over the past three years, with skirmishes breaking out periodically.

As the Peace Boat group would later find out, economic inequality also continues to afflict the country.

 

Reconciliation through the State

Photo: Vicente Coberto, National Director of the Department of the History of the National Liberation War welcomed Peace Boat passengers to the Ministry of Veterans Affairs. (Joseph Hincks)
Vicente Coberto, National Director of the Department of Liberation War History, welcomed Peace Boat passengers to the Ministry of Veterans Affairs. (Joseph Hincks)

After passing 25th of September Avenue, named after the date of the 1964 commencement of Mozambique’s Liberation War, the Peace Boat passengers visited the Ministerio de Combatentes (Ministry of Veterans’ Affairs) at the invitation of the FRELIMO Government.

In a government meeting room, Vicente Coberto, National Director of the Department of Liberation War History, addressed passengers seated around a lacquered table. “We are in the process of reconciliation and there are difficult steps along the way, but we are confident that each step is leading us towards the harmonization of the country,” he said through an interpreter.

Since 1992, Mozambique has participated in international conferences for reconciliation in Colombia, and for disarmament in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe.

“The war destroyed factories, destroyed families; it destroyed everything,” said Coberto. “It was a war of terrorism. But the foundation for reconciliation can be found in the fact that the soldiers were forced to fight. They were forced to do it, so they can forgive each other for what happened.”

Among government policies to prevent further conflict and promote inclusive growth was the provision of affordable loans to between 60,000 and 70,000 former soldiers. The government has also set up a programme through which former soldiers can exchange weapons for industrial equipment such as tractors and other agricultural tools.

“The programmes for ex-soldiers aim to change their mindset, and provide a socio-economic incentive so that they will realize that they can contribute to the country without using weapons,” said Coberto.

Photo: Francisco Cabo, a former soldier in Mozambique’s Liberation War addressed visitors from Peace Boat. (Joseph Hincks)
Francisco Cabo, a former soldier in Mozambique’s Liberation War, addressed visitors from Peace Boat. (Joseph Hincks)

Former soldiers Francisco Cabo, who fought in Mozambique’s liberation war, and Celestino Amos, who fought in the civil war told participants about some of the complexities of reconciliation in the country, and the importance of patriotic education in rebuilding it. However, the group’s tight itinerary meant there was little time to ask questions of the former soldiers.

“The things they shared with us were very factual; things that you could look up,” said 22-year-old Ashikari Shogo later that evening. “Perhaps because of the language issues it was difficult to pick up the nuances, but in my opinion they weren’t ready to share their personal accounts of the war.”

Another Peace Boat passenger added, “The officials mentioned the need for patriotic education for a united Mozambique, and I was wondering what direction this was taking. For me, the idea of patriotism is quite controversial.”

Mozambique has made remarkable progress in reconciliation since the end of the war, however a spate of kidnappings and service disruptions in 2013 set alarm bells jangling. An 2014 article in The Economist speculated that the prospect of a resources boom in Mozambique could ‘sharpen elbows’ as FRELINO and RENAMO vie to control foreign capital and award work contracts.

 

Reconciliation through the Family

Photo: Children hung out with Peace Boat passengers at Cidadela Das Crincas, in Maputo’s Costa do Sol neighborhood. (Joseph Hincks)
Children hung out with Peace Boat passengers at Cidadela Das Crincas, in Maputo’s Costa do Sol neighborhood. (Joseph Hincks)

According to Coberto, civil society groups who are likely to be closer to fighters than government play an important role in informing former soldiers of the support programmes available.

NGOs have also been crucial in supporting some of the child casualties of Mozambique’s civil war.

After their trip to the ministry, the Peace Boat group visited the Cidadela das Criancas (Children’s Town) orphanage located in the Costa do Sol neighborhood of Maputo. Cidadela operates under the auspices of ADPP-Mozambique, a member of the Federation Humana People to People.

The tour bus carried participants out of Maputo’s central business district and onto a dirt road than ran parallel with Mozambique’s coast. On one side of the road fishermen hauled their catches onto the beach, on the other side, inundated huts jutted from the flood planes.

Cidadela Director Américo Tomás leaned over the front seat to provide some background on the orphanage, which was established in 1991 to care for children orphaned by the civil war. Its adjacent school also accommodates children from neighboring areas, he told the Peace Boat group. In addition to the regular curriculum, orphans learn vocational skills such as sewing, carpentry and animal husbandry.

Photo: Peace Boat participants helped to sand and paint a classroom at the orphanage. (Joseph Hincks)
Peace Boat participants helped to sand and paint a classroom at the orphanage. (Joseph Hincks)

Because Peace Boat’s visit coincided with Christmas holidays in Mozambique, almost half of the orphanage’s 42 children were staying with relatives found through Cidadela’s family reintegration programme.

Susana Clotilde Campina, a volunteer from Portugal who works at Cidadela said, “Most of the children have relatives, but not the kind of family they can live with all year. We do the integration with the families, step by step.”

“Sometimes it’s not that the parents don’t want to have the children, it’s that they can’t. Family reintegration is important but it has to be managed very carefully; if it doesn’t work it’s worse for the kids,” she said.

Photo: Limited water availability is a continual challenge at the orphanage. (Joseph Hincks)
Limited water availability is a continual challenge at the orphanage. (Joseph Hincks)

For Peace Boat participants, conditions at the orphanage were tougher than expected.

Trips to the squat toilets were a tandem operation, whereby one passenger would hold a torch for another. Although the orphanage had provided mosquito nets for the Peace Boat visitors, most were unaccustomed to sleeping on bare mattresses in an open room.

