The White House's Confusing Signals on Mozambique

Report Africa

The White House's Confusing Signals on Mozambique

September 19, 1985 14 min read Download Report
Jaime Huber
Bradley Fellow in Education Policy

(Archived document, may contain errors)

455 September 19, 1985 THE W HITE HOUSE'S CONFUSING SIGNALS ON MOZAMBIQUE INTRODUCTION This week's visit of Mozambican ruler Samora Machel, a pro-Soviet Marxist, to the White House symbolizes the Reagan Administration's pursuit of a highly questionable policy policy is a high-stakes g amble.with thus far little evidence of success, and it is inconsistent with the Administration's self proclaimed doctrine supporting anti-Marxist.insurgencies The The State Department and the white House seem to be hoping to "wean away" Machel from his cl o se ties to the Soviet bloc and his disastrous Marxist economic policies. But there is as yet no sign of fundamental change, or indeed any change beyond that which a desperate leader might make to hang on to power. While Machel has observed the requirement of the so-called Nkomati Accord between South Africa and Mozambique by ending his aid to the radical African National Congress in South Africa, the Accord has not led to any fundamental shift in Mozambique's foreign or domestic policies. to Machel is not o nly wrong on its merits it raises questions about the overall coherence of U.S. foreign policy. Both the President and the Secretary qf State have proclaimed the so-called Reagan Doctrinei1 of U.S. sympathy and support for anti-Marxist insurgencies. Yet t he Administration is seeking to prop up Marxist Mozambique with its dismal human rights record at a time when it is being threatened by a militarily effective insurgency.

The possibility of fundamental change in'any nation can never be totally excluded. Pr esident Anwar Sadat, after all expelled the Soviets from Egypt. But as yet there is no indication that Machel's actions are anything more than a pause and a holding action, while retaining close ties to Moscow. Despite State Department enthusiasm, there i s nothing new about Marxist regimes taking Western economic assistance. But they use it to reinforce As important; the State Department request for military aid 2 I their own control, not to make fundamental changes. Given these realities, Samora Machel sh ould be received with formal correct ness, and his statements and actions carefully scrutinized, but no assistance should be offered.

THE NKOMATI PACT AND RECENT DEVELOPMENTS The Nkomati pact, signed by Mozambican President Somora Machel and South African President P W. Botha on March 15, 1984 pledged both sides to prevent "armed bands" from organizing within their respective territories. South Africa promised to cut off RENAMO, the Mozambique National Resistance rebels, who have made crippling strikes aga i nst a variety of economic targets in their country. Mozambique, which borders South Africa, pledged itself to remove the African National Congress (ANC) guerrillas from its territory and has done so South Africa remains very supportive of the Nkomati Pact and views it as a way to stabilize the teetering government of a strategic neighbor: 17 percent of all South African foreign trade passes through Mozambique's capital, Maputo, and 12 percent of its totai electricity is provided by Mozambique's Cabora Bass a hydroelectric plant. For South Africa, the stability of Mozambique has been more important than its ideology. For Mozambique Nkomati was a way to lessen RENAMO guerrilla activity against the Machel government's already shattered economy The U.S. State De p artment, which played a very modest role in brokering it, has gambled on Nkomati, seeing it as.the corner stone of a new twist to southern Africa policy designed to dis mantle Soviet influence in the Marxist states ringing South Africa. Meanwhile, critics have disparaged Nkomati as incompre hensible assistance for a despotic, failing Marxist regime.

Now, more than a year after Nkomati, anti-government guerrilla activity has increased in Mozambique. The situation for the regime of Samora Machel is deteriora ting. Foreign debt has ballooned to unmanageable levels, the local currency is worthless a savage drought has claimed 100,000 lives and reduced agricultural production to a trickle, and the black market has surpassed its state-sanctioned counterpart And M ozambique has turned to Zimbabwe's Marxist regime for military assistance to put down the rebels. The treaty has had little impact on Mozambique.

RENAMO: THE ANTI-MACHEL INSURGENCY Mozambique became independent in 1975 after 500 years of Portuguese colonial rule. Portugal's 1974 leftist coup and a ten-year armed struggle by the Front for the Liberation of Mozam bique (FRELIMO) against the colonial government brought in Samora Machel's Marxist reign of terror. Thousands of Portugu ese settlers fled across the border into South Africa with most heading for.

