Quaker Network for the Prevention of Violent Conflict
Le Réseau de quaker pour l'Empêchment de Conflit Violent

The 4th (Africa) Consultation of the Quaker Prevention Network (QPN) held in Rwanda during August 2003

I was asked to write something about my participation at this consultation for the SAQN, and came to the conclusion that this may best be accomplished in two parts – the first to explain the various structures, who attended, what was discussed, and the vast scope of Quaker peace work in Africa, and the second, some personal impressions.  So, if you find yourself bored by all the detail contained in the first part of this article, please go to the section headed ‘Personal Observations’.

Quaker Prevention Network?

Someone once asked me why C&SAYM had a ‘Financial Oversight Committee’ – “Was it because there are so many financial oversights in the organisation that it requires a committee to cope with them?”
Those who are not familiar with our Quaker ways may also wonder if the Quaker Prevention Network (QPN) is not some sort of organisation that accounts for our small numbers!
Actually, the full name of the QPN is the Quaker Network for the Prevention of Violent Conflict (I believe!) – a group of Friends from around the world who are concerned with finding ways to prevent wars and other violent conflicts.
One of the great things about this network is that there is a genuine desire to include Friends from around the world and, in particular, from Africa – the home of so many violent conflicts.

The 4th Consultative Meeting was held at the ‘Presbyterian Guest House’ a modern structure on the climatically pleasant shores of the spectacularly beautiful Lake Kivu, near Kibuye, Rwanda, 2 ? south of the Equator.
This particular meeting of the QPN was specifically requested by African Friends to discuss African issues – so there was not the usual representation of ‘Northern’ Friends.  The next (5th) Consultation, which will be fully representative, is planned for April 2004 to be held at Kaimosi in Kenya.

Participation was by invitation, and I attended because of my ‘appointment’ to represent C&SAYM (at YM 2002), and because of my involvement in the work of the Alternatives to Violence Project.  From South Africa were also Georgina Mbambo and Nokuthula Mbethe of the Quaker Peace Centre.
Others, representing a wide diversity of organisations, came from Burundi, Canada, DRC, Kenya, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Uganda and the USA.  The meeting was funded by the AFSC and the African Great Lakes Initiative, which is part of the Quaker Peace Teams, a project supported by many individuals and Quaker Meetings in the USA.

African Friends

I was delighted to be at the gathering, and to meet so many Friends from Africa and around the world.  It seemed to me appropriate that we South Africans were participating with other Africans in addressing the issues of our continent.
The Africans were mainly from Central/East Africa where Meetings are programmed - from the evangelical tradition.  ‘Country groupings’ took responsibility for the morning worship session every day – and shared their different traditions.
Friends Evangelical Churches in Africa have vast memberships - and a fundamentally different organisation structure, with paid leaders and, what appear to be, strong links to their respective governments via ‘Legal Representatives’.

We enjoyed briefings by many F/friends about their work including:

I hope that the first part of this article has provided you with some insights into the purpose of the QPN and the work of Quakers generally in Africa.  I came away feeling profoundly touched and hopeful – and with a renewed sense of wonder at the endless gifts of Religious Society of Friends.

Personal Observations:

