Mozambique: Struggling to Move On?

By Jacob Lindelöw Berntson

Over the last few years, Mozambique has once again seen fighting between the two groups that were the main actors in the Mozambican Civil War 1977-1992. This war left more than one million people dead and several millions internally displaced or forced to flee to neighbouring countries. An astonishing fact is also that first in September this year Mozambique declared itself free from landmines, left in the ground since the civil war and the independence struggle with the Portuguese colonial power. With these horrific statistics in mind, and considering the relative success and prosperity Mozambique has experienced over the last few years, what makes the old enemies unable to bury the hatch?

The actors

The two groups in question are Frelimo (Mozambican Liberation Front) and Renamo (Mozambican National Resistance).
The first one, Frelimo, was founded during the colonial days and was the organisation that brought independence to Mozambique. Its leader, Samora Machel, was an ardent anti-colonialist who made many influential friends in the anti-colonialist camp during the 1960s and 70s, including Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme and Algerian strongman Houari Boumediene. After independence, Machel nationalized schools and hospitals and declared Frelimo a Marxist-Leninist party. Frelimo has been in power ever since independence, with current President Filipe Nyusi being the party’s, and Mozambique’s, fourth president.

Renamo, on their part, was founded in 1975 as a Rhodesian initiative to fight Frelimo, who were accommodating Zimbabwean independence fighters. Taking an anti-communist stance, the group had backing from apartheid South Africa as well as the CIA. Their current leader, Afonso Dhlakama, has been the leader of Renamo since 1979.


The Mozambican Civil War in brief

It is important to note that the Mozambican civil war took place in a complex regional and international cold war context. Therefore, it would be wrong to claim that Renamo necessarily had an apartheid or Western agenda when they commenced their insurgency against Frelimo in 1977. Rather, they gained support from apartheid South Africa and the CIA due to the latters’ fears of another former Western colony turning into a Soviet ally. Moreover, Samora Machel housed several ANC members in Mozambique, which led to the apartheid regime supporting Machel’s enemies, and subsequently military intervening in Mozambique.

Over the course of the war, Renamo launched a guerilla struggle, but were unable to make significant gains. Both sides committed war crimes and forced parts of the population into joining their camp, making civilians paying the price for the regional power struggle. After a military stalemate in the 1980s, the parties eventually started negotiating, and in 1992 a peace agreement was achieved. In 1994, Mozambqiue held its first multi-party elections.

Today’s consequences

One of the concessions made by the Frelimo government in the 1992 peace accords was that Renamo was to be allowed to keep some of its forces. They may have regretted that decision now, as another Renamo insurgency has been underway since 2012.

This did, of course, not happen in a vacuum. The Frelimo government, which is seen as omnipresent in Mozambique, has several times been accused of rigging elections and does de facto control the Mozambican judiciary. Renamo decided to take up arms as a protest against the government’s failure to bring about reform in electoral legislation and the refusal to integrate Renamo’s forces into the army and police force. For Renamo, this would be seen as a step to give them greater power, whereas the Frelimo government has been reluctant as they fear a coup from within. This resulted in clashes and Renamo attacks on government and military buildings, with the government responding with killing senior Renamo members as a counterattack.

A peace deal reached between Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama and former president Armando Guebuza in the summer of 2014 meant that elections could be held later that year. The elections saw yet another Frelimo victory, seeing current President Filipe Nyusi taking over from Guebuza. However, also this election was tainted by allegations of fraud, with Dhlakama leading the charge on the allegations, despite African election monitors having judged the elections as largely free and democratic.

However, Renamo did not stop at allegations. After winning a majority in the Sofala, Manica, Tete, Nampula and Zambezia provinces, Renamo demanded autonomy in these areas. Renamo also insisted on the full 2014 peace agreement being implemented and heavily opposed the government’s decision to dissolve EMOCHIM, a foreign body aimed to ensure the cessation of armed violence and respect of the cease-fire agreement. This decision was taken without Renamo’s consent, which in turn angered many oppositional figures. The last drop for Renamo came in April 2015, when the government rejected their demand of autonomy in the five provinces, claiming it was unconstitutional. Soon after, Renamo set up their own military headquarter, stating that they would themselves take charge on implementing their autonomy over the provinces they won.

From bad to worse

This move did not force the government to make concessions. Rather, Frelimo have themselves started to adopt a more bellicose rhetoric and strategy. In September this year, Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama and his convoy was attacked on two separate occasions by a group of men believed part of Mozambique’s paramilitary police force, with the second attack developing into an armed stand-off claiming 20 lives on each side. On 9 October, Dhlakama’s house in Beira was surrounded by police, and Dhlakama eventually put in house arrest, bringing back Renamo’s fears that Frelimo wants to impose a one-party state to life.

It is believed that a hard-line faction within Frelimo is responsible for ordering these attacks. This group is said to be unhappy with President’s Nyusi too reconciliatory attitude towards Renamo, and is therefore attempting to sabotage the negotiations by attacking Dhlakama. The G-40, Frelimo’s propaganda unit (not a hiphop collective), has in some outlets propagated for the so called “Sovimbi solution”, meaning that the government should, just like the Angolan army did with rebel leader Jonas Sovimbi, assassinate Dhlakama.

Some people actually thought that was what had happened to Dhlakama, as he hadn’t been seen since he was placed in house arrest in October. Then, all of a sudden, he showed up again a few days ago, stating that Renamo will take over the north of the country in March, and that Renamo could disarm Frelimo, if they so wished, in less than a day.

We have yet to see how President Nyusi, and especially the radical fringes within Frelimo, will deal with Dhlakama’s latest statement. Nyusi has shown promising signs of wanting to create peace, but is perhaps too tied down to a party that was heavily involved in fighting the same group they now, once again, have to make peace with.
Even though most people don’t believe another civil war will take place, even a political crisis is something that Mozambique simply cannot afford. Avoiding a crisis and further violence is going to demand strong and responsible leadership from both sides, and will be the ultimate sign indicating if Frelimo and Renamo are finally ready to re-define their hostile relationship.


Photo above by Voice of America [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


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