War is always a terrible thing, most people will agree, even when fought in a good cause. Images from the battlefield are usually of devastation – death and destruction on a massive scale, displaced and frightened fleeing civilians, and disruption all around. The soldiers or fighters wreaking havoc are also fierce, fearsome warriors, not the gentle and friendly people we have always known. Occasionally, however, you get different images of war. You see scenes of normal human activity in the midst of the fighting. They show non-combatants in their ordinariness and even vulnerabilities carrying on with normal life. They also reveal soldiers as regular people, friendly, and humane, coming to the aid of those in distress and only driven to war by dire necessity. Such scenes of ordinariness juxtaposed against the destruction of war bring out in stark relief its brutality and cruelty. But in another sense, they reveal an opposite dimension that war can have a humane side and be restorative. One such scene in the last few days was a picture showing Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) soldiers in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique, together with a local woman pounding maize in a mortar. Everyone knows the RDF are fighting terrorists in Cabo Delgado. We would normally expect images of trenches or armoured vehicles heading to the front, or soldiers in camouflage and the sound of sustained gunfire, and the sporadic boom of heavy guns. Not soldiers pounding maize. But that is what we saw. All the others we read or hear in media reports. That picture shows soldiers in another light and the RDF as a different force from the general perception of soldiers at war. They are normal people ready to help ordinary and vulnerable civilians in their daily lives. Which is what the RDF mission in Mozambique is – to restore security and state authority so that ordinary people can lead normal lives again. In another sense the image of troops working with civilians in such a mundane activity as pounding maize to get flour for the next meal is a powerful indictment against those (terrorists or negligent authorities) who deny others the right to a normal life. As that Mozambican woman and RDF soldiers pounded maize in a mortar, I was transported back many years to my time as a teacher and a poem I often used to illustrate the use and effect of alliteration (repetition of initial consonants) in poetry. The poem by Richard Ntiru, a Ugandan poet from just across the border in Kisoro, is entitled “Rhythm of the Pestle”. The first stanza goes like this: Listen to the palpable rhythm/of the periodic pestle/plunging in proud perfection/into the cardial cavity of maternal mortar. My students and I used to hear the rhythm of the pestle pounding and cracking grain and the boom of the mortar. I heard it again as I saw those images coming out of Mozambique, glad that it was only this and not the sound of heavy guns pounding hapless villagers. Obviously, at the frontline, it was a different matter. That scene was also a reminder of a time of s simple uncorrupted life, of people living in harmony with their environment, away from and largely ignored by the competition for power and influence and resources in the capital far away. Which makes the violent attacks on such people an unforgivable crime. Now, don’t take me for a hopeless romantic hankering after a lost rustic idyllic existence. Far from it. It is actually painful to witness a pre-industrial scene in an African country in the third decade of the twenty-first century. It is as if for these people the world has stood still all these years. Yet it has moved on and passed them by. It is probably not in Cabo Delgado alone that this is so. Similar situations obtain in other African countries. There, too, people are stuck in one sort of a time warp or another. Which reflects poorly on African leaders who do not do enough to improve the lives of their people. Most times they ignore them altogether, remembering that they exist only at election time and for the national census. In these circumstances, it is easy to understand why rebels with a cause would find ready reception among the people, set up camp and repel all government offensive. The difference in Cabo Delgado is that they are terrorists. War may not be a good thing but sometimes it is necessary. And so we can understand why it may take the pounding of guns in order to hear the rhythm of the pestle and other sounds of normal everyday life. The views expressed in this article are of the writer.