The unrest in Mozambique suggests that old problems can turn into zombies that return to torment the prospects for development in a modernizing country.
Mozambique is a former Portuguese colony in southeastern Africa with a population of 24 million. It sits along the Indian Ocean and borders on Malawi, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Fifty-six percent of its people are Christian.
The country suffered a civil war that began in 1975 and claimed a million victims. The war was partly a Cold War affair, and partly a result of white South African and Rhodesian efforts to unseat the Marxist-Leninist government that took power at independence in 1975. The government party was FRELIMO; the white-backed opposition group, RENAMO.
The war ended with an agreement in 1992. The first multiparty elections took place in 1994. FRELIMO won the last contest in 2009, taking 191 of 250 seats in parliament and re-electing President Armando Guebuza, a 70-year-old businessman. Local elections are scheduled for November; presidential and parliamentary elections are set for next year.
Mozambique's economy grew by 7 percent last year, its coal exports are selling well and substantial offshore natural gas reserves have been discovered, perhaps the fourth largest in the world. The two principal companies involved are U.S.-based Anadarko Petroleum Corp. and Italian ENI.
But RENAMO's original leader, Afonso Dhlakama, 60, has now taken to the mountains of the Gorongosa Game Reserve and his forces have reinitiated military skirmishes against government forces. Talks have begun between FRELIMO and RENAMO, but Mr. Dhlakama has so far refused to come to the capital, Maputo, to meet with Mr. Guebuza. RENAMO's grievances stem from its leaders' belief that its people are not sharing in Mozambique's new promises of prosperity.
All of this is regrettable in terms of the poor's needs in health care, education, housing and other infrastructure. No one doubts, based on the previous 17 years of war, RENAMO's ability to disrupt the country's progress.
The correct path for Mr. Guebuza and his supporters is to seek dialogue with RENAMO and to offer it a more prominent position in the country's development. President Barack Obama could help provide counsel along these lines to Mozambique's leadership.