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Burying the Past in Mozambique


With little fanfare, seven million Mozambicans went to the polls over the last weekend to re-elect a president and overhaul a Parliament. Those elections represented more than a modest reconfiguration of government in an obscure corner of the globe. They were welcome evidence of one of the most important if little-appreciated benefits of the end of white rule in southern Africa.
During the years of protest and repression in South Africa in the 1980's, the nightmare was that the struggle to bring down apartheid might degenerate into a race war. No such war came to pass. But a nightmare did come to pass in neighboring Angola and Mozambique, where hundreds of thousands died in ruinous civil wars. In those countries, the combatants and victims on all sides were black, and little attention was paid. Few understood that blacks killed blacks in part because of meddlesome behavior by whites in both South Africa and the country then called Rhodesia, and because some blacks cynically allowed themselves to be used as instruments of white tyranny.
In Mozambique, for example, the notorious rebel movement Renamo was created by the Rhodesian secret police to counter black nationalist guerrillas fighting Rhodesia's white-settler rule. Renamo developed a reputation as an African Khmer Rouge, and between 1977 and 1992 as many as a million Mozambicans died from fighting and famine in a war that laid waste to the economy and much of the countryside.
After Rhodesia became independent as Zimbabwe in 1980, Renamo was inherited by South Africa's military intelligence, which used it to bludgeon Mozambique into expelling exiled South Africans aligned with the African National Congress. Although the war developed local agendas and took on its own momentum, Pretoria continued to back Renamo until 1990, when President F. W. de Klerk began clearing the way for the end of white rule.
Angola's war rages on, fueled by diamonds and oil. Mozambique, remarkably, is at peace. Its war finally ended with a negotiated settlement in 1992. An election was held in 1994. Mozambique now has one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. Foreign investment is flowing in. Tourism is thriving. Inflation is close to zero. In October a stock exchange opened in Maputo, the seaside capital that used to feature billboards proclaiming that ''Imperialism is the enemy of the people'' and still has streets named for Lenin, Mao and Kim Il Sung. After years of relying on donated food, Mozambique now grows nearly enough to feed itself.
Much of the credit goes to President Joaquim Chissano, who scrapped his ruling Frelimo Party's original collectivist creed and, with Western backing, has adhered to a program of fiscal austerity. He is expected to retain the presidency but may lose the legislature to Renamo, which transformed itself into a loyal opposition and exploits the issues of corruption and enduring rural poverty.
One disquieting feature of Mozambique's peace is that there has been no attempt to hold anyone accountable for the many heinous crimes committed during the war. There have been no war crimes trials and nothing like South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. But Mozambique deserves continued Western support after bearing a disproportionate share of suffering for the injustices of what is thankfully a bygone era.