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Interview with Sr. Elisabeth Drolshagen sscc


What would serve sustainable peace

Mozambique is a country whose people have suffered centuries of war and violence. After almost 500 years of colonial occupation and exploitation by Portugal, the country gained independence in 1975. However, 16 years of civil war followed, which further devastated the country. The peace agreement reached in Rome in 1992 through the mediation of the Catholic Community of Sant'Egidio and the Catholic Church in Mozambique led to a ceasefire, but peace in one of the world's poorest countries in the world is still very fragile today.

Sister Elisabeth, can we say that there is peace in the country?

If peace means the silence of the weapons, then there is peace in large parts of Mozambique, despite the social tensions and apart from the violent attacks by the so-called Islamic State (IS) in the north of the country. But the situation is fragile. The people want change. They want their wages to be paid; they want the culprits who have contributed to the country's debt to be punished accordingly; they think people should be able to express their opinions out loud without fear, even if they are critical of the government; that corruption is genuinely combated and that those responsible are accountable; that the country's wealth benefits the development of the country and its people and not seep into the pockets of a few.

The upcoming presidential, parliamentary, and provincial governor elections in Mozambique on October 9 this year and provincial gubernatorial elections in Mozambique are also exacerbating tensions. After local elections in October last year, the Mozambique National Electoral Commission declared the ruling party FRELIMO the winner. The opposition parties RENAMO and MDM, which had already drawn attention to irregularities in the run-up to the elections, contested the election results. Parallel vote counts by a consortium of independent election observers under the leadership of the Catholic Church revealed that RENAMO won a handful of municipalities, including in the capital Maputo for the first time. Mass demonstrations were violently repressed by the police, resulting in widespread violence after the election. All indications are that the incumbent party FRELIMO will do everything in its power to emerge as the sole winner in the forthcoming elections in October and could thus extend its authoritarian autocracy. Mozambique's multi-party system would then largely only exist on paper.

Have the areas where the Islamist fighters ruled been "pacified" in the meantime?

No, the violence in the north is not under control, and I don't think it will come under control any time soon. Since October 2017, villages, and small towns in traditionally Muslim coastal districts of the northern province of Cabo Delgado have been the target of armed attacks attributed to jihadist groups. Mozambicans trained in Somalia and Kenya are said to form the core of a militia called Ahlu Sunna wa Jama (ASWJ). However, the complex situation in the province does not allow for clear attributions. In addition to the infiltration of jihadist groups from abroad that openly declare their allegiance to the "Islamic State" (IS), internal factors also play a role in the violent unrest:

  • Rivalries between the various ethnic population groups.
  • The impoverishment and lack of prospects of marginalized young people, who feel abandoned by the elite in the south, makes them susceptible to the promises of religious leaders and warlords.
  • Various large-scale economic projects by international corporations such as Total, ENI, Exxon Mobil, and others, which are attracted by the wealth of raw materials there - especially natural gas - and see their investments at risk.
  • A negligent and absent government: The FRELIMO government has long played down the problem and prevented reporting from the conflict areas with harsh persecution of journalists. The capture of two district capitals has shown that the army is incapable of pacifying the north of the country. Finally, at the end of 2019, the government tried in vain to drive out the insurgents with the help of Russian mercenaries from the "Wagner Group". Their place has since been taken by a private South African mercenary company, the Dyck Advisory Group (DAG). In May 2020, Mozambique turned to the defense and security body of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which deployed Rwandan forces to the area.
  • International drug trafficking networks: It is believed that the terrorists in Cabo Delgado may be financed by drug trafficking. Mozambique is identified by several international organizations as a transit corridor for international drug trafficking to Europe and the United States of America.

Why is the security situation in Mozambique often so fragile?

When people feel that things are going downhill instead of uphill; when some get richer and richer, but the majority earn less and less; when politicians do not implement their election promises; when election results are not recognized - then all of this contributes to people losing patience and looking for ways to express their frustration. I have to say that the Mozambicans I have met are against violence and want to live in peace. But when young people can't find work; when, due to climate change, the harvests fail; when the wealth of the natural resources in the north and the many financial aid packages don't reach their destination, then anger and despair grow.

How do you assess the economic situation in the country? What role do the economic interests of international players play in Mozambique?

Mozambique is a country with many young people, and only a few find a job. The government encourages people to become self-employed after training. But who can afford to buy the necessary materials, tools, and such? Many people live "hand to mouth" and there is a large black market. On one hand, it can be said that economic investment by international players can contribute to the country's recovery by creating jobs. However, the extent depends on how the profits are distributed and who benefits from them. The interests of international economic players must not lead to the state, and therefore its population, falling into a new form of colonization.

Can "external" aid contribute to the stabilization of the country?

The question is what kind of aid we are talking about. Are we talking about aid that contributes to the reconstruction of regions devastated by Cyclones Idai and Kenneth in spring 2019, for example? They destroyed numerous villages and thousands of family homes, killed hundreds of people, and flooded entire regions due to heavy rainfall. Or of aid and projects that try to combat hunger and poverty, to enable and ensure that children can attend school? In these cases, I think that "external aid" can help to stabilize the country. This at least applies, if they are used in such a way that they involve the recipients instead of patronizing them, that they take into account the interests of those affected, and do not make any distinctions - religion, origin, or others - in their cooperation with the people.

What can people themselves do to lead a sustainable life in peace and security?

In all the years I have lived in Mozambique, I have never had the impression that people want war and insecurity. What the people want is to live in peace, to get on with their daily lives; to have enough to eat, to do their work and receive a fair wage for it; to build or extend their houses; and to be treated kindly and effectively in the health centers. They want social justice and progress. In democratic countries, including Germany, our fellow citizens have the right to express our opinions publicly, denounce grievances, and such. These rights are also enshrined in legislation. These rights are also technically enshrined in Mozambican legislation. But if people want to make use of them, they are quickly dispersed by the security authorities. What needs to be worked towards is that people are allowed to exercise and enjoy their rights; that the current government is willing to genuinely cooperate with other groups, be they political or civil society; that it allows other opinions and seeks ways to invest the country's wealth in improving infrastructure such as roads, schools, health centers, job creation, etc.; that they ultimately benefit the population. Corruption at all levels must be overcome, elections must be conducted fairly and transparently, and the results must be respected. In this case, the international observers who accompany the electoral process are in demand.

What does the population of Mozambique want from the EU member states and what do they want from churches and civil society organizations?

I think that they would like international institutions to be more critically invested in the rights and welfare of the population; to ensure transparency in negotiations and the awarding of contracts for the extraction of raw materials; to ensure that the fundamental rights of the people are taken into account; to ensure that aid is provided so that the people, the population, decide for themselves and are not decided for them by the rich states or the rich and powerful in the country. What I admire in Mozambique is the peaceful coexistence of the different religions. Even the violent, terrorist attacks by the "Islamic State" (IS) do not affect the peaceful coexistence of the different religions. This is a task for the various churches and faith communities: to continue to do everything they can to consolidate peace and prevent violence. In addition, the states of the EU, the churches, and civil society organizations are expected to act as a mouthpiece for those who have little or no opportunity to draw attention to grievances in their country.

Elisabeth Drolshagen SSCC comes from Münster. She is a trained carpenter and occupational therapist. In 1997 - at the age of 35 - she joined the Spanish Province of the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts. Since 2007, she has lived and worked - with brief interruptions in Spain - in the Lar Mamana wa Kurula orphanage in a village south of the Mozambican capital Maputo. She is also involved in the pastoral work of the parish of Beata Clementina Anuarite.

(Taken from Apostel magazine)