Lisbon — The rebel Mozambique National Resistance (Renamo) movement has grown from being a minor irritant to the central government in the Manica and Tete provinces to a significant threat throughout the country. In response to this, and in order to give top officials of the Marxist-oriented ruling party complete control in running the country, President Samora Machel has given sweeping powers to three of his top aides. The changes are also considered to be an effort to tackle Mozambique's worsening economic situation.
Shortly before President Machel arrived in the Soviet Union on Sunday, the government announced changes that will leave virtually every aspect of Mozambican society in the hands of three men.
Mario Machungo and Armando Guebuza have been made new party economic chiefs, with the responsibility of 11 ministries and three state secretariats between them. The ruling party's ideological secretary, Jorge Rebelo, has been handed the social welfare ministries.
The most significant change, however, is the recall of Army General Alberto Chipande to take charge of the war against the South Africa-backed Renamo. Chipande, defense minister from 1975 to 1983, and a Mozambican folk hero, was sent back to his home province when Machel took over at the helm of defense. Since then, the conflict with the rebel forces has clearly worsened and is draining Mozambique's economy.
Civilian dissatisfaction with draft dodging, Army desertions, and the government's methods of dealing with a struggling economy are all helping the Renamo insurgency to lengthen its roster and increase its activity.
The rebels, who have been fighting the Marxist government since Mozambique's independence from Portugal in 1975, have recaptured their base at Cavalo. That site is only seven and a half miles from their former headquarters at Mt. Gorongoza, which was captured by government troops last August. The rebels also took a key area near Manianje (220 miles north of Maputo) in early March.
Observers have been surprised by the level of rebel activity in the north and central regions. There, government troops are supplemented by up to 15,000 allied Zimbabwean and Tanzanian soldiers, who are better trained and supplied than the Mozambicans. Almost one-third of Zimbabwe's Army is deployed in Mozambique.
Renamo's recent success has been such that in February one government military spokesman remarked that, in central Mozambique, the resistance travels in ``groups of 1,000 or more.''
Western diplomats and Mozambique's ruling party, the Front for the Liberation of of Mozambique (Frelimo), often dismiss the right-wing Renamo guerrilla movement as having been created by white-ruled Rhodesia (now black-ruled Zimbabwe) and directed by South Africa.
Renamo's Pretoria-directed mission, they charge, is to keep Mozambique weak and dependent by wrecking the country's economy and making it ungovernable. To back their charges, they point to Renamo's choice of targets for sabotage: factories, highways, and railroad lines.
The disruption in Mozambique's economy affects neighboring Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Malawi as well. These landlocked countries depend on Mozambique's increasingly fragile port and railroad system to carry exports and imports. When these systems are disrupted, they must use more expensive South African facilities -- risking political strong-arming by Pretoria.
Although Renamo's military wing was organized by what was then the Rhodesian Central Intelligence and has enjoyed massive support from South Africa, its origins and growth cannot be attributed solely to the governments of those two countries, say many analysts.
Some of Renamo's leadership is made up of dissidents from the Frelimo Party. Even before independence from Portugal, internal politics in Frelimo drove out some non-Marxist nationalists unhappy with the liberation movement's increasingly radical program.
After independence, Frelimo policies such as communal labor and nationalization of the economy provoked more dissent. The rebels' first military commander, Andr'e Matsangaisse, and his successor, Afonso Dhlakama, both fought for independence on Frelimo's side.
Renamo was supported by the former regime in Rhodesia. But white-minority-ruled Rhodesia became black-majority-ruled Zimbabwe in 1980 and the Mozambique rebels lost the bases they had been using in that country and turned to South Africa for support.
Since then, rebel numbers and the frequency of attacks have increased. More recently, drought and state economic mismanagement have helped the guerrillas recruit in rural areas.
Some government troops' aversion to combat has seriously harmed Maputo's efforts to regain control of rural areas. Morale is low because soldiers are often poorly fed and ill-equipped.These poor conditions spawn rampant draft dodging.
The US has made clear its support for the Mozambique government, and its reservations about the rebel's legitimacy. The Reagan administration, however, has been unable to overcome congressional opposition to giving arms to an avowedly Marxist-Leninist government, and the Mozambican President's visit to Washington last September didn't tip the balance in his regime's favor.
Machel's trip to Moscow could be a sign that Frelimo has lost all hope that it will receive any US military assistance that would allow it to reduce the country's dependence on Soviet arms.