June 25th, 2013
08:46 AM ET

Is Mozambique sliding back toward conflict?

By Alex Vines, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Alex Vines is head of the Africa Program at Chatham House and author of ‘Renamo: from terrorism to democracy in Mozambique.’ He is also a Senior Lecturer at Coventry University. The views expressed are his own.

Mozambique might not be on U.S. President Barack Obama’s itinerary for his Africa trip that begins this week, but the country has still been making headlines. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been for the right reasons.

Just over two decades ago, one of Africa's most brutal civil wars ended in Mozambique, and the country today is regarded as having passed through a successful post-conflict transition. Indeed, despite its handicaps and the country's brutal military past, the country’s informal amnesty, traditional healing and forgiveness processes played a significant role in moving the country forward, enabling the two major parties – the Mozambican National Resistance (Renamo) and the Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo) – to compete peacefully at elections.

But the legacy of peace is now under threat from the rapidly deteriorating security situation in the center of the country. About a dozen soldiers and police and three civilians have been killed in armed attacks since April in central Mozambique following threats from Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama to initiate a campaign of violence unless the party’s demands on electoral reform were met.

A new round of talks on the issue started Monday, but with six rounds of talks in recent months with the Frelimo-led government failing to resolve the differences between the two sides, the Mozambican government and main opposition Renamo look to be on a collision course that could ultimately see renewed conflict.

The ongoing confrontation has been sparked by Renamo's rejection of electoral laws approved in parliament as registration continues for this November’s municipal elections. These frustrations have been compounded by Dhlakama’s continued isolation from credible strategic advice, the success of splinter party MDM in winning control in local elections of key cities Beira and Quelimane, and some patronizing behavior among the elite in capital Maputo.

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Dhlakama has led Renamo for more than 30 years, but seems to have concluded that he can only obtain concessions from the Mozambican government through armed action. Yet while he has certainly succeeded in securing international attention through violence, he looks like he may have badly miscalculated.

Southern Africa is not what it was in 1992 when the civil war ended, and despite continued deep inequality and poverty, Mozambique has also changed. Renamo has demonstrated that it can pull off sporadic attacks with small numbers of armed men, but it lacks the resources or support to return the country to civil war.

For a while, Renamo was actually the largest opposition party in Africa and in Mozambique's 1999 elections Dhlakama came close to winning the presidency. But support for Renamo has been in gradual decline since the mid-1990s, not least due to Renamo’s precarious financial situation and the party’s poor record in delivering services to the communities it represented. Now, its decision to turn to violence has further undermined Dhlakama’s democratic credentials and may actually help its splinter party, MDM, to prosper further.

Meanwhile, Mozambique’s international partners and investors have at times been complacent, listening only to reassuring government statements and discounting Renamo’s threats because the party has previously failed to act on them.

Regardless, it is Mozambicans who are most likely to suffer in all this. Development and foreign direct investment requires a predictable, stable investment environment, but Renamo’s attacks on police stations and road traffic, and threats to target the rail line that carries world-class coal out from the Moatize region of Tete province, have left investors questioning overall security. And recent attacks have also demonstrated that in the center of the country at least, the government is not in full control.

The difficulty now is for President Armando Guebuza to calculate an appropriate response to armed violence by Renamo, while also looking for some common ground with the party’s demands – Mozambique is not at war, and this should be treated as a police matter.  Ultimately, the president needs to rein in Frelimo's firebrands and find a formula to allow Dhlakama and his supporters to save face. Yes, the attacks and killings over the last few months make compromise through negotiation much more difficult, but continued bloodshed in central Mozambican would make it even more so.

And Dhlakama, for his part, needs wise counsel beyond his Renamo advisers:  they served him well during the 1991-92 peace negotiations to end the civil war, but recent events have shown how insular Renamo has become.

The last thing Mozambique needs is to slowly slide back towards the kind of violence that it fought so hard to escape from two decades ago.

