Mozambique: a decade after independence. While socialist rhetoric continues, poverty, a rebel war and the failure of past policies force some liberalization of the economy
Mozambique celebrated 10 years of independence from Portugal this week by initiating a program of economic reform. President Samora Machel has declared that his government is on a ``political and organizational offensive.'' Although still deeply mistrustful of free enterprise, widespread hunger and political disaffection are forcing Mozambique to begin a series of economic reforms that include the sale of state businesses to private entrepreneurs.
It's a bitter ideological choice for a nation which came into being with plans for an overhaul of the economy in accord with the doctrines of Marxism-Leninism and a program calling for radical nationalization.
The political rhetoric, however, continues. In remarks at the independence celebration Tuesday President Machel said: ``Our country will be the grave of capitalism and exploitation. There is no force capable of bringing down the People's Republic of Mozambique, from whatever corner.''
The ruling FRELIMO Party (Mozambique Liberation Front) took power in 1975 after a left-wing Portuguese Army coup ousted the colonial government in Lisbon.
The target of Machel's ``offensive'' is sloth and theft in state enterprises. Each morning's newspaper carries a photo of Machel pointing an accusing finger at things like a pile of unsold, molding shoes, or barrels of chemicals left out in the rain. He is depicted tongue-lashing the management: ``I'm sure that if they [the employees] were working for a boss, he would never tolerate this.''
Machel's assertion may soon be put to the test by the venture toward economic liberalization. It could also represent his last chance to revive the economy and hold on to political power.
According to the original plans rural life was to be transformed by collectivization and mechanization. Heavy machinery and East-bloc advisers were brought in to work the nationalized farms. But lack of expertise and spare parts made the sophisticated equipment impossible to maintain.
There were mid-course corrections of the plan. In Niassa Province, where an ambitious project was planned, Romanian technical advisers have left new tractors and combines sitting in the sun. Instead, progress toward mechanization will start with oxen for plowing.
While resources were invested in state farms and cooperatives, the traditional family-run sector, which produces more than 85 percent of the nation's food, was largely ignored. Prices fixed below production costs in order to subsidize urban consumers resulted, analysts say, in production drops.
One feature of nationalization was rural ``People's Shops.'' Designed to serve the same function as the privately-owned general stores they replaced, they proved to be a management nightmare. Goods purchased -- or pilfered -- from their shelves were never replaced.
``We've all got money,'' a farmer complained recently, ``but there's nothing to buy.'' Soap, salt, and cloth are now rare in rural areas.
The attempt to impose socialism in the industrial sector -- where productivity also fell -- has been beset by problems. Following nationalization, 230,000 Portuguese, who made up the skilled and most of the semiskilled labor force, left the country. They were replaced with politically loyal but inexperienced administrators who were required to attend political ``consciousness-raising'' meetings, and had little time to oversee operations.
Drought and war have played their part, too. The Mozambique National Resistance, an anti-government guerrilla movement, operates freely in much of the country. Commercial traffic, often attacked by hungry troops of both sides, has ground almost to a halt.
The first signs of liberalization came in 1980 and 1981 when the government closed the ``People's Shops'' and began selling off some state commercial interests. This year it has put state furniture factories on the block. Quiet negotiations are going on between the government and the Portuguese business community in South Africa for the return to them of properties nationalized after independence.
Agricultural reforms are being introduced. Discrimination against family and private commercial agricultural interests has ended. Last month, free-market prices were decreed for selected farm products and fixed prices on others were more than doubled.
The ``nationalist entrepreneur'' is now celebrated in the state press. As Luis Ferreira, a Niassa farmer, showed a visitor his farm recently, he recounted a tour by the provincial governor last fall.
``Learn from this man,'' the governor reportedly commanded his entourage. ``This is how to run a farm.'' Shortly thereafter, Ferreira was awarded a parcel of uncultivated land belonging to a neighboring state farm.