Volume 16 Number 5
Paying the Price of Peace
01 October 2003

John Bond hears from Africans who are risking their lives to end conflict.

Peace carries a high price, and peace-making is difficult and dangerous. That was clear from the experience of many participants in a conference on peace-building initiatives, organized by Agenda for Reconciliation at Caux in August.

Among the 450 participants from 73 countries were people from some of Africa’s worst killing fields–Rwanda, Burundi, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

In the DRC, 3.5 million people have died in civil war in the past five years–more than in any other war since World War II.

At last there is some light at the end of the tunnel. President Kabila, who came to power in 2001 when his father was assassinated, has committed his government to a policy of reconciliation and power-sharing with the rebel forces. At the conference his Minister of Labour, Marie-Ange Lukiana-Mufwankolo, paid tribute to Caux for its role in these developments. Several members of the former government who had had links with Initiatives of Change had helped to implement the new policy and to establish dialogue both with rebel groups and with the countries whom the DRC Government accuses of helping these groups.

Establishing dialogue is no easy task, said Alphonse Ntumba Lwaba, who was until recently Minister for Human Rights. After participating in last year’s Agenda for Reconciliation conference at Caux, he was sent by President Kabila to Bunia, one of the most violent areas of the country, to invite rebel militias to a peace conference.

mission to bunia
One militia group attacked him, leaving him with a broken leg, and held him and his assistant hostage for several days. But, he said, good came out of this experience. ‘God used this fracture to break a heart which was hardened by hate and rejection of those who opposed us.’ He chaired the conference on crutches and saw people deadlocked by similar attitudes begin to reach out to each other.

In May the President asked him to return to the area for further negotiations. The suffering he had seen compelled him to accept. He gathered his five staff, and they set out in a small jet. As they approached the landing site, a stream of bullets and a rocket hit the plane. Hastily the pilot gained height, with the plane on fire and one engine out of action. The pilot put the fire out and struggled to the nearest airport, an hour away at Entebbe in Uganda. As the plane came to a stop they all fled, knowing it could explode at any time.

What about the mission to Bunia? ‘As I looked at the state of the plane,’ he continued, ‘I heard a voice inside me saying, “If you were meant to die, you would be dead. Since you are not, you should continue.” Suddenly I was at peace. That evening, I told the others that I intended to go back to Bunia. They said, “We have stuck with you through everything but now you are asking too much. We just want to get home to Kinshasa.” So I paid for their tickets home, all except my bodyguard, who was obliged to come with me. I told him I believed that God would bring us out safely.

‘There were no commercial flights to Bunia, but the UN put a Hercules at my disposal. As we landed the pilot opened the cargo door, my bodyguard and I jumped out and immediately the plane took off again. In the following days we established dialogue with the military and political leaders and the warlords, and have agreed to meet again in Dar es Salaam.

‘In all this I have learnt simplicity. I have learnt to listen to all sides, not as a government minister but as a brother who is searching with everyone for a solution.’

sierra leone
Another participant in the conference who has risked his life many times in the search for peace was Dennis Bright from Sierra Leone, now Minister for Youth and Sport. His country’s brutal 11-year civil war ended last year. ‘Meetings and agreements between political leaders are not enough to end armed conflicts,’ he said. In his country they had seen the ‘growing prominence of civil society activism as a fearless force for peace’. In 1995 the women of Sierra Leone flooded the streets of the capital, Freetown, which led to the downfall of an oppressive military regime. Three years ago, another mass demonstration brought about the final disintegration of the rebel movement. Many individuals and groups had played a significant role, some losing their lives in the process.

Sierra Leone has now established a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Dr Bright said, ‘which provides the opportunity for rebels, soldiers and vigilantes to confess their crimes in public. Surprisingly, they have been turning up in large numbers. So have men and women who have suffered abuse, who have in some cases offered forgiveness.’

civil society
From Kenya, lawyer Joseph Karanja, who led that country’s Clean Election Campaigns in 1997 and 2002, described the threats they had faced as they worked to rouse voters to stand against corrupt electoral practices. ‘At one point I informed several embassies about the campaign, in case we had to suddenly seek sanctuary.’

Samuel Doe, Executive Director of the West Africa Network for Peacebuilding, summed up the challenge. ‘Failed or failing states are the single most important reason for the terrible conflicts in Africa today,’ he said. Having worked with both victims and perpetrators in a number of these conflicts, he had concluded that peace would only be achieved through the creation of capable states accountable to active civil societies. His network, which operates in 13 countries, is working with governments with the aim of improving structures of governance, and with civil society groups, helping them to establish coalitions of integrity.

‘Africa’s cries of misery can be replaced by the melody of the West African griots,’ he concluded. ‘This can be realized when we work together.’

Unless stated otherwise, all content on this site falls under the terms of the Creative Commons Licence 3.0