Mozambicans turn arms to art

Recover weapons, transform them into artwork, and then trade them for tools. That’s the innovative idea behind a Christian Council of Mozambique program to create a “culture of peace” in a nation still recovering from 16 years of civil war.

The project is showcased in a simple villa on la Rua d’Argelia, in the heart of Maputo, which has become the focus of both the lives and exhibitions for many artists. Inside the house are paintings and traditional wooden statues. Outside are triggers, barrels and butts from pistols and machine guns, cartridges and other munitions forming sculptures of strange and disturbing people and animals.

The same materials are also built into furniture, chairs and sofas of unique design but uncertain comfort. Beside this surreal display, artists gather bits of weapons recovered through the “Turn Guns Into Hoes” program, created five years ago by the Christian Council, which represents 20 churches, with the exception of Roman Catholics.

People bring in weapons, which are then broken into pieces, in exchange for bicycles, farm tools and building supplies. The artists then receive some of the destroyed weapons.

“As of today, we have recovered 200 000 arms,” said Dinis Sengulane, Mozambique’s Anglican bishop. That’s a drop in the ocean. After 16 years of civil war, the United Nations estimated that Mozambique had 67-million weapons in circulation around the country.

But the bishop says numbers don’t matter as much as that “we have been able to show that it is possible to change an industry of weapons into an industry of peace” and to make “weapons of war into objects that inspire peace.”

The program will remain in place “for 10 years, 20 years, 30 years if that’s what it takes,” he said. Both the sides in the war, the ruling Frelimo and the former Renamo rebels, have given a “very positive” response to the project, Sengulane said.

“Former combatants from both sides are participating,” he said. Police and soldiers also help collect and destroy the weapons, but they do so in civilian clothes to avoid frightening people who might be scared to hand over their guns.

For those who are afraid, they can remain anonymous and simply inform regional authorities of where they left the weapons for collection. While proud of his success, Sengulane still regrets that the program receives no financing from the government or the international community — support that could boost weapons collection, now concentrated in the south, throughout the country.

In addition to the churches’ effort, Mozambique’s army and police, sometimes along with their South African counterparts, regularly recover and destroy arms.

Ten years after the war, no one is sure exactly how many weapons have been destroyed. What is known is that those weapons are now part of a significant illegal gun trade throughout southern Africa, a business that sometimes takes place with the complicity of corrupt police and military officials, one western diplomat said on condition of anonymity. – AFP

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