Revolution, Counter-Revolution and Revisionism in Postcolonial Africa: The Case of Mozambique, 1975-1994

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Revolution, Counter-Revolution and Revisionism in Postcolonial Africa: The Case of Mozambique, 1975-1994. By Alice Dinerman. London and New York: Routledge, 2006. Pp. xx, 394; 5 maps. $140.00/£ 80.

Mozambique was once the shining symbol of radical postcolonial transformation, socialist orientation, Third World solidarity, the struggle against tribalism, racism, the oppression of women, illiteracy, disease, and underdevelopment. The People's Republic of Mozambique also became the site of one of the most ferocious "regional conflicts" in the endgame of the Cold War, which took a million human lives. And then, as if the faucet was turned, Mozambique became a shining symbol of post-Cold War negotiated conflict resolution, IMF-directed market reform, and internationally supervised elections. Moreover, these extreme vicissitudes registered under the watch of the same ruling party, Frente da Libertaçâo de Moçambique (FRELIMO), and even under the same roster of personalities dating back to the romantic prehistory of armed struggle against Portuguese colonialism. Such an astonishing history would provide a great study in political adaptation, if not a paraphrase of the whole postcolonial periphery from the epoch of developmental hopes to the epoch of market pragmatism and venality.

Alice Dinerman boldly set out to analyze how, during the 1990s, the FRELIMO leadership sought to explain and justify its own change of course. The result is a monograph that spreads far beyond the intended explanation. First of all, this is a very (or perhaps excessively) detailed historical summary of Mozambique before, during, and after colonialism. Dinerman engages in an extensive retelling of major works on Mozambique. She focuses on the literature regarding ideology and the state-building efforts of FRELIMO, as well as the various attempts to explain the brutally effective counterrevolutionary insurgency waged by FRELIMO's nemesis, the RENAMO. Those earlier explanations (generated as one cannot help noticing mostly by the Anglo-American progressive intellectuals), were accepted enthusiastically and, in turn, helped to produce the official line of FRELIMO during its socialist and developmentalist heyday: the march to socialism produced resistance by obscurantist elements, exploitative classes, and subversion by the apartheid's secret services. Curiously, criticism of this apologetic line emerged in the late 1980s from the works of several equally leftist (mostly French) scholars. More or less explicitly inspired by Trotsky's criticism of Stalin, these "revisionists" argued that FRELIMO's inner militarization and bureaucratic despotism alienated the peasantry, especially in the more marginal zones, which allowed RENAMO to evolve from foreign-backed Contras into one side in a genuine civil war. …