Portugal. FRELIMO's leader Samora Machel, became President of Mozambique and methodically began turning his country into a 3 Marxist dictatorship. He purged FRELIMO of anti-Marxis t elements imposed communist doctrine, herded thousands into reeducation camps and other prisons, and nationalized industry and agriculture.

Machel renamed Maputo streets for Lenin, Marx, Fidel Castro, and Ho Chi Minh. He also fomented revolution in the r egion. Example He allowed Robert Mugabe's ZANU party to establish bases inside Mozambique, from which armed units would raid what then was Rhodesia.

RENAMO, formerly MNR, the Mozambique National Resistance was stitched together primarily by the Rhodesian Central Intelli gence Organization in cooperation with some Portuguese and anti Marxist former FRELIMO members to Machel's support of Rhodesia's ZANU terrorist activities.

Yet, some top RENAMO leaders, such as Alfonso Dhlakama, are ex-FRELIMO members. REN AMO's origin as a mere countermeasure to ZAMJ often prompts Western leaders, including those in the State Department, to dismiss it as a band of armed disrupters inherently incapable of governing M0zambique.l There is some truth to this assessment, but th a t fact argues for more and better training The CIO wanted a counterweight South Africa's military, known as the South African Defense Force (SADF), along with a substantial number of former Portuguese Mozambique settlers, helped RENAMO relocate its base o f operations and provided funding after Mugabe gained power and Rhodesia became Zimbabwe. RENAMO's station, Radio Free Africa, was moved inside South Africa, and rebel training took place on "farmst1 a few miles outside Pretoria.2 The SADF used RENAMO as's counter weight to Mozambique.'s support of ANC territories using Maputo as a safe haven. The SADF supplemented this thinly veiled covert activity with overt strikes against ANC strongholds inside Mozam bique, often in immediate response to ANC terrorism i n Pretoria.

South African planes bombed suspected ANC hideouts near Maputo in May 1983 RENAMO flourished under South African tutelage. The rebel force, the majority of which is located inside Mozambique, has grown to an estimated 20,000 members. Although M ozambique's economic problems are fundamentally caused by its Marxist collec tivization and nationalization policies, RENAMO's campaign makes the problems worse.

By attacking carefully selected economic targets, RENAMO has denied the Machel government lea ding foreign exchange sources and undermined foreign investor confidence. These targets include railroad links with Zimbabwe, Malawi, and South Africa; the Beira-Maputo coastal highway; the Beira-Zimbabwe oil pipeline and agricultural sites. RENAMO attack s reduced tea exports in Eastern Zambezia province by 50 percent in 19

84. RENAMO has 1 "Look, RENAMO doesn't have the same legitimacy" as other popular anti Marxist liberation fronts in Africa, says a State Department spokesman.

Interview,,March 6, 1985.

The Economist, July 16, 1983. 4 wreaked similar havoc in Mozambique's other main agricultural provifices Cab0 Delgado and Nampula. Total 1985 agricultural production is down 50 percent, due to the'reluctance of commercial farmers to plant in the face of growing insurgency.3 bican economy, concludes The insurgents have had a severe negative impact on the country's economic development Insurgent activities have created a climate of insecurity which, in some cases, has blocked internationally-sponsored deve lopment The State Department, in its annual evaluation of the Mozam A bleak economic outlook confronts Mozambique. Of its 12.9 million inhabitants, 85 percent are subsistence farmers. Food production has plunged 80 percent since 19

80. Last year the southe rn region's cereal crop was only 10 percent of the normal level. Per capita Gross National Product dropped 14.1 percent between 1980 and 1982 (the last year for which figures are avail able), reaching a level equivalent to $159 per person. Foreign Western debt exceeds 2 billion; debt owed the Eastern bloc states could be three times as much. According to the State Department three years of drought, an armed insurgency as well as a shortage of skilled workers and questionable policies have disrupted the eco n omic devel~pment While the drought has ended, the New York Times reported Mozambique "is confronted with a paralysis caused by the spreading rebellion.Il6 The local currency, the metical, has collapsed. Many Maputo merchants will accept payment only in do l lars or South African rands Official exchange rates are meaningless. In late 1984 a dollar officially was worth 44 meticals but could buy 1,400 on the black market. In a futile attempt to curb the black market the Machel government temporarily instituted public floggings prison sentences, and executions for tleconomic crimes I8 Mozam bique rescheduled 300 million worth of its Western debt in 1984.