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soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. Egidio Vaz

    A very insightful account on the Mozambican political situation. But I'd also suggest a look into the ruling party’s growing outcry over the succession process that is quite far from becoming clear. Some local experts argue that the destabilization may also come from the opposite side, intended to undermine the president’s influence over the succession process. In one or another way, another war is quite improbable, at least ruled by Dhlakama.

    June 25, 2013 at 4:56 pm | Reply
    • Benedito Machava

      The biggest mistake humans make when it comes to conflicts is that we start to be worried when we see numbers of dead bodies crippling, only then action comes. This is not a novelty. It took partisans and some few journalists to prove that more than a million Jews had been killed by the Nazi for real action to come. So was the case in Rwanda and in countless conflicts. We shall not be better humans until we shiver when we hear of just one person killed unnecessarily. So let's not rest of the idea that there could be no war in Mozambique by the hand of Dhlakama. The first civil war was only regarded as a real conflict after more than 4 years, while rebells were called bandits and killings considered sporadic attacks. Let's at once learn from history. It's true that Renamo was heavily backed by South Africa in the 1980s, but let's don't forget that there is more in the political economy of war than external aid. Lohnro paid over 5million dollars to Renamo to avoid attacks on its economic interests in Mozambique in the 80s. Part of Renamo's military equipment came from Mozambique's national army, traded by government's generals and alike, just like today's robbers in Maputo acquire their weapons from police officers and servicemen. This is time to press the Mozambican government for viable talks to avoid war. We should all use this space for this noble purpose before things get worse.

      June 27, 2013 at 6:56 pm | Reply
  2. j. von hettlingen

    Mozambique is one of the world's fastest growing economies. It has huge oil, gas reserves and other natural resources. Foreign investors include neighbouring South Africa.

    June 26, 2013 at 8:01 am | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      The millionaire president, Guebuza made his fortune in energy, transport and port industries. He faces the new challenge of accommodating a new generation that was born after the liberation struggle and the civil war against Renamo. He has to provide the poor with the benefits of tourism and untapped natural resources.

      June 26, 2013 at 8:03 am | Reply
  3. Jenha jie

    We are really disappointed by the problems of inequality,tribalism and black to black tribalism amid extreme poverty that is being experienced by we Mozambicans.We really don't know how to escape from such a brutal experince,Tell You Mozambique is not united at all,you can easly see that if you watch Tv news broadcasted in Maputo.Even in development,Companies like Coca-cola and Chibuku breweries were shifted from Chimoio to Maputo?But you can not explain the reasons for that.Even in the Elections,The current regime does want to exchange the presidnecy among the people from the southern Mozambique only,that is why they keep on lying to Renamo,like what they did on the Roma acord,they sign and agree on something,later they change everything.To me,Mozambique 's problems will never end like in D.R.C untill one day the Frelimo fall out Power Or the Country Being Divided,like what Dhlakama used to say.Where oppression exist there is no peace at all,!They are the oppresers

    June 28, 2013 at 2:00 pm | Reply
  4. Joelle Emanuel Nota

    What is needed to resolve the problem of conflit in Mozambique is, Frelimo goverment, to sit with Renamo, and make an dialogue, on dialogue must have the solution between 2 political part inorder to save our lives. there is no more to war. We dont want war, because it brings poor in the country.

    June 30, 2013 at 12:50 am | Reply
  5. Jose Julio

    The analises that has been done to Mozambique conflect situation seem to be unfortunate. I think Mozambican government has felt in dealing with the democacy in the country. If Mozambique is in war, is becouse of arogance of Guebuza. People call him to dialogue with Renamo, but he refuses, he prefer to use violence to kill Dlakhama which will be deficult. Renamo is becoming very strong that and people support him.

    November 1, 2013 at 12:59 am | Reply
  6. Jose Julio

    Tha internatinal community must advise mr Guebuza to use comversation as strategy to bring back the peace. people need peace, nobody is interested to war. Guebuza must list to academics and the cry of the people. People are dying. and some times is not Renamo who atacks but the FADM. Recently we have seen FADM burning people,s Houses in Maringue, and not Renamo. Dlakhama is still in silence, he has not responded to Governmental forces.

    November 1, 2013 at 1:05 am | Reply

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