Deel Op

The signing of the Mozambique general peace agreement was planned for the 1st October 1992. Several African heads of state and government ministers traveled to Rome to join several members of the Sant’Egidio Community, a group of lay people dedicated to prayer, evangelization and solidarity. After 11 rounds of negotiations at Sant’Egidio over 26 months, there remained one basic problem: who was to control the territory during the transition before the first round of democratic, universal elections? This issue prompted many more questions: 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 with the leaders of each side in Rome.
Many people who offered support—especially in Mozambique, where people were still suffering, dying and hoping—were waiting to find out if there was going to be a true peace or if this was just a dream. Finally, late on the 3rd October, agreement came on the last protocol, and the signing took place the next day, a Sunday. The Mozambique government maintained sovereignty over the entire territory. In practice, the government assigned administration of separate regions to local administrators, whether from Renamo or the government, according to the actual distribution of power. And a commission of Sant’Egidio mediators and representatives of the two sides was created to settle controversial cases.
In those days all you could hear on the streets in Mozambique was uninterrupted radio broadcasts as the silent population waited desperately for good news. On the 4th October, after evening prayer in Rome’s Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere with Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, the joy and singing went on for an hour. In Mozambique the nightmare that had claimed one million lives and resulted in millions of displaced and starving people was over.

The Sant’Egidio Method
It all started in July 1990 after years of civil war, famine, suffering, refugees and international failures in Mozambique. The Community of Sant’Egidio had not “chosen” to be a direct player in international diplomacy. It loved the people of Mozambique and was interested in peace as the only chance to interrupt a spiral of violence that claimed so many victims, including some young people of Sant’Egidio. Sant’Egidio had worked to mitigate confrontation and the problems faced by the Catholic Church and other Christian worshippers as well as the missionaries based in the country. Sant’Egidio was instrumental to Pope John Paul II’s first meeting with President Samora Machel when the president stopped in Rome on his way back from the United Nations. Sant’Egidio passed the “exam” of the Mozambique government when it 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 Trent, Italy, where the Red Brigades had studied for “revolution.”
But the Pax Romana—as the French newspaper Le Monde called it—was not conceived at a table. For years Sant’Egidio had said that “everything is lost in war” and that war was truly “the mother of poverty.” Sant’Egidio had explored the possibility of a national effort of dialogue with some Mozambican government representatives when the two sides still branded each other “bandits” and “murderers.” Sant’Egidio established a relationship with the leadership of an anomalous guerrilla group that had very few international contacts and, therefore, little international bargaining clout.
Sant’Egidio facilitated the first meeting, when each side agreed to the method proposed by Andrea Riccardi, the founder of Sant’Egidio: “Leave aside what divides and start working on that which unites,” echoing Pope John XXIII but at a diplomatic level. When the first joint protocol was signed, the sides saw each other as adversaries in the conflict but also considered themselves “brothers of the common Mozambican family” and publicly announced the desire to start negotiations. A Ferrari Spumante wine bottle and a first photo together celebrated the event.
Again in August 1992, during the second round of negotiations, when the two sides could not agree on the choice of one or more governments to act as mediators, Sant’Egidio was officially asked to carry out the role. Along the way the “Sant’Egidio method” gained ground as a practical and historical necessity. The group had many strengths: a mix of knowledge of the problems on the ground; credibility that it had no ambition other than peace and reconciliation; combined action with others and with interested governments, keeping their roles distinct; attention to the human factor as a primary issue in the negotiations; the art of co-existence and friendship; and the ability to decipher languages. These factors developed a common language between the two sides through which mutual demonization gave way to the discovery of a political field to replace military confrontation as a solution to differences of opinion and the forces on the ground.
It was not easy. The 26 months of negotiations seemed long. At the beginning it seemed as though it would be 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. Deaths were 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. The negotiations themselves were a key to success. To negotiate is to pay attention to the details. 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 two decades that followed.

The full article by Mario Marazziti also appeared in print, under the headline "Lessons in Peace," in the November 19, 2012 American Magazine issue.


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