Essay by Dorothy

Dorothy wrote this essay for the Society of Medical Writers about why she got involved with Abdul’s work.

Peace in Africa Vain Hope or Work in Progress?    Abubaka

“How would you feel if some men came along, captured you and made you stand in a queue waiting for an amputation?” 

In this country there is a general feeling of antipathy towards asylum seekers and refugees. They take our jobs and housing and live on our benefits. We should stop them coming. That is quite a common view.  It is often forgotten that many of our refugees, particularly those from Africa would prefer to stay in their own countries with their own people but wars and famine make it impossible for them to do so. 

Over the past few years I have been fortunate to meet several young men and women from the African subcontinent who are all intelligent, caring people and desperate to help the suffering in their own countries.

Adrian from Burundi, a Hutu, was escaping from his home town, when he was stopped by his own people. They were going to shoot him because they thought he looked like a Tutsi. He was saved by his friends who vouched for his identity.  Adrian was shocked by this incident. He could not understand how his own people could have wanted to shoot him. He vowed that when all this was finished he would work to bring healing and peace to the community. 

After the war and the killings were over, Adrian helped set up an organization known as AGLI, African Great Lakes Initiative, where groups of Tutsi and Hutu are brought together to get to know each other. They learn that there is little difference between them and that they should work together to rebuild their land.  These meetings always start with food. Most of the people are hungry and a person with a hungry belly is not a very responsive one. Food is a great healer and a social ice breaker. Groups have several meetings together. It is hoped that they will then go back into their communities and spread the word.  The operation has been highly successful. Groups have forgiven each other and subsequently work together for the benefit of the community. But the project is small and needs to be rolled out to other areas. 

Ben Muzzanzi and his wife Kongosi, managed to escape from the Congo with five children. Two of the children were those of a colleague who had watched as their parents were butchered to death by the rebels. Ben and Kongosi were fortunate to get out and leave their homeland behind and rescue the five children. They came to Britain with the idea of learning how to make things better for their own people. They were both accepted for the Peace studies M.A. course at Bradford University. They wish to set up a networking pattern in the Congo similar to the one in Burundi but conditions are more difficult. I believe that some work is going on in the Congo but clearly the situation is quite tense. They have been supported by various Churches in Britain and also by organisations like the tear fund. 

 How would you feel if you found yourself waiting in a queue for an amputation? 

One day during the war Abdul Kamara from Sierra Leone found himself in the amputation queue.  The rebels were systematically removing arms or legs from all those who they saw as a threat to themselves. Even babies and small children were subjected to this mutilation. People were given the choice of a long sleeve or a short sleeve but the result was the same. Amputation and the resulting disabilities.

Abdul decided to run.  He expected to be shot but for some reason he wasn’t. Perhaps there was actually no ammunition in the guns which had been used to threaten them.  He was a good athlete and could run faster than his pursuers. He was later helped to escape from the country by canoe.

 During the war years he had seen his father killed, his sister raped and a cousin killed as well as numerous friends and other relatives. He felt no bitterness and decided to spend his life working for peace in his own and the surrounding countries. His reactions were similar to those of Adrian; he wanted to make sure that his countrymen never again behaved in such a manner. 

During 2002 he was helped to come to the UK to do a Peace Studies M.A. at Bradford University where he met Ben and Kongosi.  He was very successful in his studies and was later invited to do a PhD. For his thesis he spent many months visiting rural villages in Sierra Leone which were by now enjoying an uneasy peace. He was trying to assess the many problems which exist and making an analysis of the necessary conditions for recovery. 

One of the lessons which he learned was that many of the fisherman and farmers had had amputations and were now unable to work. He raised funds in the UK and was able to send money to help small scale projects to assist people to learn farming and fishing skills. He provided equipment but of course much more is needed. 

He has been very much influenced by the Quaker emphasis on peace.  And in 2003 he became a member of the International Quakers. He was able to start a Quaker Meeting in Freetown and later to set up his charity Quaker Peace Networks West Africa. His wife helps him with his work. They are part of the Peace Networks Africa movement which has projects in South Africa, East Africa and the Great lakes Area. He is helped by several friends from Sierra Leone who have had similar experiences and who also managed to escape and do the Peace Studies course at Bradford. 

His present plan is to build a peace centre in Rokel, Freetown. I am told that in the war Rokel was the centre of many atrocities. I don’t think I can start to understand what happened there because it is beyond my imagination. 

The centre will be a place where people can come together and learn techniques in non violence. There will be a library and a local school will be re-housed. (It currently meets in a shack which had no roof on it until Abdul found some money for a new roof to be put in place.)

Others will learn new skills which will help them to earn a living. He even hopes to include a health centre. His ideas are ambitious and the problems are immense. Apart from the lack of necessary finance, poor electricity and water supplies are obstacles which need to be addressed. The plan is for the centre to generate its own electricity and have its own wells and develop a sewerage system.

The project to build the centre has already created a sense of community. People are giving their skills free of charge. Others are learning on the job. They develop new skills which will help them at a later date. They are a keen well motivated bunch, desperate that in the future there will be no more violence. I am told that everyone is so shocked by the war that they never want it to happen again. Indeed I have spoken with some whose experiences during the war have left lasting scars but their whole attitude now is to want to bring about peace.  

All the volunteers at the centre see their work as a way to move towards a better future. No-one is paid. Abdul’s brother is overseeing the work, he is a building contractor. He gives his services free of charge.  He has been able to find the right sort of clay and borrow a brick making machine for them to make their own bricks.  No British standard bricks for them, they are all home made. 

Two men who are now good friends and worked well when clearing the land were on opposite sides during the war. They were war lords fighting and inciting their men to fight and kill each other. Both have now renounced violence and together are helping the work towards a peaceful future. 

These two symbolise the hope which exists when the local people start working for themselves. 

All of these people are working towards a better future in Africa. They are ordinary people who are working at a grass roots level to improve the situations in which their countrymen find themselves. They all say that the future lies with the African people.  We have interfered in their affairs for so long. The slave trade, colonialism, missionaries have all had their effect. But these people feel that they are grown up now. They need our support, our advice and our money but they would like to do it themselves. They still face many threats. Foreign landowners are taking over large tracks of land to grow food. Pirate fishermen are taking fish from the coastal waters and Governments are colluding with all this.  The wars could all flare up again as mercenaries from other countries come back to stir up trouble. In Sierra Leone there is anxiety about what will happen should the British army leave the area. 

Can local people be helped by people like Abdul, Ben, Kongosi and Adrian to make a difference? Let’s pray that the future brings them success in their projects and the world takes some steps towards becoming a better place.