Mozambique and the Catholic Church

Andrea Bartoli

Director of the International Conflict Resolution Program of Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and Chair of the Columbia University Conflict Resolution Network

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

Q: Can you tell me a little bit about the Community of Sant'Egidio?

A: The Community of Sant'Egidio is an international, Catholic organization that was founded in Rome in 1968. The community of Sant'Egidio was founded by Andrea Riccardi; who was a high school student at the time. He gathered some friends and started living the gospel. It is fundamentally a religious organization that simply tries to live the gospel through a life of prayer, service, and friendship. It is a very radical call, and has been growing since 1968 quite dramatically, so much that now we have a presence in more than sixty countries. In Africa it is quite astonishing to see how many thousands of young Africans are actually joining the community, always sharing the same committed life of prayer, service, and friendship.


Fundamentally, Sant'Egidio didn't decide to get involved in Mozambique, rather faithfulness to a relationship brought us in touch with Mozambique through a friend who became a bishop. What happened to him was similar to what happened to what happened to many Mozambiquans who were nationally and very strongly in favor of independence, and yet were perceived as problematic by the new regime because they were religiously motivated. 

Catholics especially had a hard time in the new environment because they were perceived to be too close to the old colonial power. He had difficulties in running his communities, he was put in jail, and he was having trouble with the authorities. When he came to Rome to visit the pope, a visit that every bishop needs to do every five years, he visited the community of Sant'Egidio as well. He visited his old friends, and shared his concerns with us. The response of the community was extraordinarily creative. The founder of the community thought it was important to welcome Bishop Gonzalez, this is the name of the person, Jaime Gonzalez, not only in the usual web of friendship and support, giving a little bit of money, a little bit of aide, but more politically. Therefore he organized a meeting with the Archbishop, with the Secretary General of the Italian Communist Party, of the federal government to make sure that a more open tolerant religious federal policy was implemented in the post-independent Mozambique. 


Q: Is the role that the church played in the conflict in Mozambique duplicable, or should it be duplicable in other conflicts throughout the world?

A: I definitely think it is duplicable already. If you look at the situation in Africa it is fascinating to see how often Roman Catholic bishops are actually asked to play a role similar to the one that Bishop Gonzalez has played. On one hand, in a very specific African context, you have at least twenty cases of bishops playing the role of peace maker with different abilities and with different outcomes. The recent agreement in Liberia would not have been possible if it were not for the role of the bishop. You are familiar with Mexico and Bishop Ruiz there. I think it is significant what kind of contribution in that context it was. It is not by chance that when they gave the Nobel Prize to Ramos-Horta, they did want to give one to Bishop Belo as well because his role in East Timor was clearly significant. 

I think that it is actually an underdeveloped field of study of how much the religious groups, and in particular Roman Catholic bishops who play a role. I think Roman Catholic bishops are in a special category because they have a much more pronounced ease in walking the path of politics. This is true partially because they are clearly prominent representatives of a community, secondly because they are internationally well connected, and thirdly because most of the time they are well trained. These are people who clearly have certain kinds of education. What is interesting is that the church can't be identified with the bishops only. The fact that the peace in Mozambique was actually facilitated through an association that is made of lay people gives you some food for thought because it is certainly part of the church, and it is certainly part enjoined, access to information, to understanding, to context that was otherwise impossible.


Could you tell me a little more about your personal involvement in Mozambique?

A: I was in charge of the relationship with the UN for this mediation team that included the founder of the community Andrea Riccardi, the priest, and the Italian Parliamentarian, and this bishop, Jaime Gonzalez. I was coming to New York to explain to the UN what we were doing in Rome. The UN doesn't have embassies so it was important to keep them in the loop. The final peace process was happening and there was a significant role for the UN and the UN were not ready to implement that agreement. It was a moment in which peace keeping operations were many. There was an explosion of peace keeping operations and different role for the UN at the beginning of Boutros Boutros-Ghali's tenure as secretary general. I believed that the lack of preparedness was going to be significant for the Mozambique people so we decided to open an office in NY, and I was asked to come to NY to monitor the UN implementation of the agreement. Because it really doesn't pay anyone, it is a simply volunteer position, I had to look for a job and that is how I ended up teaching at Columbia.

Q: That is a very interesting perspective there that the peace keeping forces weren't ready, so what happened?

