Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Growth of a Nation: Mozambique Trades Bullets for Ballots

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Growth of a Nation: Mozambique Trades Bullets for Ballots

Article excerpt

Villa Algarve is one of the prettier buildings to grace Maputo's elegant waterfront boulevards. Its red-tiled roof and ceramic exterior are framed by elaborate balustrades and awnings in the old Portuguese style.

Twenty-five years ago, the building sent fear through passersby: It was the headquarters of PIDE, the Portuguese secret police, which ruled Mozambique with an iron hand. Now, lines of laundry trail from the windows, and residents boil stew over open fires in the front yard.

When Mozambique won independence in 1975 and descended into civil war soon after, the Portuguese fled, abandoning their elegant villas and apartments. Five years have passed since the fighting stopped, but the poor are still squatting in buildings like Villa Algarve. "These are the kind of issues that the opposition will be raising during the coming election," says a journalist in Maputo, the capital. "They accuse the government of abandoning the poor while lining its own pockets." Politics as usual? Maybe so, but it's refreshing to find it in Mozambique, where just a few years ago the country's political leaders were trading not words but high-caliber firepower across the bush. For all Mozambique's poverty, the country has come a long way since the end of the war in 1992. The governing Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo), which once sought succor from the USSR and China, has dropped its socialist ideals in favor of free-market economic theory. And the Mozambique National Resistance (Renamo), the peasant terrorist army created by the beleaguered white government of neighboring Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and infamous for its brutal tactics, has come in from the bush. A United Nations-inspired peace deal signed in 1992 brought the fighting to an end. Two years later, 7,000 UN troops oversaw the first free election in years. It was a controversial operation: The UN effectively financed Renamo's campaign, spending $17 million on vehicles, telephones, and fax machines for Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama and his men. …

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