for peace in the Horn of Africa
the distinguished Ethiopian journalist Mammo Wudneh wrote to
MRA's Agenda for Reconciliation (AfR) programme two years ago,
he urged that the world community should not forget the Horn
of Africa, which has been plagued by conflicts for the past
50 years, exacerbating famine and creating millions of refugees.
At the time,
Europe was preoccupied with the Kosovo crisis in former Yugoslavia.
So little was done. Undeterred, Wudneh, who is President of
the Ethiopian Writers' Association, wrote again to the AfR
conference in Caux, Switzerland, last year.
As a result, a travelling group of four including two senior
diplomats, from four East African countries, visited six European
capitals during May. They met foreign office officials, aid
agencies and other non-governmental organisations, in a bid
to keep the Horn of Africa on the world's agenda, and to brief
them about their work for reconciliation. Their arrival in
coincided with the outbreak of a bloody border conflict between
Ethiopia and Eritrea.
1950 this whole region has never been at peace," said Bethuel Kiplagat, former Permanent Secretary to Kenya's Ministry of Foreign
Affairs, who was High Commissioner in the UK in the early 1980s.
He was speaking at a public meeting organised by AfR in MRA's
London headquarters. Since 1986 Kiplagat has been working,
through the World Council of Churches, to help bring an end
to the 30-year civil war in Sudan, "and I am not going to give up", he said. "Development cannot take place without the end of these conflicts. We need a commitment
to peace and reconciliation. If there are no signs of hope
we need to create them. We must not say that the task is so
big that we cannot start." He saw signs of movement towards peace between the eight different rebel groups
in Sudan and believed that "there is a commitment by the people themselves".
Court to play a role
Kiplagat suggested that the International Court of Justice
in The Hague could play a part in settling the border dispute
between Eritrea and Ethiopia. Mammo Wudneh appealed for the
peace and safety of future generations in Ethiopia and Eritrea. "We
are at war now. It is a nightmare. But what to do for the next
generations?" he asked. "It is time to cure bitterness, hatred and revenge and not allow these to go on.
This is the time to work for peace. Our appeal and intent is
for the coming generations." When the movement for an independent Eritrea, then the northern province of
Ethiopia, had first begun he had prayed to God to use his pen
to help solve the issue "˜by peaceful means".
Wudneh, Fessaha Fre Weri, an Eritrean business consultant and
peace activist, acknowledged Wudneh's courageous articles in
the Ethiopian press, outspoken against the oppression of the
Eritreans and "at great risk to himself". "I have always been amazed by Wudneh's character and I find it very humbling," Fre commented. The spirit of reconciliation and forgiveness, advocated by MRA,
had come to Fre "as a challenge which I did not want to face. In 1971, the Ethiopian army massacred
25 of my close relatives." They had been herded into the village Mosque and machine-gunned. They included
his sisters and their families. "The choice before me was to overcome my bitterness or to carry a Kalashnikov
[rifle]. I decided to join the fight for the hearts and minds
of the people. We shouldn't be fighting over our borders, but
over the borders in our hearts."
He added that
corruption had been a part of his life when he was a young
customs officer. He had had to overcome this too, if he was
to master his bitterness. "My corrupt life and my bitterness were very connected and, wanting to get rid
of bitterness and hatred, I also had to get rid of my corrupt
to help my people"
" Your war is our war; your peace is our peace," said
Yusuf Al-Azhari, Somalia's former ambassador to the USA, addressing his travelling
colleagues. "The cause of war is injustice. When injustice prevails the whole system collapses," he said. He spoke about his six years of solitary confinement and harrowing
torture as a political prisoner under Somalia's previous Marxist regime. "Ever since, I have vowed that I will help my people to overcome their hatred;
to help to heal the wounds of those who have been the victims of oppression and
injustice." Al-Azhari is now working with others to establish a national government in Somalia,
following the nation's civil war.
to "think for the long-term healing processes", to prevent the "cycle of conflicts" re-erupting. "Once relative peace has come we relax when we should be working hard to cure
the bitterness in people's hearts. There is no future without
forgiving the past," he said. There was a need to keep an eye on latent conflicts that might flare
up. "But we leave it till it is too late." While they remained latent "we can work on the structures and on the hearts of the people. We must avoid
demonizing people. You cannot talk to a demon. My fundamental
belief is that human beings can change and do change."