Monday, December 19, 2022

Ulrich Bachmann: The Dream of a Life without Violence

Today’s post is by Ulrich Bachmann, CEO of Connexio hope and develop. The peacebuilding activities of The United Methodist Church, East Congo Episcopal Area, described in this article are supported by Conenxio develop. The article originally appeared on the website of the Swiss United Methodist Church. It has been translated by David W. Scott and appears here by permission.

Peace is a costly and at the same time fragile good. In the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the churches themselves are part of the conflict, but also search for ways to overcome it. In any case, people there know exactly what they want when they work for peace.

The year that is coming to an end has clearly shown that peace is in no way a self-evident matter and is not obtained without effort. Peace is costly and at the same time very fragile. Many people on this earth are still denied peace.

A narrowing
In the Western world there is the tendency to individualize peace, like so many other things. Yet peace is not a private matter, but rather it always concerns one’s neighbors in one’s immediate and broader surroundings.

Under difficult circumstances
In South Kivu Province in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, The United Methodist Church is committed to the peaceful coexistence of the various people groups. It is deeply impressive how people employ themselves for peace despite enormous challenges.

Complex causes
Often the conflict in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is portrayed as an interethnic conflict. Even when many conflicts are carried out along ethnic lines, their causes are more complex than the differences that exist between the various ethnic groups. Claims to political power, questions of law, and access to increasingly scarce natural resources mix with regional and international interests into an explosive cocktail.

Moreover, in most cases, the violence is carried out by armed militias that are financed, among other means, through illegal trading of raw materials and by political decision-makers.

Great suffering for many people
Those who end up suffering are the people who live in the region. They are forcibly expelled and lose their livelihoods. They carry the suffering of the many victims that the conflict claims. They are exploited and lose trust in neighbors from other people groups.

Meanwhile, over 1.3 million internally displaced people, who have been forcibly expelled from their homelands, live in South Kivu Province. Women and children are thereby also frequently exposed to increased sexual violence.

Communities with potential
In South Kivu Province, as in other regions of the country, religious communities play an important role in society. Often they are active in the educational and health sectors and make an important contribution to social cohesion. On account of their values and ethics, religious communities are predestined to employ themselves for a good coexistence between the various people groups.

Caught in ethnic violence
The reality is, however, much more complex. The churches are part of the conflict as well as part of the solution to conflict. The chairman of the Commission for Justice and Peace of the Catholic Church in Uvira says that the churches are also caught in the trap of radicalism and ethnic violence. Ethnic identity does not stop at the church doors. Many churches wear the ethnic labels of their leading figures.

A pastor from the vicinity of Baraka, a region that has suffered greatly from interethnic conflicts, confirms that it can be different: “When our village was attacked by armed groups, we fled to Baraka. We were accepted by the Methodist church and accommodated regardless of ethnic affiliation.” With that, he stressed that a critical discussion of the roll of the church in conflict transformation is important. Only thus can the church contribute to the pacification of the region.

Messages against hate
Since 2018, The United Methodist Church in the East Congo Episcopal Region has been engaged in supporting peaceful coexistence in the highlands of Uvira and Fizi. To work against hate messages on social media, journalists from various people groups were mobilized under the coordination of Michel Kizibisha to formulate messages against hate and for a peaceful coexistence. The messages were broadcast over local radio stations.

Building bridges
The radio messages have been well received in his area, says Jacques Muzingwa, a journalist that worked on the formulation of the radio messages. The messages built a bridge between the various ethnic groups whose relationship was very strongly characterized by mistrust.

Michel Kizibisha, coordinator of the peacebuilding program, says that through the radio campaign a large number of people from all ethnic backgrounds can be reached at the same time. It is a good opportunity to build awareness within the population of respect for human rights and the constitution.

Stopping injustice
The absence of functioning government structures and the multi-layered conflict in the region have led to a situation where the population often resorts to a sort of vigilante justice or lynch justice. That heats up the conflict situation even more. It is often young men, without work and without prospects, that resort to vigilante justice.

Strengthening the law
Under the leadership of Michel Kizibisha, representatives from women’s groups, young men, and officials such as representatives of churches have been invited to discuss the problem of lynch justice in order to make a contribution to sensitizing the population to the negative and inhumane consequences of lynch justice. The problem of a missing or biased system of law cannot be remedied in this way. Yet this is an important step towards ensuring that people are not convicted by the public though innocent and without a fair trial and must often pay with their lives. Women in particular, who have often already experienced earlier violence, become victims of this lynch justice.

Further work
Antoine Muganza, a fuel dealer from the region, took part in a seminar on this topic and said that the Methodist church must absolutely work more on this important topic. It also means that the women and young men must be more strongly included in order to make a difference. Antoine Muganza realized how important a functioning judicial system and the presumption of innocence are.

To be able to live without violence
The situation of people in South Kivu Province is shaped by very many difficulties. The hope remains that conflict will be transformed and a peaceful coexistence is possible. Aline Nansukura from Uvira expressed it in very moving terms: “Peace is for the dream of a life without violence.”

No comments:

Post a Comment