Is Mozambique on the brink?

Afonso Dhlakama, leader of Renamo- Mozambique’s main opposition group and historical foe of Frelimo, the country’s ruling party, is reportedly on the run. The peace treaty signed in 1992 and ended a long and bloody war, was now declared terminated.

Tensions had been rising since October 2012 when Afonso Dhlakama relocated to Renamo’s headquarters, with the intention of removing the incumbent government from power. It is their reasoning that the Frelimo Government has been neglecting the Mozambican people, mainly the northern rural population. In addition, Renamo demands the better integration of its armed personnel into the country’s armed forces, and also the revision of electoral laws, which according to the opposition has allowed Frelimo to attain a massive favourable vote (76%) in the 2009 Presidential elections.

Since Afonso Dhlakama’s relocation, Renamo prominent members – including himself – have been threatening Frelimo with return to hostilities. Following attacks on police outposts, car-traffic disruptions across highway EN1 which links the South and the North of the country, and threats to disrupt rail traffic, and targeting of military convoys, the Mozambican government decided to take action. Saturday, the Mozambican armed forces deployed heavy weaponry – war tanks included – and a substantial number of troops, and attacked the compound. Afonso Dhlakama is now on the run.

Why is that after 20 years of peace in the country, Renamo decided to threat the recommencement of hostilities? Mozambique has been through a decade of positive economic growth (around 4% a year). Nonetheless, such growth has failed to be translated into economic development. In fact, the majority of Mozambique’s population lives in poverty and is mostly agrarian. Therefore, there is here an element of grievance from the population towards the Frelimo-led government; but, is lack of economic development and social well-being sufficient for people, or an armed faction, to take up arms? If you ask Paul Collier he will say that it is relevant but not exactly motivating enough. And I agree with him. It is of my opinion that it has to do with the recent natural gas discoveries, which if successfully explored will put Mozambique in the world’s top league of natural-gas exporters. Such an industry will bring massive flows of investment and revenue into the country. Bearing in consideration that in sub-Saharan Africa the rule is ‘access to power means full access to resources’, political office becomes even more attractive.

There is also an important element which is often ignored: political support. Renamo has been losing popular support across Mozambique – the 2009 elections show exactly that, regardless of whether there was mas vote rigging and fraud. In addition, a recently-created party, the MDM – largely comprised of Renamo’s defectors – has been gaining a wide level of support. In fact, MDM has won the municipality of Beira, the major port-city in the country through which Coal (extracted in Tete Province) is exported onto international markets.

In sum, natural resources and political support can work as an explosive mixture. Now the question is if Renamo will hold on and not be further fragmented. Frelimo enjoys from large support across the country – namely across the more developed south – and has access to the country’s resources. Renamo is seeing its power and support decrease year-by-year. Nonetheless, Renamo still counts on its ranks with a capable armed force with potential to create havoc across the mineral-rich centre/north. This year’s traffic disruption was practically unopposed by Government’s forces, showing how unprepared and dysfunctional government forces still are. Such situation opens a window for Renamo’s future – resource appropriation can turn out to be a viable means of guaranteeing its survival, and even empower the group. Also, to disrupt the economy, through guerrilla-style attacks on economic flows – such as on the transportation of minerals and other commercial goods – can prove to be immensely damaging for Frelimo, as FDI, as well as domestic trade, is severely disrupted, impacting the country’s finances.


One thought on “Is Mozambique on the brink?

  1. An underlying question may be posed; does the culture of Mozambique have enough moral or ethical structure to truly embrace a democracy without a heavy handed dictator in control? This question could be applied broadly to many cultures. For a democracy to work there needs to be an understanding that the constitution is the ultimate authority and no person is above that. My understanding of Mozambican culture is that a position within the government, even as a police officer, is the ultimate prize because that authority is never checked. I only spent one month in Mozambique but during that time I asked many questions and this was my own observation.

    I think you probe is excellent and those that love the Mozi’s are truly concerned.


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