Lessons for Afghanistan from Mozambique

After a 16-year civil war, Mozambique's transition to peace and a booming economy could be a model for Afghans.

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Almost everyone here was touched by Mozambique's 16-year civil war – losing a brother, a daughter, or a friend. And all remember the starvation and hardship of those brutal years.

But in the almost 10 years of peace, the bombed-out shells of ambushed cars and abandoned, bullet-marked buildings have been mostly cleared away. People have returned to the daily tasks of living. Children recite lessons in humble, but operational schools, and corn grows in small, family plots that feed millions who depended for years on international charity.

As the world works to reconstruct Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban, the United Nations Development Program says Mozambique, which a decade ago made a successful transition to peace and is now one of the region's fastest-growing economies, may be the best model for rebuilding the war-torn Central Asian nation.

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A UN-brokered peace agreement in 1992 ended the conflict between Mozambique's Marxist government and foreign-backed rebels. Since then, Mozambique has become a stable, democratic nation with free, multiparty elections, an integrated Army, and double-digit economic growth. But, most important, there is peace.

"I think one of the reasons that peace has lasted here is because there was a national will, a national commitment," says Marylene Spezzati, UN resident coordinator in Mozambique. "People are highly committed and have stayed to work for and consolidate peace.... That gives the international community confidence."

That commitment to peace is something the Afghans can emulate, says UNDP administrator Mark Malloch Brown, who has been appointed by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to lead the recovery effort in Afghanistan.

Although there are barriers to successful peace building in Afghanistan – such as ethnic rivalries, fundamentalist religious powers, and the presence of regional strongmen, not present in post-war Mozambique – aid experts say the Southern African country can offer a model for how to channel international aid into a successful economic and political reconstruction program.

Like the Afghanistan of today, Mozambique 10 years ago was a virtual wasteland. Schools and health clinics were in ruin. Fields lay dormant, and the few roads that had not washed away were littered with land mines. An estimated 6 to 7 million weapons – one for every three Mozambiquans – and more than a million landmines were scattered around the country.

In the period immediately after peace, Mozambique successfully integrated the defeated rebels into an interim government and demilitarized the country. Soldiers from the two warring factions worked side-by-side to remove landmines and rebuild roads, as the rebels transformed themselves from guerrillas into politicians. The peace process culminated with general elections in 1994, for which a stunning 90 percent of the population turned out to vote.

TODAY, the former rebels still fight the government, but their battles are limited to verbal spats in parliament and biting critiques in the national media.

Mozambique's greatest success, and the greatest lesson international donors say the country holds for Afghanistan, has been its ability to sustain its economic growth – and the interest of the international aid community – after the initial postwar boom faded.

With the exception of the two years when Mozambique was hit by devastating floods, economic growth has consistently been in the double digits and, 10 years after the end of the war, Mozambique continues to receive the lion's share of aid to the region.

More than $6.5 billion in international aid flowed into Mozambique during the first five years of peace, most of which went to demilitarization and demining, infrastructure and capacity strengthening, and poverty reduction. Donors were pleased with the way this initial money was used, and funds have continued pouring in. Last year, the European Union gave more than $350 million in aid to Mozambique, an amount equal to 60 percent of the country's annual budget.

Mozambique continues to be a favorite of international aid donors, in part because it has conducted many of the internal reforms the international community deems vital for a healthy developing economy. It has largely abandoned its Marxist past. It has privatized the bulk of state-owned enterprises, abandoned the one-party state, and assigned the bulk of its budget to poverty-reduction programs. Just last year, its highly praised poverty-reduction program made it one of the few countries that qualified for debt-relief programs from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

"This country is an outstanding example of a market democracy," says David Hess, Acting Director of USAID in Mozambique. "Everyone is looking to support a country like that."

The success of aid to Mozambique in the postwar period can provide another lesson for Afghanistan, international donors say. Ten years ago, most aid went directly from donors to people in need, and its main purpose was to address immediate humanitarian concerns such as food shortages and health crises.

Despite its successes, Mozambique's model may not be a perfect fit for Afghanistan, where strong local leaders or warlords may prove to be a barrier to effective postwar reconstruction. (See story, page 6.) Predominantly Christian, Mozambique had little history of religious fundamentalism, warlords, or ethnic conflict, all of which may stand in the way of rebuilding Afghanistan.

While Mozambique successfully integrated rebel forces into a national government, Afghanistan's local leaders and warlords may not so willingly concede power to a central authority.

"In order to have a successful peace [in Afghanistan], there's going to have to be the establishment of some sort of federal constitution with a lot of regional autonomy," says Taylor Seybolt, director of the Conflict and Peace Enforcement Project at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Another question is whether Afghans will be willing to stick with the long, slow road to prosperity taken by Mozambique.

Despite its progress, Mozambique remains desperately poor, ranking 157 out of 162 in the UNDP's 2001 Human Development Report. The country lags behind its neighbors in access to healthcare, clean water, and primary education.

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