Unable to muster adequate foreign exchange, the government cannot import machinery, spare parts, or raw materi als necessary for the most basic production THE SOVIET BLOC AND MOZAMBIQUE Mozambique has many characteristics of a Soviet client state. Despite State Department hopes and Machel's interest in a Western economic bailout, there has been no significant move away from the Soviet bloc. Mozambique relies, for example, on a large number of Soviet and Soviet bloc personnel some 20,000 Soviet bloc personnel provided defense, internal Earlier this year The New York Times, July 9, 1985.

Foreign Economic Trends--Mozambique, U.S. Department of State, July 1984 5 Ibid 6 7 8 The New York Times, July 9, 1985 The New York Times, December 3, 1984.

The Economist, op. cit. 5 security, information management, included several thousand Cubans and engineering services. This as well as East Germans, Soviets Zimbabweans, and North Korean Ilmllitary specialists.

The chief of Mozambique's air force, Major General Hama Thai, is North Vietnamese. Mozambican air force planes, some 35 MiG-17s and 50 MiG-2ls, a re flown by East Germans, although.East Germans also established the state secret police, SNASP, which runs Mozambique's prisons and reeducation camps, home to an estimated 300,000 captives. There is no free press; the East Germans run AIM, the state info r mation service. East Germany provides technical assistance at the Maatice coal mine, which has an estimated 400 million metric ton reserve. Approximately 12,000 Mozambican children work in forced labor factories in East Germany cooperation treaty with Eas t Germany that includes provisions for military defense President Machel has signed a 25-year friendship and Machel also has signed treaties with the USSR. A Ilfriendshipll agreement with Moscow pledges Mozambique to deny harbor to Western ships. A Ilfishi n gll tre,aty with the Soviets will provide facili ties at Nacala, which could endanger free passage through the Mozambique channel on the Cape oil route. Unable to develop its own oil and natural gas reserves, Mozambique relies on Libya Algeria, and the So viet Union for petroleum. The USSR, Czecho slovakia, and Yugoslavia have been granted oil and mineral explo ration and development rights in southern Mozambican provinces.

Mozambique is also a signatory of an omnibus trade, aid, technolo gical, and.economic agreement with the Soviets.

Regular Mozambican military forces, estimated at 25,000 troops, rely almost exclusively on Soviet hardware, which includes 85 tanks, 300 armored personnel carriers, 200 armored cars 128 artillery pieces, 14 patrol boats, 6 tr ansport planes, and 4 Mi-8 helicopters. Much of this Soviet weaponry, however, is inoperable due to age, poor maintenance. or destruction by RENAMO.