The hardest thing, participants said, was the need to limit water usage. Cidadela currently has one water tank and is fundraising to develop its water storage infrastructure – by the afternoon of the second day many Peace Boat passengers were thirsty.

Nagai Misato from Ehime said, “During the day, I left a water bottle unguarded. I noticed that the children had taken the bottle and had drank the water inside.”

Tomás later told the group that while the water usually lasts until 11 am, it had run out at 8 am during their stay. “When I heard this, I remembered how I had washed my face that morning and immediately regretted it,” Nagai said.

Photo: The school and orphanage are open to the new highway in Costa do Sol. (Joseph Hincks)
The school and orphanage are open to the new highway in Costa do Sol. (Joseph Hincks)

Besides water, Tomás said that Cidadela’s other big challenge was security. At the back of the orphanage, behind fields where goats and piglets grubbed, lorries clattered by on a recently constructed highway.

To make it more difficult for strangers to enter the facility, and for children to wander onto the highway, Cidadela is running a campaign to build a perimeter wall whereby individuals or corporations can sponsor a set number of bricks.

Costa do Sol’s new highway is an example of the rapid infrastructure development in Mozambique, one of the fastest growing economies in Africa.

But Tomás said that although new construction had altered the visible landscape, the country’s poorest continued to struggle. “The government said that the salary will be raised, but in reality this is not true because other things also get more expensive. Before, people could buy what that they needed at the market; now they have more money, but they can’t buy the things that they need,” he said through an interpreter.

Commentators have suggested that Mozambique may start to show signs of the resources curse– sometimes referred to as Dutch Disease – in which an influx of foreign capital into the natural resources sector can cause high inflation, disadvantage other sectors, and destabilize the economy.

According to the World Bank, around three quarters of Mozambique’s population work in the agricultural sector, whose exports would be hit hard by such changes.

 

Reconciliation through Art

Photo: Circumcision rituals in Capo Delgado inspired Tomo Mateus’ recent paintings. (Joseph Hincks)
Circumcision rituals in Capo Delgado inspired Tomo Mateus’ recent paintings. (Joseph Hincks)

When Peace Boat participants met Tomo Mateus on December 19, he was adding green paint flecks to a new work in a corridor outside one of Cidadela’s bedrooms.

The spindle-legged figures that haunted his latest work came from circumcision rituals in Cabo Delgado, near the Tanzanian border. For these rituals, Mateus said, adults dress in ceremonial masks to scare the children, and enduring the initiation is seen as a proof of manhood.

Mateus came to Cidadela at nine-years old, and was the first of the NGO’s orphans to attend university. He has since illustrated a book for a Portuguese writer, and exhibited work at the Museu Nacional de Artes (MUSART), Mozambique’s largest art museum.

But when he first arrived at the orphanage in 2001, Mateus would only ever draw chameleons.

“When I came here everything was different; different people, different places, and I felt like I needed to adapt and find a way to behave,” he said through an interpreter.

Photo: Tomo Mateus worked on a new painting in a Cidadela hallway. (Joseph Hincks)
Tomo Mateus worked on a new painting in a Cidadela hallway. (Joseph Hincks)

When his partnets died, Mateus went to live with an aunt before it was decided he should be moved to Cidadela. Back then, there were around 800 children at the adjacent school – a number reduced by Cidadela’s management in 2008 – and Mateus said that the teachers had struggled to control the students. Mateus, who spoke a northern dialect, was an outsider and could not understand most of the other orphans.

Under the tutelage of a Cidadela art teacher, events that had impacted Mateus’ life started to appear in his paintings. “There used to be some buffaloes here, and the adults put them in the circle and they fought while the children watched. I had this image very clear,” he said of one recurring theme in his work.

Although Mateus does not expect to be able to support himself financially through painting, he said that it had helped him cope with the changes in his life. “Sometimes the influence of the older kids was not good, and new arrivals needed to find their way alone. Most of the kids that come through the orphanage and have a good life are the ones that do art like paintings and ceramics. Normally it is these kids that find a way through.”

While at Cidadela, Mateus won a scholarship to visit Spain, where he met painters from other countries and discovered abstract art. When he came back to Mozambique, he began to collaborate with local artists and now exhibits frequently.

Photo: After their stay at the orphanage, Peace Boat passengers visited a Maputo beach with children from Cidadela, and gave them a brief tour of the ship. (Ogura Akiko)
After their stay at the orphanage, Peace Boat passengers visited a Maputo beach with children from Cidadela, and gave them a brief tour of the ship. (Ogura Akiko)

As they mingled with the many passengers who had headed for the South African border and the big five of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, the Peace Boat group discussed their experiences in Mozambique.

For Jinno, the orphanage had been a challenge. “There was a huge gap between their lives and my own life. I had been to an orphanage in the Philippines before, but the infrastructure [at Cidadela] was far more basic,” she said.

Jinno said she was considering volunteering overseas after Peace Boat, and that staying at the orphanage had strengthened her resolve. “I was grateful for the chance to interact with the people in Mozambique,” she said. “You can read about how people live or watch it on TV, but being there and physically feeling it is important.”

 

Most interviews for this piece were interpreted from Portuguese and Japanese to English by Terachi Ami, who works for Peace Boat.

Comments

  1. Hugo
    Germany
    July 4, 2015, 3:00 pm

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    http://www.humana-alert.org.uk/index.html

  2. Veronica
    America
    January 4, 2015, 1:43 am

    Humana People to People is a network of 32 organizations engaged in international solidarity, cooperation and development in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas.
    http://www.youtube.com/user/HumanaPeopletoPeople
    http://www.slideshare.net/HumanaPeopleToPeople
    http://womenintheworld.org/solutions/entry/humana-people-to-people