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Mozambican psychotherapist defends social equity against the violence epidemic in the Tropics

Doctor Boia Efraime, expert in peace psychology, has worked with children soldier rehabilitation in Mozambique


Statistics point to positive correlation between wealth distribution, where Nordic countries as Finland and Sweden are places with least reports of violence cases

Tropical Medicine, besides the attention to infectious diseases, acts confronting social problems in poor countries, as violence. This outbreak has struck Mozambique, in Africa, where the war environment is a daily reality for great part of the population.

In that Country, the war between the FRELIMO and RENAMO parties have claimed and still claim daily victims, even creating abominations and child soldiers.

For the Mozambican psychotherapist Boia Efraime Junior – who has worked rehabilitating child soldiers from 1994 to 2002, in Mozambique, the solution for this epidemic is the so-called peace psychology. The field applies knowledge and methods from psychology preventing conflicts and promoting human rights.

Doctor Carlos Costa, former president of the Brazilian Society of Tropical Medicine (BSTM) talked to Doctor Efraime about the matter, where the Mozambican explains how justice and social equity could solve the worlds severe violence problem. Below, find some passages of the interview:

Who is Boia Efraim?

I was born in Maputo, capital of Mozambique, and I am 55 years-old. I am from a small family, with four brothers. I first worked as a secondary school teacher. Then, I went to psychology and clinic school in the old democratic Germany. I first worked with psychiatry in Berlin, until 1994. From this year, I have worked with children in Mozambique after the Countrys military conflict ceased.

Currently, I perform private practice psychotherapy. I work in a NGO called Reconstruindo a Esperança [rebuilding hope], where we work preventing sexual violence against children in public schools.

What is peace psychology? How did it emerge, especially regarding the tropics, and more precisely in Africa?

Before explaining the concepts of Peace Psychology, we must understand Mozambiques current situation.

The country was colonized by Portugal in recent history. This lead to several revolts, and one of them was the armed struggle, conducted by the FRELIMO – Frente de Libertação de Moçambique (Mozambique Freedom Front), leading to the national independence in 1975.

It happens that FRELIMO, in its combat front, requested support from socialist countries. Later when Moçambique became independent, it was swallowed by the conflicts between the Western Block (capitalist) – which supported the other political front, the RENAMO, and the East Block (socialist). The clash between FRELIMO and RENAMO climaxed with a civil war, which lasted from 1976 to 1992.

This way, Mozambican history is written from a non-national agenda, but caused by international relations.

Even after the end of the Cold War, both FRELIMO and RENAMO engaged in a conflict associated to the command of production means, ensuring a monopolist modus operandi that excludes the other political forces from power.

This absence of tolerance and political inclusion, lack of equity and social justice, builds in Mozambique a great dilemma, which currently shows itself by rekindling the political-military conflict, involving the increase of FRELIMO and RENAMO, and which is costing many human lives in the Country.

This way, peace psychology, in our understanding as Mozambicans, is leaving this polarized situation and seeking a third value. Moreover, this third value is humanity, it is social justice, it is equity, it is respect for the others, and it is inclusion. Therefore, this is our understanding of what peace psychology is in Mozambique.

Who are the violence victims who need attention from peace psychology? Who are these people?

Our country had three million Mozambicans who lived internally displaced, fleeing the military conflict. Other 1.5 million Mozambicans seeked refugee abroad. Over a million Mozambicans died in the conflict from 1977 and 1992. Besides this, many schools and hospitals were destroyed during this civil war.

These wounds have not been completely healed. What happened was a new process of national reconciliation. This is why we have a war increase. Thus, the elections and trust in the political system allowed a national reconciliation. The elections allowed a social inclusion, a reconciliation to be initiated.

The war victims are, generally speaking, all us Mozambicans, who have to achieve a national reconciliation. The nations interests are greater than the partisan or small groups interests are. We must achieve a process where we see in the other humans someone with rights for life, for political options and who is as valuable as any one of us.

Speak a little about the child-soldiers, who fought in the civil war. How is their social rehabilitation? How will they have a normal life after this experience?