Facing east toward the Indian Ocean and west toward Zimbabwe and South Africa, Mozambique is crucial to So viet power projection in the region. The Soviets, in 1981, installed a dry dock at Maputo that regularly services ships from the Indian Ocean Soviet fleet. Three weeks after a 1981 SADF raid on ANC hideouts inside Mozambique, three Soviet warships arrived in Maputo harbor for a visit. The Soviet ambassador threatened to unleash them to protect Mozambique. This may have been no bluff. Soviet warships off Ethiopia's coast bombarded the cities of Massava and A~sab Despite these close ties, there are limits to MOSCOW'S interest in Mozambique elsewhere, the Kremlin refused Machel's bid to join the Soviet bloc economic organization, COMECON. Zimbabwean troops have guarded the Beira-Umtali oil pipeline and now have launched a Perhaps because of economic overextens i on The Christian Science Monitor, January 30, 1978 6 major offensive against the rebels. Zimbabwe President Mugabe has pledged to deploy 30,000 troops, 75 percent of Zimbabwe's 41,000-man standing army, inside Mozambique by year's end.1 This would be a ra d ical departure from Zimbabwe's previous military role, which was limited to providing 3,000 troops to guard the strategic Mutare (Zimbabwe)-Beira (Mozambique) railroad and oil and gas pipeline. Machel requested the assistance at a June 12 1985, security c o nference with Mugabe and Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere.ll Last month, Zimbabwe moved helicopter troop transports and gunships into the region THE U.S. AND MOZAMBIQUE According to the New York Times reports of last December the American Embassy in Map u to regards President Samora M. Machel an avowed Marxist-Leninist whose country's voting record at the United Nations is, from the American point of view, one of the worst, as a pragmatic leader with great charisma Relations with the United States are term e d excellent as a result of 'matur ing' on both sides What accounts for this improving diplomatic climate, explains the Times, is llMozambique's readiness to accept American aid in its time of despair.Itl2 Mozambican ambassador to the U.S., Valeriano Ferra o , charac terizes current relations between his country and the U.S. as Ithe best ever.1113 Frank Wisner, State Department Senior Deputy Assistant Secretary for Africa Affairs, expresses optimism and accomplishment The President [Reagan] is very pleased wi t h the progress we've made [in Mozambique].'Il4 The "progress" of which Wisner speaks is the perception inside the State Department that Mozambique is.being weaned away from Moscow. Wisner and his boss, Assistant Secretary of State Chester Crocker, expende d considerable energy persuading Mozambique and South'Africa to sign the Nkomati accord The Administration views Nkomati as the cornerstone to diplomatic success in southern Africa," says Wisner The Soviets are very unhappy with Mozam bique for signing Nko m ati. They predicted Machel would fail and Mozambique would pay a high price.It U.S.-Mozambique relations were not always so cordial. U.S economic aid was temporarily withdrawn in early 1981, after Mozambique expelled four U.S. embassy personnel on spying charges.

President Jimmy Carter assailed the Machel regime's widespread human rights violations lo The Christian Science Monitor, August 26, 1985, p. 12 l1 The Washington Post, June 13, 1985 l2 The New York Times, December 3, 1984 l3 Interview, March 6, 19 85 l4 Ibid. 7 The human rights violations continue today. Since 1975, an estimated 75,000 persons ,have perished in Mozambican prisons and Ilreeducation camps.It At the tlM~~-D1l prison in Cab0 Delgado province, the skulls and bones of thousands Iflie ble a ching in the sun.1115 Travel within the country is restricted. Arbitrary arrests and detentions of up to 180 days without charges occur frequently. Prisoners can be given open-ended sentences. In 1983, thousands .of Mozambicans were forcibly relocated fro m urban areas to the drought-ravaged countryside. Religious persecution is commonplace.16 Toward.the end of 1983, Washington-Maputo relations improved Discontented with the level of Soviet economic assistance and hard pressed by a lack of foreign exchange, three years of deva stating drought, and stepped-up RENAMO attacks, Machel turned to the West. The State Department saw this as an opportunity to break the back of Soviet-sponsored hostilities throughout the area. To achieve this, the U.S. has sought to s t op the violence that creates Soviet arms clients and establish a dialogue with the Marxist Machel regime. A small but symbolic carrot of economic and food aid amounting to 16.1 million was offered Maputo. The U.S. promised to sponsor Mozambique for member ship in the Inter national Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the so-called Paris Club, a prerequisite for renegotiating Western debt.

Mozambique wa5 approved for IMF membership in 1984 and subsequently received a $45 million World Bank loan. Mozambique wa s also the largest recipient of U.S. emergency food aid in 1984, some 350,000 metric tons. State Department officials have defended their backing of Machells Marxist regime by insisting that: IIMozambique isnl t Nicaragua. Irl The U.S. plans to increase e c onomic and food aid to Mozambique see table Some. U.S. officials apparently view Machel as a black African version of Anwar Sadat. Says a State Department official of U.S. aid to Mozambique: I1That1s a hell of a lot cheaper than it cost us in Egypt Says W isner, IILook, Mozambique applied for COMECON membership in 1980 18 Now, they are about to join the IMF and the World Bank.

A State Department proposal planned to ship Machel nonlethal military equipment: communications gear, uniform accessories and, perha ps, a few trucks. This was blocked in Congress as in appropriate through E'Y 1986 I That's quite a shift.'t1g l5 The Washington Times, February 5, 1985. l6 l7 l8 l9 Interview, March 6, 1985 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, U.S. Department of Sta te February 1985.

