The Nordic Africa Institute

Jorge Rebelo

Former FRELIMO—Secretary of Information

The interview was held by Tor Sellström in Maputo, 1 May 1996.

Tor Sellström: When the Nordic countries started to support FRELIMO, how did you look upon this?

Jorge Rebelo: It is a question which we at that time—and even now—put to ourselves: Why did the Nordic countries, which were so far away and had a culture completely different from ours, become interested in Africa? What was the reason? I must confess that I do not have an answer. Some people said that it was because they did not have colonies, therefore being more sensitive. It is not an explanation which is satisfactory to me, because there are many countries in the world which did not have colonies. Others said that it was because the Nordic countries appreciated freedom and justice. That is why they were against oppression and exploitation. Still others said that they were white and cold and therefore liked countries which are hot and people who are black.

Tor Sellström: Was it not strange that the Nordic countries supported the same movements that were supported by the Eastern bloc countries?

Jorge Rebelo: Well, we did not mind so much what the motivation was. We wanted as much support as possible, wherever it came from. The reason why we were closely linked to the Eastern bloc was that they agreed to support us. We asked everybody—even the United States and Britain—to support the liberation struggle, but we did not get any support from them.

Tor Sellström: In the very beginning, FRELIMO received support from the Ford Foundation for the Mozambique Institute. But the US withdrew that support?

Jorge Rebelo: Yes. It was due to pressure from the US administration.

In my capacity as Secretary for Information, my main task was to inform the people inside Mozambique and the outside world about our struggle. At the time, there was the polarity between the West and the East. Then there were the African countries, which supported us through the Organization of African Unity, and the Asian and Latin American countries, which were in the non-aligned movement, but not really relevant in terms of influencing world affairs. In fact, there were two blocs. The Eastern bloc—Soviet Union, China, Bulgaria, all these countries—supported us, while the Western bloc was against us. This was seen in absolute terms by our people. The West was the enemy. The East was a worthy friend. But in FRELIMO we knew that it was not because the Soviet Union liked Mondlane or the Mozambicans that they were giving us support. Nor China. They had their geo-strategic interests. There were certain moments—in fact many moments—when their support was given under very strict conditions. The basic condition was to support their policies and condemn—now that expression no longer exists—imperialism.

Mobilizing our people, we wanted them to be aware of the situation. We received support from the socialist countries, but they had their reasons for that. They wanted something in return, either at that moment or later. On the other hand they were our friends and we could not say as much as I am telling now. We depended absolutely on their support for the war effort. If we had questioned the reasons why they were giving the support, it could have been a disaster. But we knew. We also knew that the West was not a monolithic entity and in our mobilization work we told the people that not all the capitalist countries were enemies. There were countries belonging to the Western bloc that supported the liberation struggle. That is why it was important that the Scandinavian countries supported us. Instead of talking in abstract terms, we could show that not all the Western countries were bad. But we had to prove it. When the people through the Mozambique Institute saw the medicines and books, we could say that they came from Sweden or Norway. It then became concrete. It helped us in our effort to break the dichotomy bad-good, West-East.

The support we were getting from the Nordic countries took two forms. One was diplomatic and the other material. The material support was important, although it was not for the armed struggle. In fact, all the support was non-lethal—as it was called at the time—or humanitarian, in the fields of education, health and to a certain extent information. But the vital support to FRELIMO was arms, because we were engaged in a war. That is also why we depended so much on the socialist countries.

