Mozambique’s transition to democracy after the signing of the 1992 General Peace Agreement (GPA) has been hailed as a positive example of conflict management.
Relatively peaceful democratic elections have taken place since 1994 and Renamo, the rebel group that fought the government during the civil war, has been transformed into a political party.
In addition, high economic growth rates and investment have helped to classify Mozambique as a successful peacebuilding story. It is important to consider, however, what is meant by success. The concept of success implies that an established objective has been met; and judging not only by current events in Mozambique but also what has taken place since its transition to democracy, the Mozambique peacebuilding process may be considered progressive but not entirely successful.
According to BBC News, a force of approximately 300 Renamo members have remained armed since the peace accord was signed, after efforts to integrate them into the army and police force, as set out in the GPA and implemented through a disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) process, failed. Although without the capacity it had during the civil war, Renamo has been able to incite sporadic violence in the north of Mozambique. Its leader, Afonso Dhlakama, is now claiming that ‘peace is over in the country’, just before the elections.
Analysts monitoring the Mozambique situation have noted that the violence is unsurprising, given that there has been a tendency to overestimate Mozambique’s democratic advances, despite the deterioration of domestic politics.
The country’s first democratic setback took place in the 1998 election, when the opposition boycotted elections and 85% of the electorate abstained from voting. In November 2000 Renamo held nationwide demonstrations, with the violent clashes erupting between its members and the police resulting in over 40 deaths.
The Mozambique national road, the EN-1, has become deserted, reminiscent of the days of the civil war, and the violence currently taking place has claimed a number of civilian lives. Renamo has also threatened to attack a critical rail transport link that runs from Zimbabwe to the port of Beira – a key line that now cannot run without military security. This has been a matter of concern for those foreign companies with oil, gas and mining operations in the country.
Among its demands, Renamo has called for a revision of the electoral law, full military integration of its forces, and the equitable division of natural resources, specifically oil and gas. The economic disparities in Mozambique have grown to an extent unimagined at the time the GPA was signed and Renamo wants a piece of the wealth. The BBC has noted that the gas that has been discovered is estimated to be worth $350 billion, and according to projections the country could be just outside the top 10 producers of gas in the world by 2015. It is to be expected that not only Renamo but also the civilian population of Mozambique would want to benefit from these financial gains.
The Mozambican situation demonstrates some of the many root problems causing ‘post-conflict’ states to revert to conflict, namely a fragile and imperfect peacebuilding and democratisation process coupled with unequal economic development. To illustrate, the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Index value for 2012 ranks Mozambique at 185 out of 187 countries and 54% of its population live below the poverty line. In addition, Renamo’s actions suggested a desperate attempt to gain power through a negotiated settlement following its failure to do so through elections.
Although Renamo has been portrayed as the sole cause of the current conflict, the government does need to acknowledge some of the grievances put forward by the opposition. The presidential system lacks adequate checks and balances and the decentralisation of state institutions has been timidly implemented. The judicial system is not fully independent and remains vulnerable to political influence and corruption. In the absence of an efficient legal framework, court rulings can be arbitrary and inconsistent.
There is growing discontent with the hegemonic status of the ruling Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo) throughout Mozambique, with claims of corruption the main grievance. The state apparatus has been largely politicised and the electoral system gives advantages to Frelimo.
However, Renamo has failed to capitalise on these issues, with Dhlakama instead choosing to shy away from public life. The government has previously tried to negotiate with Renamo, with more than 20 rounds of peace talks over the past 11 months having failed. While this is partly due to non-cooperation by Renamo, it is also indicative of the fragility of Mozambique’s state institutions as they lack the ability to successfully arbitrate between themselves and the opposition.
Most civil wars do not end deftly, and although Mozambique is unlikely to revert to war, it should still be considered a fragile post-conflict state.
Current events in Mozambique show the importance of bridging the gap between peacebuilding, democracy and economic development for all citizens. One of the key tenets of democracy is a willingness to compromise, while the main aim of peacebuilding is to create a sustainable peace that addresses the root causes of conflict and therefore deters a return to violence. It seems that Mozambique is failing on both counts.
Peacebuilding incorporates the creation of a stable state with restored institutions that address socioeconomic problems. As it stands, Mozambique cannot be considered stable. Some state institutions such as the judiciary still need further decentralisation. Provincial governments have no real autonomy but are dependent on the national government politically and financially, even though the majority of the population live in the country’s 10 provinces outside the capital city of Maputo.
Renamo’s repeated attempts to destabilise Mozambique and boycott elections show that politics in Mozambique still do not function according to accepted democratic norms. One of the roots of political unease is social inequality, and when economic growth is disproportionate, conflict is bound to take place. Once inequality is politicised it becomes the driving force in conflict. The government thus needs to provide goods and services in a manner considered fair by the whole population.
Real political decentralisation is needed to assist in providing a level playing field and inclusiveness of opposition parties. Frelimo needs to consider seriously the electoral reforms put forward by Renamo and come to some kind of compromise. It may be that the two parties will need an impartial mediator such as the Southern African Development Community to provide the stimulus needed to push ahead on reforms. Moreover, these reforms need to address socioeconomic problems in a fair and equitable manner.
Written by Sibongile Gida, Intern and Amanda Lucey, Researcher, Conflict Management and Peacebuilding Division, ISS Pretoria