Interview with State Department Official Membership propbsal denied April 1981. 8 U.S. Aid to Mozambique Year Program Development Assistance 1984 (actual 1 Economic Support Fund 7 PL 480 Title I 0 PL 480 I1 8.103 Military Assistance Milit ary Training 0 0 Total 16.103 Source U.S. Department of State. All PRECARIOUS FUTURE FOR NKOMATI 1985 (estimated) 1986 (proposed 2 11 17 23.2 1.0 15 54.35 2 15 10 0 3.0 15 30.15 figures in millions I Although deprived of official South African government support by the Nkomati treaty, RENAMO rebel activity has increased.

Earlier this year the Christian Science Monitor reported that the rebels of the RENAMO movement have achieved remarkable is believed to come from Malawi, the Comoro Islands, private citize ns in Portugal and South Africa. When Nkomati was signed RENAMO operated in nine of Mozambique's ten provinces; now they are active in all ten. They have surrounded Maputo and frequently cut off electricity to the capital city. Planes approaching and depa rting the airport must make steep turns and run without advances since the signing [of Nk~mati New RENAMO support I I lights for fear of attack.

Last July, a despondent Machel conceded We are living in a war situation Regular Mozambican army troops seem unwilling-to pursue the rebels.21 As a result of the violence, thousands of Mozambicans have fled to neighboring Zimbabwe.

The economy slides further, and Machel, fond of his gold braided marshal's uniform and purple Rolls-Royce, faces an uncer tain future. His government remains unable to quell RENAMO assaults, and he has been forced to seek outside military inter diction, primarily from Zimbabwe, a move that could forfeit U.S aid and invite South African invasion. A leading South African official has said Our neighbors know if they introduce surrogate forces into the region we will go .in and get them out However a South African spokesman said his government does not regard the 2o The Christian Science Monitor, February 5, 1985 21 The New York Times, July 1 , 1985. 9 current presence of Zimbabwean troops inside Mozambique as a threat to South Africa's security.22 Conversely, Machel could solicit South African military assistance, a move that would relgnite the Nkomati controversy in Pretoria and put the Sout h African SADF in the awkward mission of neutralizing a guerrilla force it helped nurture.

Machel must make a move soon. Rumors of a coup have circu lated widely, and "within the ruling) Frelimo Party itself, the pro-Soviet faction remains strong.Il23 CONC LUSION Given the battlefield successes of the RENAMO insurgency against Samora Machel's Marxist regime and Mozambique's precarious political and economic condition, it is puzzling that the Reagan Administration feels that it serves U.S. interests for the W hite House to receive Machel with the pomp of a visiting dignitary at this time. Nor is it at all apparent that the U.S which has very strong leverage considering Machel's serious problems, is insisting on anything in return for tossing Machel this symbol ic lifeline.

For Machel's visit to serve any useful purpose, the U.S must make clear that U.S. sympathies are with those struggling to move Mozambique away from its embrace of the Soviet bloc and its Marxist ideology. The U.S. sho uld state that it has no intention of seeking to rescue Machel from the problems that his own policies have created unless there were to be an absolutely clear-cut irreversible break with the Soviet bloc as, for example, when Egypt's Sadat expelled Soviet bloc personnel. Internationally observed free elections would also be required. In sum, Machel must be told that he cannot have the best of both worlds--receiv ing U.S. aid that merely enables him to maintain his tight dicta torial grip and de facto allia nce with Moscow. If such changes I do not occur, Machel should be advised that the U.S. will reassess other support for the RENAMO forces optimism about changes in the views and policies of Samora Machel.

If nothing else, Machel's forthcoming visit will se rve to illu strate whether these hopes have any basis in reality. Should Machel prove unwilling to move away from the Soviet bloc, reassess ment of U.S. policy would be urgently needed its own policies and review the question of moral, political, or I I U . S. policy thus far has been based primarily upon unsupported Prepared for The Heritage Foundation by Jaime Pinto a Portuguese writer on international affairs and Mark Huber a Washington-based free-lance writer 22 Interview, September 12, 1985 23 The Chris tian Science Monitor, August 6, 1985.


Jaime Huber

Bradley Fellow in Education Policy