I left Johannesburg International Airport on Rwandair in a (surprisingly) new Boeing 737 and enjoyed the 4-hour flight to Kigali, the capital of Rwanda.
 I was met by the driver of the ‘Legal Representative’ of the Friends Evangelical Church of Rwanda (no less!) who (the driver that is) spoke no English and I no French – so had a quiet if adventurous drive to a Presbyterian church ‘hotel’ hidden in the middle of, what looked to me, like an informal settlement.
Many of the roads in Kigali are not surfaced and the washed out gutters along their sides have become canyons – crossed by a series of innovative homemade bridges that enable people to get from the road to their homes.
Bridgett Butt (CAPP), David Bucura (THE Legal Representative), David Zarembka (AGLI), and Malesi Kinaro (Uzima Foundation/FPCD), who made up the co-ordinating committee, welcomed me warmly.
The following morning, we gathered at Friends Peace House in the city centre and, in the early afternoon, were all jammed into two mini-bus taxis for an ‘interesting’ two-hour journey to Kibuye.  Our vehicle was, without doubt, the oldest taxi in the world, and visibility was kept to about 20% (my estimate) by cracks in the windscreen.
Georgina spoke for all of us when she expressed her terror, as the driver hurled the vehicle at full speed around yet another bend with a 3,000-metre drop over the side.  Our concerns were considerably ameliorated, however, when local passengers informed us that this was one of the ‘safest’ drivers in Rwanda.
Indeed with this assurance, and after being stopped three times in police roadblocks to check the vehicle and driver (and, on one occasion, all our papers), we were compelled, despite our misgivings, to conclude that we were clearly roadworthy and worrying needlessly.  Were we to believe our own eyes and experiences or the police who had given the vehicle and driver a clean bill of health on all counts on three separate occasions!  (We humans are very adaptable, it seems, as the return journey – same bus and driver – seemed just fine!)
Our destination was the Presbyterian Guest House on the banks of Lake Kivu 120 Km west of Kigali.  (Despite all indications to the contrary, Catholics, not Presbyterians, are the dominant church in Rwanda)
This beautiful, vast lake in the rift valley has crystal clear water, but is not very good for fish or other aquatic life as gasses from all the volcanic activity in and around it pollute the water.  Indeed people have, apparently, been asphyxiated by these gasses whilst swimming.  (That’s what I was told!)
The guesthouse itself was modern and generally well finished, with a pleasant and helpful staff.  I did find out, however, why most Rwandan’s are so nice and slim – breakfast, lunch and supper were exactly the same every day and ‘same’ wasn’t terribly adventurous.
Some further observations include windows ALL put in the ‘wrong’ way round – they open inwards, which seemed quite a clever idea to me, because opening them didn’t  interfere with the burglar and insect screening attached to the outside wall, although it made working with the curtains a bit of a challenge, and. . .;
Did you know that in Rwanda none of the showers have cubicles or curtains to contain the water?  So, after every shower I felt sad that I had forgotten my Wellington boots when I needed to brush my teeth or go to the loo after showering.  What are a few wet patches between Friends?  And. . . ;
There is much work for a good plumber in Rwanda – I can’t recall seeing a single pipe joint that wasn’t leaking.  Just as well they have that big lake within easy reach.

On a more serious note – our time in community was gentle, fulfilling and productive and we shared many deep experiences together.  It was wonderful to meet Friends from different traditions who felt just like Friends back home.
It’s hard to imagine being in a country where a million people (out of a population of seven or eight million) were murdered in the most brutal fashion, mainly by fellow citizens – indeed, often by fellow villagers.
When I sought to discuss the political background to this situation with one of our (expatriate) colleagues, he encouraged me not to use the words Tutsi and Hutu, because of the ongoing sensitivity around such discussions by Rwandans who may overhear us.
It was equally difficult for me to relate to such staggering atrocities taking place (in 1994) whilst we, in South Africa, were celebrating our freedom.  How do such things happen in a society that, to all intents and purposes, is as ‘civilized’ as any other?

I want to end this article with a story that touched me and left me feeling hopeful about the future of this beautiful land.
Toward the end of our stay, those of us who wished to were invited to visit the Friends Evangelical Church in Kibuye – about a half-hour walk over a hill from our accommodation, and a welcome break from the work.
The town looked very small to me and I was chatting to one of our colleagues, who worked in Rwanda, as we walked alongside a small sports stadium.  He mentioned, almost in passing, that 15,000 people lay buried in a mass grave behind it – and that another 10,000 lie buried behind the Catholic church on the hill.
Could it be that this little town could ever have supported so many people – let alone kill them?  I was horrified, and found myself looking closely at everyone we passed - fruitlessly seeking evidence of all the pain they must have endured.
We continued on to our destination, a very small, dark, brick building with an iron roof and a warm heart.  We were treated royally, and welcomed with flattering introductions and much song.  I was amused to hear the pastor say to his congregants that they will be as surprised as he was to learn that I (a white person) was an African from South Africa and not an American……….
After the service and saying goodbye, I was taking pictures of some boys in the village who were enchanted to see their images on the small screen at the back of my camera.
This activity soon attracted a large gathering and I noticed a tiny girl squeezing through the legs of the crowd to see what all the fuss was about.
As soon as she understood that it was the camera, she reached up without a word, took my arm, and pulled it down to a level where she could see the image.
Here, in the middle of this devastated society was a child who was completely fearless – not concerned by either her fellow townspeople or this stranger (me) – and absolutely determined to satisfy her curiosity.
The thing that occurred to me was that it takes a whole lot of love and community to produce a child that has such high levels of self-confidence, and I found myself feeling a whole lot better about Rwanda and its future.

Colin Glen
13 September 2003
 

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