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Praying for Marxism in Africa By: Mark D. Tooley
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, March 13, 2009


The Geneva-based World Council of Churches (WCC) recently published a glowing homage to cordial church-state relations in formerly Marxist Mozambique, claiming the credit for itself. Largely unmentioned was that Mozambique’s still governing FRELIMO (Liberation Front of Mozambique), which the WCC actively funded with $120,000 as a guerrilla movement in the early 1970’s, was one of Africa’s most vicious and anti-religious dictatorships after it seized power. A Soviet bloc member for 15 years, the FRELIMO regime only abandoned Marxism-Leninism when the Soviet Union was collapsing and Western donors were its only salvation.

"If I had been a young African in the 1960s, I would have joined FRELIMO and supported it throughout the struggle for freedom,” a former Anglican missionary to Mozambique proudly told the WCC’s Ecumenical News International (ENI).

Naturally, it wasn’t “freedom” for which FRELIMO struggled. FRELIMO was able to seize power in 1975, after a leftist military coup in Portugal led to a sudden Portuguese exodus from its colonies. About 300,000 Portuguese quit Mozambique in a little over a week, hardly a vote of confidence in the impending FRELIMO regime. Hundreds of thousands of native Mozambicans would also eventually leave their nation, as FRELIMO imposed a harsh police state, repressing and further impoverishing an already poor nation. Predictably, the new Marxist regime seized most of the Catholic Church’s assets, just as it seized other private property, in pursuit of the Revolution.

FRELIMO opponents coalesced into anti-Marxist RENAMO (National Resistance of Mozambique), which waged its own more than decade long guerrilla war against the new masters. RENAMO was funded and armed by South Africa’s Apartheid regime, until the South Africans struck their own deal with FRELIMO to scuttle RENAMO in exchange for FRELIMO’s withdrawing support for the African National Congress. But RENAMO continued, with some funding from Portuguese expatriates, and thanks to FRELIMO’s extensive corruption and unpopularity. he civil war was one of Africa’s most brutal and murderous. International media commonly parroted FRELIMO claims about RENAMO’s atrocities. But neither side’s forces commonly had uniforms or regular pay, and undoubtedly both sides, along with irregulars with no loyalties, conducted massacres of civilians.

Throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s, FRELIMO benefitted from advisors from various East Bloc dictatorships, including East Germans, whom one wag described to President Reagan as merely Nazis without the charm. When the East Bloc crumbled, FRELIMO was forced to turn to Western donors, who ultimately compelled the regime to abandon Marxism-Leninism and to seek peace with RENAMO. The 1990-1992 negotiations between FRELIMO and RENAMO were hosted by a Roman Catholic lay order called the Community of Sant'Egidio, who, unlike the WCC, were impartial and harbored no special sympathies for FRELIMO. Indeed, the WCC seems to have played little if any direct role in the successful 2 year negotiations hosted by Sant-Egidio in Rome.

Unlike former Portuguese colony Angola, which also endured Marxism and an horrendous civil war, Mozambique had no readily apparent oil reserves or diamond mines to fund the belligerents. Without their Soviet or South African patrons, neither FRELIMO nor RENAMO could afford to wage war indefinitely. Remarkably, both sides have largely upheld the 1992 peace accord, and democratic elections, though often corrupt in favor of FRELIMO, have been relatively peaceful. A now non-Marxist FRELIMO has retained power, with RENAMO serving as the main opposition.

This is all no thanks to the WCC, which never expressed any special concern about FRELIMO when it was brutally communist and persecuting Christians. The ENI report only obliquely admits to “a nation considered Marxist and anti-religious after its independence in 1975.” And even this “anti-religious” stance was understandable, according to ENI. "When FRELIMO came to power in 1975 there was a great deal of anti-Church feeling, and many churches were closed down," the Anglican missionary told ENI. "One reason was that FRELIMO regarded the Roman Catholic Church as too closely allied to the State. At that time, to be Portuguese and a Catholic were practically one and the same thing, although, of course, there were individual missionaries who were not in favor of the Portuguese system at all."

FRELIMO, during its most repressive Marxist days, naturally maintained warm ties with the WCC, which was interested in promoting Marxism under the aegis of Liberation Theology. Churches and missionaries who were non-political and devoted to spreading the Gospel were, of course, repressed by FRELIMO, whose totalitarianism forbade transcendent loyalties to any of Marx’s spiritual rivals. But the WCC blindly chose to regard Mozambique under FRELIMO as “liberated” from colonialism, ignoring that the new rulers were far more tyrannical than the former Portuguese imperialists.

According to ENI’s revisionist history, “things changed dramatically in the early 1990s” when groups like the WCC “made overtures to rebels fighting the FRELIMO government, which “helped bring about reconciliation after a post-independence civil war that cost tens of thousands of lives.” ENI does not even mention the Catholic Community of Sant'Egidio, which was the most directly responsible for bringing peace to Mozambique, working with Mozambican Roman Catholic Archbishop Jaime Gonçalves of Beira.  Both Santi-Egidio and Goncalves were also active in urging FRELIMO to ease its persecution of religion, a project in which the WCC had no apparent interest.

The Protestant-dominated Mozambican Christian Council likewise actively urged FRELIMO negotiations with RENAMO. Revealingly, early on, the FRELIMO regime required Mozambican church leaders seeking peace and humanitarian contacts with RENAMO to work through the WCC, obviously a trusted partner for the regime. Also interestingly, a Mozambican church delegation that came to the U.S. to seek negotiations with RENAMO was actively discouraged by its host, the National Council of Churches. Fortunately, Mozambican church leaders were ultimately more interested in ending their nation’s nightmare of civil war and one party rule than in winning favor from left-wing Western church ideologues.  

Today, the churches in Mozambique operate relatively freely, unthreatened by war, in a relatively open multi-party state, in an economy that is no longer strangled by Marxism-Leninism. The WCC wants the credit. But if the WCC’s original policies had prevailed, Mozambique would have remained a disastrous outpost of Soviet-sponsored tyranny and poverty.

Mark D. Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. He is the author of Taking Back the United Methodist Church.


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