The Mozambican communities, especially those in rural areas, have a record of techniques for healing, reconciliation, etc. We must consider the fact that along history, there have been other wars between the people, the populations from the territory today called Mozambique, and these practices are normally used.

We have children who were used by the governmental army [FRELIMO]; by the guerilla army RENAMO; by paramilitary forces, called popular militias.

What happened was that these children returned to their communities and they were subjected to healing practices. For example, purification rituals, to clean these children in a metaphoric way from the negative experience they were subjected to, with primitive passage rituals so these children could be reinserted in the community, peacefully solving these problems as other local citizens. On the other hand, the community accepted them back.

Some of these children committed or were forced to commit atrocities in their villages, robbing their neighbors.

Brazil is today a nation with different social groups at war, with a deep opinion hostility between both groups. Reconciliation, at this moment, does not seem something feasible. How could the instruments of peace psychology apply to the people under such extreme situation as Brazilians are today?

I think the abyss splitting Mozambicans is as great as the one splitting Brazilians.

I believe this because in Mozambique, we will even deny the right to life for being a political rival. So, in this kind of social exclusion, the belief that one groups interests can overcome the nations interest. That one group can privatize power and make use of the countrys economic, political and financial resources to serve themselves and lead to the marginalization of other citizens.

I consider this to be one of the greatest obstacles in the path towards a country where social justice and social equity rule, ensuring to all its citizens the right to justice, to a part of the available social resources.

How can peace psychology contribute so nations are able to solve conflicts like these?

During our work in Mozambique, we identified the conflict, the causes of the conflict and made the people aware of what a conflict means.

We will walk into a neighborhood and ask people about the meaning of peace or the meaning of conflict. Which are the obstacles they see in order to have a peaceful life. People point to problems as poverty, lack of garbage removal, contaminated water, etc.

The point is how they are able to move a transformation process in their environment in order to solve those issues. It is their process to put themselves as subjects of their own history, to organize and fight for their rights.

Do you think the concept of living in peace is able to affect people in such deep conflicts as Mozambicans, Brazilians, Africans or Asians? Can peace psychology bring peace to these people?

I think it can, although we may think, if there is social justice and equity, there will be peace. Nevertheless, we must understand there is also a negative peace.

In Chile, for example, during the Colonial period, we had peace during the Pinochet regime, but it was a negative peace. Peace was militarized, a state of siege, a dictatorial state, etc.

It is possible to have negative peace, where we repress free expression and ensure the monopoly of existent resources to a very small group. Brazil also had its military dictatorship. This way, we have cemetery peace.

Positive peace must be the one where everyone is winning. That where I do not exclude the other. The truth is it is very hard to give examples. Each country must write its own history.

The Nordic countries are those with least violence. However, there are places where people perceive opportunities as equal to everyone. There is no abyss between richer and poorer people, where everyone has access to work and to an honest, worthy life, with respect to their rights, etc.

By referencing the Nordic countries, are you saying violence is a tropical problem? Is violence a tropical disease?

In fact, statistics show a positive correlation between wealth distribution and show Nordic countries as Finland and Sweden as places with the least cases of violence.

We can look inside the countries. For example, in those neighborhoods where access to wealth is more uniform, as in upper classes. Possibly, the violence rates in these places are lower than where we find a very rich area next to a favela – the sites with most conflicts.

So in your opinion, violence is a tropical disease? Once the income abyss, the power abyss are typically tropical features? Moreover, is peace psychology, in reality, a mechanism to control tropical diseases?

Let us look in the United States case. It is not a tropical country but with incredible violence rates.

However, it is true that we possibly have, at this moment, looking at the statistics, tropical countries with more wealth and poverty focuses. This means it is also a tropical disease.

What would you suggest Brazilians and other people could do, at this moment of conflict?

I think along Brazilian history, Brazilians have given examples to other peoples in this tropical zone and the rest of the world, true lessons of citizenship and respect for the other.

We must fight for the utopia of building fairer, equitative cities, where the human is valued. Places where we see in other people an invaluable asset for our growth as civilization, as community, as humanity. I hope Brazil can reconcile with these values.

I trust Brazil and the Brazilian people. I have confidence in their ability to build a fairer country with more social equity.…