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Bishops in Southern Africa Urge Regional Community to Intervene in Mozambique’s Crisis

Children walk outside houses at a refugee camp in Pemba/ Credit: Denis Hurley Peace Institute

Catholic Bishops from nine countries in Southern Africa under their umbrella body of the Inter-regional Meeting of the Bishops of Southern Africa (IMBISA) are calling on the regional economic blocs to focus their attention on the ongoing crisis in Mozambique owing to the protracted violence.

The Bishops have come up with a set of other proposals for the troubled African country and for the entire Southern African region after their Tuesday, April 27 meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The meeting was aimed at assessing and reflecting on the socio-political and ecclesial situation in Angola, Botswana, Swaziland, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Sao Tome and Principe, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.

In a report published by IMBISA on Wednesday, April 28 following the meeting, the Bishops paid particular interest to the hostilities in Cabo Delgado, Northern Mozambique covered by the Catholic Diocese of Pemba where they noted that locals had been forced to flee owing to insurgency.

In the report, the Bishops observe that the displacement of over half a million citizens in the Cabo Delgado Province meant that many residents “have been unable to enjoy a normal life where they can raise their children in peace and tranquility.”

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“The aged too, having spent many years in that land, have been uprooted and forced to flee. This means that they cannot enjoy the beauty of old age which allows them to keep a certain relationship with the land in which they grew up,” the members of IMBISA say in their statement signed by their President, Bishop Lucio Andrice Muandula.

They express their appreciation for the positive efforts by the Church and other bodies who they say continually assist the victims of violence in Cabo Delgado.

“In particular, we wish to express our support and prayers for the Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Pemba and Auxiliary Bishop of Maputo António Juliasse Sandramo, for his continuous accompaniment of all those affected by the conflict,” they said.

The Denis Hurley Peace Institute (DHPI) of the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference (SACBC), which has been assessing the war in Mozambique reports that thousands of war victims have fled Cabo Delgado and are now living in Southern parts of the country, with a large number of refugees being hosted by the Catholic Dioceses of Pemba and Nampula.

In the report, IMBISA members also express optimism that the efforts of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to find a lasting solution to the problems engulfing Cabo Delgado will bear fruit.

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They appeal to the Southern African regional economic bloc to get more involved in the Cabo Delgado crisis, saying, “We call upon the SADC and the African Union to be more engaged in addressing the unfolding crisis in that region.”

In their statement, IMBISA members call upon the Mozambican government “to spare no effort in engaging the International Community so as to address the violence in Cabo Delgado, which has unfortunately led to the loss of lives and livelihoods.”

Reports indicate that SADC has begun to consider the deployment of some 3,000 troops to assist Mozambique as she tackles the growing insurgency within her borders.

This suggestion came out of the report of the Double Troika Technical Assessment Mission to Mozambique, which was completed and published on 21 April 2021.

During their April 27 meeting, IMBISA members also reflected on the situation of the general population in the region, especially on the difficulties faced by young people.

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Some young people, the Catholic Bishops in Southern Africa noted, have gone for long periods without school instruction due to the restrictions occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Even as learning moved online in some cases, the COVID-19 pandemic has simply revealed the problems of systemic inequalities in the economic sphere in our different countries with the poorer young people unable to access these online platforms,” the Bishops lament.

They add, “Some young people were left behind as those from more affluent societies easily forged ahead with their education.”

The members of IMBISA note that the problem of inequality, especially in the economic sphere, has left many young people exposed to exploitation by those who they say “foment violence and other social ills.”

“As a result of a certain disenfranchisement, some young people have tended to migrate so as to eke out a living elsewhere, far from home and their normal surroundings,” they say.

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IMBISA members urge Southern African governments to rethink their strategies aimed at ending economic inequalities in the region.

“We further call upon our governments in the Region to rethink the economic systems that have all along been implemented as they have not succeeded in addressing the economic inequalities currently prevailing,” they say, and add, “Young people must be at the centre of every economic development in the countries of the region.”

In their statement addressed to the Bishops, Clergy, People of God in the IMBISA region and all people of goodwill, the Catholic Bishops end by envisioning a prosperous and violence-free Southern Africa.

“The Easter Season fills us with much hope that indeed all these difficulties can be overcome and addressed,” they say, and add, in reference to Pope Francis’ Encyclical Letter, Fratelli Tutti, “We thus invite all Christians and all people of goodwill to continue searching and walking together for peace like St. Francis of Assisi who did not wage a war of words…but simply spread the love of God.”

“We dare to dream of a peaceful Southern Africa. Let us dream, then, as a single human family, as fellow travelers sharing the same flesh, as children of the same earth, which is our common home,” the members of IMBISA say in their report published April 28.