A: It took seven months for them to go to Mozambique, while they were supposed to go there in fifteen days from the initial meeting. This is one of the structural problems that you have internationally, because you don't have a standing force. You don't have a UN army. The process calls for states to pledge truces, then a peace keeping operation is organized, and finally troops are deployed, but it takes time; it can't be done in just a few days. It is clearly thanks to the Mozambiquan commitment to peace that the peace was kept more than a the development ability to impose a peace. I think that is a good, fair assessment of the Mozambique experience. It was definitely an experience of deep held beliefs, and deep desire for peace on the part of the people and on the part of the leadership. The leadership was very much able to read this desire of the people and deliver a political project that would respond to that. This is very different from what happened in the Middle East or in some other context. Leaders and constituencies were very much in sync in terms of seeking peace, and what the political process made possible in two and a half years was actually for that to emerge as a credible, sustainable system.

Q: Was that because it was ripe in sort of Zartman's terms?

A: It is certainly something of that, but it was also ripe in Coleman's terms. That is to say, ripe relationally, it was not just about power. It was also in the ability to see each other as partners in a new enterprise that had to do with rethinking Mozambique. Mozambique was never unified and independent in a peace. It was either under colonial rule or in a war. This was the only moment in which it could be conceived as independent, unified, and at peace. It is to the credit of the Mozambiquan leaders that they accepted the necessity of including all Mozambiquan in this kind of project.

Q: People sometimes in reference to Oslo say that lots of things were wrong with the process, but one of many is that people at the top were never able to mobilize their constituency around the agreements in Oslo. How did that get avoided in Mozambique?

A: I think that there was certainly a very strong support for ending the hostilities. You need to conceptualize a country with a population of twelve million, of which four million and a half were internally displaced people or refugees. The level of suffering was unimaginable. The violence of the conflict was really tragic and people were ready for peace. They were so ready that they didn't wait for the UN to organize the repatriation, they just went back to the villages. It was an extraordinary moment of people back to peace.

Q: I am sure there are many, but can you think of lessons learned from the conflict and the intervention into Mozambique?

A: One is that you do want to have careful evaluation of the ownership issue. The process must be owned by the parties. The parties need to be involved, and the parties need to lead the process of not just policy. We like to define Sant'Egidio's intervention as a weak intervention, as a weak strength, the strength coming from eliciting the participation of the parties by simply offering them the space to allow that communication to occur. The lessons are to seek less imposed solution and to seek a more organic, emergent solution that comes out of protracted interaction among actors that have learned to see each other less as enemy and more as partners. These transformative processes take time. In Mozambique it took two and a half years in terms of the negotiations themselves and then much more time for institution building; I would say it is still going on. It will probably take a few generations for it to actually take hold and to be completely effective.

Q: That seems like a fine line to ride between being a convener or a facilitator, but not leading to much toward a solution and maintaining ownership within the parties that are actually involved in the conflict.

A: It is a fine line, but in the reality of the interaction it is less complicated because I think that when you respectfully engage you always keep the possibility of suggesting and influencing the process. Parties will not mind being offered alternatives for new thinking. What they will resent is having those alternatives, those ideas imposed on them. I think that the more you can restrain yourself from exercizing power outright, the more you will find that actually more is requested of you. This is what happened to the team. The team started as a facilitator team and then became mediator because the parties themselves felt that a more leading role was necessary for them to come together in a creative fashion.

Q: Was that ok as a team of facilitators? Do you accept that role? Do you have some vision of the future that says if they don't take more responsibility for what is happening now, we are going to pay for it later even if we do accept this role that they are pushing on us?

A: I think it was a wise move at that point to accept that because it was very clear that the parties were indeed engaging in the process and wanted the facilitator to play a more proactive role because they felt in a way inadequate to articulate all the terms of the agreement. There were major constitutional changes, there major military issues, and there were lots of problems with competence that needed to be handled at the ground. I think that the mediators were clearly in a much better position to secure these kinds of resources that were made available to the parties and always allowing the parties to be the final voice. In a way it was not having the mediator as an army or not having the mediator as a way to impose the solution; that was a fair process.

Q: I wonder if it is easier for a third party to be less active when the parties don't experience tremendous power inequities. Would you say that is accurate?

