October 4, 1992 was a Sunday. An Israeli airplane had crashed in Holland, near Amsterdam. In Italy the president was Oscar Luigi Scalfaro and Giovanni Spadolini presided over the Senate. The foreign minister was Emilio Colombo. It seems like a different world. In the morning, in an unusual way, the foreign ministry was open. There were a lot of us from the Community of Sant’Egidio who came for the final signing of the Mozambique general Peace Agreement. Without passes.
A special morning. The signing was planned for October 1. Several African heads of state and government ministers had come to Rome, from Pik Bothe (South African foreign minister at the time) to Robert Mugabe (president of Zimbabwe) together with Renamo and Frelimo delegations headed by Raul Domingos and Armando Guebuza. Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama and Mozambique president and leader of Frelimo Joaquim Chissano were also there.
Among the remaining issues after 26 months of negotiations, in 11 rounds, at Sant’Egidio, there was one basic problem. Who was to control the territory during the transition, before the first round of democratic, universal elections? Who had sovereignty? How could the guerrillas be assured that the cease-fire would be respected? And how could the government be assured that the areas still under guerrilla control would not break up national unity or signify reduced sovereignty? For three days international mediators worked non-stop between the two sides’ headquarters in Rome.
Andrea Riccardi, Mario Raffaelli (representing the Italian government), don Matteo Zuppi and Msgr. Jaime Gonçalves, archbishop of Beira at the time, were there. Others were there for support, acting as go-betweens Then there were the people that offered support, acting as go-betweens from the negotiations to the outside world (Italian public opinion to a lesser degree) that was waiting to find out if there was going to be a true peace or if it were just a dream. Especially in Mozambique, where people were still suffering, dying and hoping.
Finally, late at night on October 3, agreement came on the last protocol, before the General Peace Agreement. Signing took place the next day: the Mozambique government maintained sovereignty over the entire territory; administration of separate regions was assigned by the government to the local administrators, be they either from Renamo or the government, according to the actual distribution of power; a compensation chamber, mixed and super partes made up of mediators and representatives of the two sides, was created to settle controversial cases.
On the evening of October 4, after the evening prayer in the basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere with Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, manifestations of spontaneous joy and singing went on for an hour. In Mozambique too the nightmare that cost millions of lives was over. All you could hear on the streets in those days had been silence and uninterrupted radio broadcasts as the population waited desperately for the good news that was late in coming.
The beginning of the journey
It all started in July 1990 after years of civil war, famine, suffering, refugees and international failures. The Community of Sant’Egidio hadn’t “chosen” to be a direct player in international diplomacy. It loved that population and was interested in peace as the only chance for interrupting a spiral of violence that claimed so many victims, including some of the Community’s own youths. We had worked to mitigate confrontation and the problems faced by the Catholic Church and other worshippers as well as the missionaries based in the country. We promoted Pope John Paul II’s first meeting with president Samora Machel when the latter stopped in Rome on his way back from the United Nations. We passed the Mozambique government’s “exam” when we launched aid programs for the population through the Mozambican chapter of Caritas and local Christians, gaining personal credit with the leadership class trained in Europe at the Sorbonne and the Sociology Department of the University of Trento: Marxist-Leninists, nationalists, Mozambicans.
But the Pax Romana – as Le Monde called it – was not conceived at a table. For years we had heard that “everything is lost in war” and that war was truly “the mother of poverty”. We had explored the possibility of getting a national effort of dialogue underway with some Mozambican government representatives when the two sides still branded each other “bandits” and “murderers”. We established a relationship with the leadership of an anomalous guerrilla group that had very few international contacts (and, therefore, little international bargaining clout).
From the first meeting at Sant’Egidio, when the sides agreed to the method proposed by Andrea Riccardi (“leave aside what divides and start working on that which unites”), to the signing of the first joint protocol, in which the sides saw each other as adversaries in the conflict but considered themselves “brothers of the common Mozambican family” and publicly announced the desire to start negotiations, we were the “facilitators”.
Again in August 1992, during the second round of negotiations, when the two sides couldn’t agree on the choice of one or more governments to act as mediators, we were officially asked to carry out the role. The “Sant’Egidio method” gained ground along the way, as a practical and historical necessity. Thus a mix of a knowledge of the problems on the ground, credibility that had no other ambition than peace and reconciliation, a weakness (Sant’Egidio isn’t a state or a elements together (social and political factors, religious and ethnic complexity, historical knowledge), combined action with others and with interested governments (keeping the roles distinct), attention to the human factor as a primary issue in the negotiations, the art of co-existence and friendship, capable of deciphering languages….. A common language was developed through which the demonization of the other side gave way to the discovery of a political field to replace military confrontation as a solution of differences of opinion and of the forces on the ground.
It wasn’t easy . Twenty-six months of negotiations were long, although at the beginning it seemed as though it would have been resolved in a matter of months. But a mentality of peace had to be created, a trust that was not yet there. A warrior had to be transformed into a politician. There were military problems of security. There were deaths still occurring. The people were dubious, the missionaries, close to the suffering of the populations, were tempted by impatience. Why so slow? Paradoxically, that slowness was one of the secrets of the success of peace and its duration: we are about to celebrate its twentieth anniversary. The negotiations themselves were a key to success: to negotiate is to pay attention to the details. And this was to be useful, years later, to put an end to the war in Ruanda, to negotiate a peace agreement in Burundi, where Sant’Egidio was to help reach the cease-fire, disarmament, security for everyone and preservation of the memory of the genocide.
The very method of negotiating was a “school of democracy” for both sides: language, rules, mechanisms and mentalities. And it would become still more useful in the following two decades.
*by Mario Marazziti Board member and spokesman of the Community of Sant’Egidio.