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Op-Ed Columnist

Mozambique is Japan

Maputo

Josh Haner/The New York Times

Thomas L. Friedman

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Yesterday's news from Mozambique is earth-flattening, and it raises questions about whether there might just be light at the end of the tunnel. It is impossible not to be tantalized by the potential of these events to change the course of Mozambique's history. What's important, however, is that we focus on what this means to the people. The media seems too caught up in worrying about their own skins to pay attention to what's important on the ground. Just call it missing the tables for the wood.

When thinking about the recent troubles, it's important to remember three things: One, people don't behave like billiard balls, so attempts to treat them as such are a waste of time. Billiard balls never suddenly blow themselves up. Two, Mozambique has spent decades as a dictatorship closed to the world, so a mindset of peace and stability will seem foreign and strange. And three, hope is an extraordinarily powerful idea: If corruption is Mozambique's ironing board, then hope is certainly its alarm clock.

When I was in Mozambique last January, I was amazed by the variety of the local cuisine, and that tells me two things. It tells me that the citizens of Mozambique have no shortage of potential entrepreneurs, and that is a good beginning to grow from. Second, it tells me that people in Mozambique are just like people anywhere else on this flat earth of ours.

So what should we do about the chaos in Mozambique? Well, it's easier to start with what we should not do. We should not ignore the problem and pretend it will go away. Beyond that, we need to be careful to nurture the seeds of democratic ideals. The opportunity is there, but I worry that the path to moderation is so strewn with obstacles that Mozambique will have to move down it very slowly. And of course Maputo needs to cooperate.

Speaking with a small business entrepreneur from the small Protestant community here, I asked him if there was any message that he wanted me to carry back home with me. He pondered for a second, and then smiled and said, shukrah-al-abiz, which is a local saying that means roughly, "Abundance, like want, ruins many."

I don't know what Mozambique will be like a few years from now, but I do know that it will probably look very different from the country we see now, even if it remains true to its basic cultural heritage. I know this because, through all the disorder, the people still haven't lost sight of their dreams.