ISS: Renamo should take its battle to the polling stations

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Instead of engaging in armed banditry or guerrilla warfare that can be devastating for the entire country, Mozambique’s opposition party Renamo should instead focus its attention on the 2014 presidential and legislative elections to have its voice heard, says Institute for Security Studies (ISS) senior researcher Gwinyayi Dzinesa.

He believes Renamo should provide Mozambicans with a clear vision of how everyone can share in the country’s resource wealth and try to beat the ruling Frelimo at the ballot box rather than with guns and grenades.

Renamo, which had waged a 16-year war against Frelimo just after independence, last week announced that the peace agreement that it had signed with the ruling party in 1992 was null and void. Its leaders had retreated to their bush camps in the Gorongoza jungle in the centre of the country in October 2012 and have since been responsible for a number of attacks on security forces and civilians in the area. Earlier this week, the Mozambican army attacked a Renamo base for the second time in two weeks.

Dzinesa says he doesn’t believe Renamo will resort to a full-scale war with Frelimo, but could continue its armed banditry, which could be very damaging for the country. It clearly doesn’t have the capacity to return to war. ‘It is difficult to see where they could get weapons and equipment from,’ he says. ‘Renamo might have access to old arms caches since there has been no effective disarmament since 1992.’ During the war Renamo was supported by the former government in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), apartheid South Africa, and the United States – the justification being that Frelimo was a communist ally.

The ISS has warned in an earlier report that, to ensure stability in Mozambique, it is crucial that elections be seen as free and fair. The opposition party’s main gripe these last two decades has been around the composition of the security forces and electoral reforms. It accuses the ruling party of stuffing the National Electoral Commission with its own supporters and of rigging the polls. Yet little came of the nationwide protests that Renamo promised to unleash after the 2009 elections. The party has now decided to boycott the local elections slated for 20 November and still hasn’t pronounced itself on the legislative and presidential polls coming up next year. So far, negotiations between the two parties haven’t born any fruit.

According to Dzinesa, Renamo may now split between the ‘bush Renamo’ – old-timers led by the long-time leader of the movement Afonso Dhlakama – and the ‘parliamentary Renamo’, made up of the 51 parliamentarians in Maputo. The lines between the two, however, seem fluid and the parliamentary group haven’t, up to now, distanced themselves from Dhlakama. The party announced this week that a Renamo MP, Armindo Milaco, had been killed in the army raid on its camp at Satunjira on 21 October.

Some believe that a leadership struggle within Renamo could have been one of the reasons behind the sudden surge in violence. Dhlakama (60) has been in ‘political hibernation’ since he lost the last elections in 2009 against President Armando Guebuza, with only 16% of the votes, but has now decided to leave his villa in Maputo and get his combat gear out of the cupboard.

Joseph Hanlon, another Mozambique expert from the Open University in the UK, says that one of the biggest problems has been ‘Dhlakama’s concern with preventing the rise of anyone who might challenge his leadership’, stifling any renewal in the party. ‘Dhlakama maintained detailed control over key figures, to the point of watching parliamentary sessions on television and phoning the head of the Renamo parliamentary bench to give instructions,’ he writes. This is in contrast with the newer opposition group, the Mozambique Democratic Movement, made up of younger politicians who broke away from Renamo.

The other main reason for the sudden hostilities is the benefits that ruling party politicians are getting from the country’s resource wealth. Many Mozambicans and opposition politicians feel bitter that they are not getting their share of the wealth. Mozambique has been growing at over 7% in the last five years with many multinationals investing in the country’s rich coal and gas reserves. However, more than half of the population still live in dire poverty, says the African Development Bank in its annual African Economic Outlook report. Ironically, Renamo’s spokespeople still refer to its enemy, whom they accuse of stealing from the poor, as ‘the communist regime of Frelimo’.

For now, Guebuza seems to be in a strong position politically, but Dzinesa warns that there is also a succession debate brewing within Frelimo. ‘Guebuza is popular given that Frelimo managed to overwhelmingly win the last elections, but he is still not naming any successor.’ Dzinesa says reshuffles within the leadership of the Frelimo youth wing and the women’s league, where Guebuza loyalists have been appointed, are cause for concern that he has been tightening his grip on the party. Guebuza and his intimate circle have also been accused of corruption and of benefitting from the country’s coal and gas wealth.

So far, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) has not gotten involved in any mediation or discussions about the situation in Mozambique. The issue could, however, be discussed by the SADC Troika at the SADC summit on the Great Lakes region to be held in Pretoria this weekend, says Dzinesa.

At the time of the resumption of the volatile political situation, Mozambique was the chair of SADC’s foremost decision-making body, the Summit, a position which it occupied until August 2013, when Malawi took over. Mozambique had an opportunity at the time to recommend thatthe country be placed on the SADC agenda, although it was highly unlikely that a chair would do this. The then SADC secretary-general Thomas Salamao, was, incidentally, a former Frelimo politician, and the thinking was that it was also unlikely for him to push this issue, unless other countries put it on the regional body’s agenda. Earlier Zimbabwe, together with the US, the United Nations and the African Union, expressed public concern over Renamo’s pulling out of the 1992 Rome agreement.

Certainly the international community would not want to see another Southern African country mired in conflict – especially now that it believes the political crises in both Zimbabwe and Madagascar have finally been resolved. Mozambique has everything going for it. As one Frelimo politician said during a demonstration in Maputo in June this year: ‘War would mean going backwards.’

Written by Liesl Louw-Vaudran, ISS consultant



Republished with permission of ISS Africa. The original story can be found here.