SGI Quarterly

Issue 81 | July 2015

Building a Force for Peace | Robert Mtonga

  • Peace
  • Disarmament
  • Nuclear Abolition

[Photo credit: Tim Wright/ICAN/CC BY-NC 2.0]

Robert Mtonga is a medical doctor from Zambia, a former copresident of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, and leads Zambian Healthworkers for Social Responsibility. He describes his motivation for working for peace.

During a shift as a young doctor in 1998 at a hospital in Lusaka, Zambia, my service received a patient who had been shot in politically motivated circumstances around 2:00 a.m. that day. The man was bleeding profusely. We did all we could to save his life. We replaced his blood, operated and tried to stop the internal bleeding, after which he was transferred to the intensive care unit, but, alas, he died around 2:00 p.m. the same day.

On yet another day, a doctor colleague was returning home after a challenging time in the operating room at our hospital. As she approached the gate of her house, she was accosted by gun-toting carjackers who asked for her car keys. Before she could react, one of the lawbreakers pulled the trigger. She passed out and only came to after a frantic surgical intervention. Police sources traced the thieves to the war-ravaged neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo.

And while helping refugees fleeing conflict in Somalia in a town called Garissa in northeastern Kenya in December 1992, a horde of rebels from Somalia opened fire on our convoy. Later, we were told two female doctor colleagues working with an international medical organization were gang-raped at gunpoint.

That is a short synopsis of why I decided to join the peace movement.

Wars of conquest fought using bare knuckles, bows, spears and arrows have advanced to the use of modern weaponry of every sort and sophistication. Mass murder and horrendous killing are no longer a taboo. Day after day, we witness war and conflict over human settlements, grazing land, burial grounds and holy sites, mineral resources, water, religious beliefs, or to gain political or economic liberation.


Campaigning for a ban on cluster bombs. [Photo credit: Mary Wareham/ANZ Cluster Munition Coalition/CC BY-ND 2.0]

As a doctor, I see the broken bone, marrow and blood of men, women, boys and girls, old and young, caught up in war and conflict. Why kill to make a point? Are civilians, especially women and children, a legitimate target?

Terrorism must be a manifestation of mental illness. For how can one explain such behavior? How can a sane person take pleasure in killing a fellow man or woman, whatever the motivation? No one deserves to die in such circumstances. Perpetrator and victim both deserve dignity and humanity.

The status quo is not acceptable. To build peace, men and women of goodwill need to become actively engaged. We can start by tackling the everyday causes of war and conflict—intolerance, injustice, differences in belief and ideology, greed.

My own work has been in peace advocacy, education and research and monitoring work in the areas of banning nuclear weapons, cluster munitions, anti-personnel mines, small arms and light weapons, as well as interpersonal violence. I have served as both a campaigner and board member.

Much of my work is in broad coalitions, including the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), Control Arms Coalition, International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), Cluster Munitions Coalition and Injury Prevention Initiative for Africa.

It is by working together with others that we begin to find hope. Together, we can and have made a difference. Both IPPNW and ICBL have won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Peace education is vital to empowering people to awaken to their responsibility and ability to build peace. We need curricula that focus on the coexistence of different religions, the nonviolent resolution of war and conflict, mutual appreciation and the building of friendships in diversity.

By awakening to our power to be part of a force of positive change and working together as members of civil society, we can influence governments and engender a paradigm shift away from war and conflict to peaceful coexistence.