A: That is definitely a major issue. It was clear in that case. You quoted Zartman earlier, that was definitely the right moment in the sense that none of the two would be able to win militarily.

Q: and they felt it and their constituencies felt it.

A: Yes.

Q: Were there any surprises in that process?

A: Lots of them. The fragility of the process of this magnitude is always extraordinary. We definitely need to learn how to stay with the process for a long time. Still in the making is in a way a true statement. I think that Mozambique is out, you have stable institutions, the Parliament, government, elections and so on. Definitely the idea that you can get out of one hundred years of colonialization, thirty years of an independence war, and sixteen years in civil war in a moment just because you sign an agreement doesn't seem right to me.

Q: Other surprises?

A: I would say that other surprises were the resilience of the people and the way in which people accepted the necessity to invent peace even in the middle of war, how they can think peacefully even in the moment in which violence is around them. Lots of appreciation for the ability of Mozambique leadership to address things creatively; asking an NGO with no prior record to mediate, it was by itself quite an achievement. Another surprise that is more in terms of a paradox is that Mozambique was made possible by the lack of attention of the international community because there was not resources to go after; there were no diamonds, no oil. In a way the international community allowed the Mozambiquans to do what they wanted. But if you compare that with the situations in Iraq, the Congo, or Angola, it is very clear that the highest interest of the international community, the highest is the need for the involvement of the international community as a player and not just as a fake, neutral party, because there is no neutrality. In that sense the Mozambiquan experience is the experience of somehow a perfect form of isolation. The lack of interest was actually provoking a positive outcome.

Q: That is interesting because the conventional wisdom is to presume the opposite, as in something like Guatemala that gets no attention and as a result has tremendous brutalities and massacres that are allowed to happen without much attention. I wonder how that plays. Obviously it is one of many factors, but that is fascinating. Well, great. Should we talk about anything else relevant that you think people should know about?

A: Many things. I think that they can continue to think about Mozambique, the role that Mozambique has been playing in the region, always very peacefully trying to solve conflict, that would be a plus. The more that we can recognize that a success story is stronger if the success story is recognized, the more we will empower people, relating to it, and telling the stories, and making it stronger in the making. It is not insignificant that Mozambique is now the new president of the new African Union. I think that we need to recognize that for a state that was so recently going through such a bloody war.

Q: They are in a position to do that because they are an example, because they have a new capacity of peace making?

A: I think it is because they were true to the spirit of the agreement. They were seriously committed to it and they created a solution to make sure that it was not just a rhetorical argument, but actually an orientation that was made true through the policy of the government and the people.

Q: Were there dialogues at the community level in Mozambique?

A: Very much so. More after, than during, but definitely there is quite an extensive network of participating institutions doing peace work at the grass work level.

Q: and those dialogues were some how connected to institutions?

A: They were connected through churches and through civil society organization. There is this beautiful moment that you ask for surprises when one of the lead negotiators read the name of his parents in the list of parishioners that were signing a petition for peace in Mozambique.

Q: Wow.

A: These were parents that he could not see for more than ten years because he was living in the bush so when these thousands of signatures were given to the delegates he went for his village and found his parish and found his parents. That was certainly a moment of great commotion, and it definitely had an impact. There are moments of that sort in which the country in a way came together in its search for peace.

Q: I feel like we have talked about examples of the top level of John Paul Lederach's triangle with your group talking and facilitating and coming up with negotiations and community dialogue. Is this a case where there are demonstratable efforts in the middle section of the pyramid that has access to the top and access to the bottom at the same time? Is that where the church fits in?

A: I would say certainly that partially it is the church, and partially it is also the business community. The business community played a very important role in facilitating. It was not much in terms of structure or controlled dialogue. You didn't have much of a middle range intervention or interactive problem solving kind of workshop where things were planned to be in the middle. Mozambique's middle class is not that huge or not quite developed, there are several reasons for that not to happen, but it is definitely the case where you have quite a significant consistency of different levels in John Paul's model.

Q: What role did the business community play?

A: They facilitated dialogue and contact between the two, similar to the church, much less prominent but similar to that.

Q: There were business sympathizers on both sides? There were partisans on both sides?

A: There were also multi-nationals that were interested in areas controlled by both. They facilitated contact so that in a way a political solution would emerge.

Q: Thank you so much.

A: I hope that the interview will be helpful.