Soldiers Become Plowmen As Mozambique Revives

Exhausted by civil war, a southern African nation rebuilds itself on its own terms

If you want to judge the effects of war and peace, check the wares sold by the street kids of Maputo, Mozambique.

The boys used to hawk carvings of helicopters and United Nations airplanes carrying emergency food aid. Now they peddle models of holiday boats, trucks, and portable cassette-radio players.

Four years after the end of one of Africa's most vicious civil wars, Mozambique is a place of unexpectedly long-lasting peace. With 75 percent illiteracy and ruined infrastructure, Mozambique is an unlikely candidate for success. But on a continent better known for peacekeeping failures in Somalia, Rwanda, and Liberia, it is an oasis of hope.

"It's gone remarkably well," says Moises Venancio, a program officer of the UN Development Program, who is overseeing projects to reintegrate thousands of former soldiers into civilian life. "The transition to peace has gone much, much better than we anticipated."

He and other development officials cite several reasons for Mozambique's modest success:

*The UN learned from the example of Angola, another former Portuguese colony that underwent a similar civil war in 1975. Although a peace agreement was signed in 1991, Angola's conflict resumed after 1992 elections, in part because the armies were not disbanded.

In Mozambique, following a 1992 peace agreement and before 1994 elections, the UN stationed 7,000 peacekeepers in the country to oversee the demobilization of troops. Neighboring states also exercised pressure on the former adversaries to comply with the peace accords.

*Most of the nearly 80,000 former combatants from the government Army and the Mozambique National Resistance Movement rebels have enough to eat. Some 80 percent of Mozambicans live in rural areas. Most soldiers went back to their villages, where there was land to till.

They were helped in part by a bumper harvest last year, which erased the hunger that lingered after a devastating drought in 1991.

*The number of land mines, which must be cleared before fields can be cultivated, has not been as high as previously thought. UN estimates have dropped from 2 million land mines to about 100,000.

*Perhaps most important, Mozambicans who supported both the sides are tired of the war, which killed hundreds of thousands. Unlike in Somalia and Angola, where peace was largely imposed from the outside, the people in Mozambique decided that enough was enough. As one former soldier, Samuel Siguaque, says, "I never want to see another gun again."

Dire economic problems still confront Mozambique's 16 million people. But Roberto Chaves, the World Bank representative in Mozambique, calls the country the "silent success" of Africa. He says that growth in the gross domestic product, which reached a peak rate of 19.3 percent in 1991, has been the highest in Africa since 1990.

But, he acknowledges that Mozambique started at a miserably low base, with an economy ruined by war and drought. Some 75 percent of the national budget still comes from donor aid. The only exports of note are cashew nuts and shrimp. Nearly all the roads and 80 percent of the schools are destroyed.

All of Mozambique's social indicators are worse than the average for sub-Saharan Africa.

Many struggle to survive in the cities. The value of the minimum wage has plummeted from $100 a month four years ago to $20 a month, because of inflation and depreciation of the currency.

It is no wonder that corruption and crime are on the rise. Joao Jose Chilaule, a guard for a private security company, says his $25 monthly wage is barely enough to feed his wife, mother, and three children.

"I suppose I'm lucky to have a job. But if I lose this one, I don't know what I'll do," he says.

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