Leading Article: Mozambique on brink of disaster

Click to follow
The Independent Online
This year has seen the dream and the nightmare in Africa. South Africa was the dream, a peaceful election in which everyone won in the best possible proportions. Rwanda was the nightmare. In recent years there have been more nightmares than dreams in Africa. Attempts by the United Nations to turn civil wars into constitutional politics have failed in Angola, Somalia, Rwanda and Liberia.

Last night Mozambique was on the brink of catastrophe after Renamo, the main opposition party, said it was pulling out of today's election because of alleged mismanagement by the National Electoral Commission. It says it is not returning to war, but refuses to take part until the problems have been sorted out.

A return to war would be criminal. The people are among the poorest in the world. Whole towns have been blasted into rubble with entire communities living in Stone Age conditions. Since the 1992 ceasefire, the economy has been growing, millions of people have been moving back to their homes from squalid refugee camps, and roads are open again. Yet this fragile peace could easily be broken. The UN has limped along in Mozambique, late and under-budgeted. Both sides have retained arms and soldiers outside the camps established by the peace agreement. The country is riddled with mines. The psychological and social impact will take a generation to overcome.

An election has been seen as the end point in the peace process, but more fundamental is the power relationship between the two parties after the election. The dangers are that the ruling Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo) will refuse to share power, or that Renamo, the terrorist rabble that transformed itself into a political party, will not accept the result.

Now it seems Renamo may even baulk at the election itself.

If the election takes place, Frelimo will almost certainly win a majority, particularly in the south. Renamo will do well in the central region. There is no doubt most of Mozambique's 6.4 million voters will turn out to vote for peace. Unfortunately, they may even be denied the chance to do that.

Maximum pressure should be applied to Renamo to allow the election to go ahead.

But, whatever the result, the winner should form a government of national unity with generous representation for losers, following the example of South Africa. To take a 'winner-takes-all' attitude after such a horrible civil war and exclude the losers would be a recipe for its continuation.