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Guns to hoes a way to peace
by Tamae Ishiwatari

A report on the evolution of the 'Guns to hoes' movement in Mozambique, which is restoring hope to other countries in South Africa as they work toward community development.


In June 1993, just before the end of Mozambique's 30-year civil war, Masaru Katagiri from Press Alternative (PA), a Japanese NGO promoting fair trade, visited Mozambique and met Graca Machel, widow of the late Mozambican President, and the leader of the Foundation for Development of Communities. Out of this discussion, the idea of exchanging arms for tools, the 'Guns to Hoes' movement was born.

Mozambique was deeply torn during its civil war and Mrs Machel was anxious to maintain the peace finally obtained, which was unstable and could easily be broken as long as the rebels kept their arms. Mrs Machel and PA persuaded a Catholic group that had played an important role in the peace process to become involved. The group offered to serve as the center for this 'Guns to Hoes' movement.

At that time the United Nations was supervising the disarmament process, which was not going smoothly. When the UN learned of this activity, it asked for its halt, to avoid confusion in the difficult task of disarming the rebels. After patient and repeated negotiations with the UN, the Army, and the Government, the 'Guns to Hoes' organizers managed to obtain their approval. At the same time, they also negotiated with the police not to arrest the rebels who came to submit their arms if they had certificates issued from the organization.

As a result, actual collection began in late 1995. By the end of 1996, collected arms totalled 23,612 including 89 pistols, 31 bazookas, 23 machine guns, nine cannons, and 22,448 various explosives. These were to be exchanged for sewing machines, bicycles, hoes, wheelchairs, tool kits, food, educational materials, etc. A shortage of these goods soon occurred.

Upon hearing of the shortage, the Japanese people offered their support. The city of Fukui, near Kyoto, has had a special relationship with Mozambique since 1994, when 15 children from Mozambique visited the city on a 'Children's Peace Mission'. The children stayed in Fukui for two weeks. They demonstrated their dance and music to the people of Fukui, and appealed for the support of agricultural development and the sustenance of peace, gained at long last after 30 years of war. 'Couldn't the bicycles abandoned here and there around the city of Fukui be used to promote peace by exchanging them for weapons?' the children thought. The Mozambican people believed that if people hold hoes instead of weapons, peace could be maintained, agricultural development could be promoted. Symbolically, the flag of Mozambique illustrates this possibility with the image of hoes and guns.

The children's striving for peace moved the people of Fukui. Local parent and teacher associations, children's clubs, agricultural co-operatives and other community groups travelled the city to find 93 abandoned bicycles. Another 150 hoes, scopes, shears and the like were gathered, which was enough to fill the first container for shipment to Mozambique. For the second shipment, the city introduced a new regulation stating that if no one claims abandoned bicycles within six months of storage, they would become the property of the city. This enabled the people of Fukui to collect 100 more bicycles for the second shipment in autumn 1995. The third shipment, this time three containers' worth, was shipped in February 1997.

News of the shortage of exchange goods was also heard in other cities. Michiko Ohta, a former kindergarten teacher in the city of Itoh near Tokyo, formed a group of friends to collect bicycles, and plans to donate 89 bicycles and fund the shipping costs, which are always a problem for PA. People in Yamaguchi, on the southern-most part of Honshu island in Japan, also co-operated and collected musical instruments as well as various kinds of educational equipment and material for donation to the children of Mozambique.

In April 1995, Kazuo Imamura, a Japanese agricultural biologist, visited Mozambique. He discovered that the land was so devastated during the long conflict that what they could grow there was very limited and poor. Soil improvement and selection of suitable crops had to be achieved before they could produce a reasonable amount of food. Upon returning to Japan, Mr Imamura formed the Fukui Commission for Supporting Mozambique, which consists of farmers and agricultural scientists assisting agricultural developments there.

In the meantime in Mozambique, a mechanical truck was donated by a German NGO to cut weapons into pieces. The people of Mozambique utilized the cut pieces to make furniture, art objects and so forth. The exhibition of these products was held last autumn. Melting the arms for the production of agricultural tools is now being considered.

The success of the 'Guns to Hoes' movement in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, has motivated other local cities and neighboring countries, especially South Africa, to request support from PA in their approach to community development.

PA is launching a world-wide campaign calling for support and involvement in this movement by organizing an international exhibition of furniture made from arms, and concert tours by a South African multi-racial music group called Azumah, meaning 'love' in Swahili. The campaign tour will start in July 1997, kicking off in Japan, visiting 15 cities, and then moving to Australia. Concerts in America and Europe will likely follow, and then Soweto, South Africa, and finally Maputo, Mozambique. They are hoping that this campaign will also motivate people in the developed world to move towards a gunless society.

From the July/August 1997 issue of Share International


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First published April 1999, Last modified: 15-Oct-2005