Mozambique's political agenda riddled with uncertainties. Crumbling economy, rebels, and foreign aid are key issues

The sudden death of Mozambique's president has forced this country into a process of succession with implications far beyond its borders. Two weeks after Samora Machel was killed in a plane crash, Mozambique's political agenda looks less like a program for action than a questionnaire:

Who will succeed President Machel?

What will become of the unrelenting violence of the anti-Marxist Mozambique National Resistance Movement (Renamo) guerrillas in the countryside?

Will post-Machel Mozambique persist in its recent tilt away from textbook Marxism and exclusive alignment with the Soviet Union?

What will become of the ``spirit of Nkomati'' - the 1984 peace pact with South Africa?

Will, or can, Machel's successors rebound from an economic crisis that has made Mozambique one of the poorest countries on an impoverished African continent?

In some respects, Mozambican politics seem to be in a state of suspended animation. The two leading contenders for the presidency - Marxist ideologue Marcelino dos Santos and the reputedly more pragmatic Foreign Minister Joaquim Chissano - have been playing prominent roles that leave foreign diplomats guessing which seems the more likely choice of the ruling party's central committee.

Renamo has vowed to escalate violence, but has given no convincing sign of its ability to supplant the government in Maputo.

South Africa, Mozambique's powerful southern neighbor, has adopted a low-key approach to post-Machel Mozambique that suggests Pretoria may try to rehabilitate the badly ailing Nkomati accord. The accord is an agreement between the two nations to discontinue all support for their neighbors internal opposition. Each side has accused the other of reneging. But Western diplomats generally agree that Mozambique has upheld its end of the deal, while South Africa has not. This fact, and Machel's active support for international sanctions against Pretoria, had soured relations during the last year.

There have been signs, though faintly visible, that Machel's political heirs are determined to pursue his recent tilt toward a more mixed domestic economy, and friendlier relations with the Western world. Last week, Mozambican officials were closeted with a delegation of the International Monetary Fund. At issue were further moves away from a state-controlled economy, which might lead to rescheduling Mozambique's debt.

The first visible sign of Mozambique's post-Machel direction should come with the announcement of a successor. Mr. Dos Santos is seen as a more cautious advocate of the country's recent realignment than Mr. Chissano. Dos Santos, however, has a disadvantage in the succession race. He is a mixed-race mestico. Most foreign diplomats expect that, although Machel energetically advocated equal treatment for all races and tribes, the successor will be black.

Whoever becomes president will have strong incentives to follow the line charted by Machel. Mozambique's economy has been virtually destroyed by the civil war and the country needs more foreign investment and a rescheduling of its foreign debt.

Whatever economic advances have occured in the past two years are largely the result of loosened state control at home and the entry of Western capital or expertise.

Mozambique has the reputation of being poor in natural resources. But this owes largely to the fact that the Portuguese, who ruled until Mozambican independence in 1975, developed few export industries besides prawn-fishing and cashew-farming. Recent surveys have shown, however, that the country possesses large stocks of coal, bauxite, and other minerals critical to production of heat-resistant metal for a range of products from medical instruments to fighter jets.

An expulsion of the Soviets seems as out of the question now as it was under Machel. Mozambique remains dependent on Soviet economic aid, educational and technical experts, and arms - in quantities the West has shown no sign of replacing.

But politically, too, Machel may have left good reason for his successors to choose continuity. He was no Western democrat. But neither was he a dictator. He ruled by consensus, foreign diplomats here stress. To rule viably, whoever succeeds Machel may have to do the same.

This is particularly true given the fact that Renamo's advances seem to have drawn on resentment among villages in the north of the country toward the government in Maputo, which lies in the country's southern tip near the South African frontier. Although foreign analysts here feel Renamo's main strenth lies in backing from Mozambique's foes overseas - and that its political message has been diluted by increasingly random violence in the countryside - the Maputo government can hardly ignore the rebels' political message.

Last in a series. Previous articles appeared Oct. 30 and 31.

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