Will Mozambique become Reagan's Angola?

Alfonso Dhlakama, leader of the Mozambique National Resistance (RENAMO) insurgency fighting to overthrow the Marxist government of Mozambique, is in a tough spot. Less than one month after President Reagan extolled the virtues of aiding ``freedom fighters'' in his State of the Union address, Secretary of State George P. Shultz was urging Congress to approve a 25 percent increase in aid to the very same Marxist government that RENAMO wants to overthrow. The US aid is intended ``to bring about change in a direction we think is desirable.'' Investing in a diversified freedom fighter portfolio now gives the Reagan administration the opportunity to back a loser in Mozambique as the Soviets are doing in Angola. The American friendship with Mozambique presents a poignant contrast with United States aid to the National Union for the Total Independence of Anglola (UNITA), the movement seeking to overthrow the Soviet-supported government of Angola. Shortly after Congress repealed the Clark amendment last summer and cleared the way for American aid to UNITA, President Samora Machel of Mozambique visited Reagan at the White House. US aid to President Machel is set to rise to $25 million this year, not an inconsiderable sum.

Mozambique and Angola have many similarities. Both are former Portuguese colonies that achieved independence after a change of government in Lisbon in June 1975 and years of guerrilla warfare. Each country has tried, and failed miserably, to establish a Marxist economic system of collective farms after developing strong ties with the Soviet bloc. And now, both Angola and Mozambique are combating insurgencies growing in power and influence and professing pro-West sympathies.

Even by African standards, the economy and Army of Mozambique are pathet- ic. Gross national product (GNP) has been stagnant in real terms over the last decade; GNP per capita has declined over 25 percent in the 11 years of independence; exports are one-fifth the value of imports; the currency is worthless.

The poorly trained and equipped Army is so ineffective that foreign businesses have bribed RENAMO units not to attack their investments in Mozambique, and foreign countries have offered to send troops to protect their investments. Unlike Angola, Mozambique has no oil revenue to pay for Cuban troops; Machel must rely on 10,000 soldiers from neighboring Zimbabwe to maintain his rule. South Africa, as part of its policy to destabilize African states on its perimeter, operates at will against targets in Mozambique, as it does with Angola.

Machel and his Marxist government receive US aid rather than the RENAMO rebels as the Reagan administration feels there is an opportunity to ``wean away'' Mozambique from the Soviet bloc. Like the recent coup in South Yemen, there is a possibility of hard-line Soviet factions in the government seizing power in Mozambique and moving closer to Moscow. This combination of Mozambique's failed Marxist experiment and the specter of pro-Soviet forces supplanting Machel has the Reagan administration offering increased aid.

Rushing into African civil wars is not a wise policy for the US. Much of the turmoil in Africa today is a result of national boundaries being established to reflect the balance of power in Europe at the time, not tribal considerations or other relevant factors. Marxist economics failed so egregiously because its collective policies contravened the traditional tribal patterns of individual commerce. Compounding the colonial tragedy was the failure of colonial powers such as Belgium and Portugal to withdraw in a constructive and responsible manner. The US is now confronted with the unfortunate but potentially useful responsibility of replacing European colonial powers as a dominant player in Africa. Moscow cannot meet more than the basic needs of or feed its own populace so the Soviet economic model has dwindling if any appeal.

A more judicious policy for the US in Mozambique is to require Machel to negotiate with RENAMO in order to receive American aid. Mozambique and Angola are the keys to the future of southern Africa. Each country borders landlocked African states that rely on access to ocean ports through overland routes in Mozambique or Angola. US policy must focus on developing Mozambique and Angola into regional powers to provide stability when the inevitable political turmoil or change in power occurs in South Africa. In forcing negotiations, the US will prevent the internecine tribal warfare from shackling Mozambique as it has in other African nations such as the Congo, and to some degree, Angola. Choosing sides in a civil war, whether government or rebel forces, ignores the paramount tribal factors of African geopolitics and will only perpetuate the instability and volatility of the region.

Jonathan Paul Yates is a congressional aide.

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