The Nordic support—in addition to educating our people that the West was not so bad—helped us to advance and implement our programme of national reconstruction. In education, for example, we needed teachers and we can say that in an indirect way the support also assisted the liberation struggle, because it extended education to people who were able to fight better. It, thus, had implications for the war itself. In the diplomatic area, we were, however, very often confronted with contradictions. Sweden, Denmark and Norway were saying that they were for the liberation of Mozambique, Angola and so on, but in international fora they would say something different. They would take different positions—especially at the United Nations—and that often made it difficult for us. It was incoherent. For example, an article on EFTA in our Mozambique Revolution in 1967 reproduced a debate in the Swedish parliament where Mr. Ahlmark said that ‘it is quite clear that the increasing trade and foreign investment in Portugal stimulated by EFTA has contributed to the economic development in Portugal and thus to an ever increasing amount of money for the wars in Africa’. In the case of Sweden, there was an important increase in trade after EFTA was formed. The exports from Portugal to Sweden doubled in two years. This was the point: ‘The contradiction between the Scandinavian image and the actual government policy is steadily becoming more blatant’.

Tor Sellström: FRELIMO was more critical than the other Southern African liberation movements, perhaps because of its strong non-alignment. Is that a fair assessment?

Jorge Rebelo: It is a completely fair assessment. It came with the first leaders, specifically Eduardo Mondlane. At that time, the basic policy of FRELIMO was to be independent of any bloc and any outside influence. It was perhaps even clearer under Samora Machel, because he was a very strong nationalist, proud of his country and his people. He would not accept being pressurized to do this or that, but, of course, there were moments when we had to. For example, during the conflict between China and the Soviet Union, the Soviet Union would say that ‘you have to make a statement condemning China, otherwise we will not give you any more weapons’. There was no alternative. But the basic principle was to be independent and non-aligned.

We used to think about this problem, although the war was going on. We were aware that we could not be successful in the war effort if we did not analyse the country and the world, aiming to be as independent as possible. Otherwise, national independence would not be the kind of independence that we wanted. It would not be real independence.

A very important contribution from the Nordic countries was the printing press that the Finnish students gave to FRELIMO in 1970. It was installed in Dar es Salaam by Kid Ahlfors, who even went to the liberated areas inside Mozambique to see how the support was being used. This donation was really important. It brought about a big change in our information work, particularly concerning Mozambique Revolution. It was really fantastic. We could put much more material in each bulletin and the quality improved dramatically.

The printing press still works. We brought it from Dar es Salaam. It is in a printing unit now. It belonged to FRELIMO, but we decided to make it a private company with links to the party.

Tor Sellström: Did you also publish in Portuguese?

Jorge Rebelo: Of course. In A Voz da Revolução. The nature of the articles was not exactly the same. For example, in English we would publish a long essay on the cotton regime. For the outside world that was important. But in Mozambique it was not so necessary, because the people knew about it.

In Mozambique Revolution we informed the world about the material support to our education programmes in Mozambique and Tanzania. We expressed a great deal of gratitude to some of the Scandinavian governments. At that time, Sweden was more supportive and we had to differentiate between them. Another important area was, of course, the support given by Sweden to the Portuguese soldiers who deserted, as well as to the Mozambicans who ran away and could stay in Sweden.

Tor Sellström: In retrospect, do you think that the Nordic support left a positive legacy for the relations with independent Mozambique?

Jorge Rebelo: Obviously. It is well documented, for example in President Machel’s speech at independence, when he mentioned the support and what we owed the Scandinavian countries. He also said that we considered it important to develop our relations with the Scandinavian countries, Finland and Holland.

The Nordic support enabled us to carry out programmes in education, health and information. Through cash contributions— which often were given—we could develop economic activities in the liberated zones. It was important, because it is a fact that you cannot win a war by just firing against the enemy. We wanted to create a new life. For this we needed support. We could mobilize the people to cultivate, to produce maize and products which they could eat, but it was difficult for us to supply soap, medicines and other basics. The support from the Nordic countries filled this gap.

Secondly, it helped us to educate our people and change their image that the West was bad and that all the Eastern countries were our friends. We knew that it was not so, but we needed something to substantiate that with. I think that it was at that moment that the seeds of the future relations were sown. After independence, the Nordic support was thus seen as a continuity, while, for example, if the United States had said ‘we want to give you support’, the first thing that the people would have asked is ‘why, since you were against us during the liberation war?’. People would start thinking that they had other motives.