Four months after becoming Mozambique's President, Joaquim Chissano is still trying to come to grips with a severe economic and military crisis. While Mozambicans and Western observers praise Mr. Chissano's cool intellect and businesslike approach, many wonder if he can fill the leadership vacuum left by the death of his predecessor and close friend, Samora Machel.
Even Chissano, who had been foreign minister since independence in 1975, seems to wonder. ``He was more capable than I am,'' he said in a recent interview. Mr. Machel died last fall in a plane crash just inside South Africa near the border with Mozambique.
Chissano sees as his chief challenges: rebuilding the economy, revamping a beleaguered 45,000-man Army, ending the decade-old war with the South African-backed Mozambique National Resistance (Renamo), and sustaining improved relations with the West without endangering ties to Moscow.
His success will depend on whether Chissano has the ability to reinvigorate a government that relied on the charismatic Machel - the nation's leader since independence from Portugal - to make all but the smallest decisions. ``I need a lot more support to make decisions than he did,'' Chissano said.
Since Chissano came to power, he has launched a sweeping economic reform program in line with International Monetary Fund recommendations. It favors private enterprise, devalues the local currency by 500 percent, and revamps price and wage scales. He is now looking for the IMF to contribute to the program.
A more modest reorganization of the dispirited military high command is also under way, though Chissano conceded that ``we did not yet completely achieve our job.''
Both initiatives were planned under Machel, whose policies Chissano intends to stick to. ``Politically and ideologically, we have the same convictions.''
During the last few years, overtures to the West have been part of that shared ideology. President Machel held talks with US and British officials. Chissano explained the warmed relations as a ``result of very intensive diplomatic work.... We had to prove it was in their interests to have good relations with us.''
Mozambique, said Chissano, will work to keep momentum behind these improved relations, but will not jeopardize its close ties to the Soviet Union, which provides crucial military support. ``We would not be used by one country against another. To be a puppet is bad.''
If President Reagan offered military aid, as the government of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has done, ``we would welcome it,'' Chissano said, though he noted that Mozambique ``still has many enemies in the United States.'' In addition, he said that he was confident that ``we are going to send some men'' to the US for military training. Although there have been no official reports of such an offer from the US, training is often one of the first forms of military aid. And, observers say, the Reagan administration and some military officials favor the idea, but Congress is generally opposed to it.
Chissano repeated his rejection of talks with either Renamo or his South African counterpart. Talks with Renamo would be paramount to ``a second round of negotiations for independence,'' he said.
He charged that the air crash that killed Machel was a ``[South African-] provoked accident'' and accused Pretoria of violating the 1984 Nkomati Accord. In this accord, the two nations agreed not to back their neighbor's internal foes. There is widespread agreement that South Africa has continued its support of Renamo. But, ``I don't see any point in it,'' Chissano says, when asked about the possibility of a meeting between him and his South African counterpart to ease rough relations.
Chissano maintained that the emphasis on the private sector would not undermine socialist principles. ``For us, socialism is a very concrete thing. It means to create good living conditions for the people,'' he said. ``We have always said the private sector has a role to play.''