ISS: Renamo’s armed activities – it’s time to find a solution


Mozambique is one of the few African countries that for a long time defied the negative after-effects of a lengthy civil war. The country maintained relative peace and stability since the end of the 16-year civil war 20 years ago, and in 2013, it had posted a 7 percent growth in real gross domestic product (GDP).

According the African Development Bank, this was still below optimum for a country bubbling with new discoveries of natural resources, including coal and gas.

However, increased armed confrontation between the government and the country’s former rebel movement, the Mozambican National Resistance (Resistência Nacional Moçambicana, or Renamo), poses a major threat to the country’s future. The activities of former Renamo rebels who occupy the central region of the country continue to disrupt the movement of goods and people between the north and south of the country, cutting off the economic port of Beira from the main coal-producing province of Tete.

The remobilisation of former Renamo rebels under their leader, Afonso Dhlakama, and the resurgence of armed activities will affect the country in two main ways: economically and politically. The economic impact will stem from the ambushes and attacks targeting the north-south highway and the railway line that link Maputo and the port of Beira respectively with the northern provinces of the country. In recent attacks, former Renamo rebels demonstrated increasing military strength to the extent where they are even able to defy government forces escorting convoys along the main highway.

This raises several questions. For instance how is a rebel movement that renounced war 20 years ago, and underwent a reintegration process, able to remobilise and launch fresh resistance against government forces? And how is it possible that these former rebels are able to occupy a large potion of the country’s territory?

Politically, the armed activities of the former Renamo rebels threaten to derail the country’s forthcoming national elections, set for October 2014. Renamo is one of the three main political parties contesting the forthcoming elections, and it is expected that Dhlakama will beat the 21 July deadline set for the registration of presidential candidates. While registering as a presidential candidate is but one of the initial steps, the major concern is how Renamo and other parties will conduct campaigns across the country. There is little doubt that unless the parties conform to a peace deal immediately, the potential of violence during the elections remains a threat.

The situation presents an easier option for Renamo, or any of the other political parties, to invoke unfairness in elections (even where such unfairness may not exist) to declare the exercise futile and revert to use of force. After all, Renamo is armed. The resulting situation is one in which Renamo holds a ballot box in one hand and a bullet in the other.

While the government views Dhlakama as a spoiler of the peace in the country, he too has reasons for his actions. There are two main sets of grievances that Renamo holds against the government. This first is that the Frelimo government (the Mozambique Liberation Front, or Frente de Libertação de Moçambique) has continuously violated the terms of the Rome peace accords.

Dhlakama decries the failure of the government to embrace the general principles of the agreement, which set forth the formation of the Armed Forces for the Defence of Mozambique (FADM). According to these principles, the army, the navy and the air force were to be constituted on a 50-50 basis by both Frelimo and Renamo. Dhlakama claims that the successive governments of Frelimo have persistently short-changed him on the terms of the peace agreement. He insists that the government has failed to observe the 50-50 clause while constituting the armed forces and the police.

The second set of grievances relate to the electoral system, which Dhlakama claims to be skewed in favour of Frelimo. Apparently the closest that Dhlakama came to winning the country’s elections was in 1999 when he scored 47,7% of the presidential vote against Joaquim Chissano’s 52,3%. He has performed dismally in subsequent elections.

Despite these arguments, the feeling among most Mozambicans is that Renamo’s plight is self-inflicted. This section of the population questions Dhlakama’s wisdom in reserving a section of Renamo rebels in Gorongosa, the region where he was born. While the rest of the country disarmed and demobilised at the end of the civil war, the mountainous Gorongosa region remained untouched. Apparently Dhlakama’s intention was to retain a reserve force for possible war in future. This group of former Renamo rebels makes up Dhlakama’s current forces, although they have also recruited younger fighters from their communities.

However, some Mozambicans feel that the government should listen to Renamo’s demands. This section of the population argues that while Frelimo veterans are enjoying benefits from government – including pension and government housing for the disabled former Frelimo fighters – their counterparts, the Renamo ex-combatants, have been neglected. This is against the spirit of the 1992 peace agreement.

While there is clearly blame on both sides, the most worrying issue is that neither side is willing to negotiate a binding end to the problem. It is also of concern that two decades after the lengthy civil war, the government side has not been able to neutralise the risks posed by the remnants of Renamo. Instead Renamo continues to arm itself, train and maintain control of a vast territory.

Discussions with both Renamo and Frelimo former combatants point to a possibility of some FADM soldiers – who are sympathisers and/or relatives of the former Renamo combatants – diverting state-owned arms and ammunition to Renamo. These sympathisers could also be responsible for leaking information to Dhlakama whenever government troops plan an operation against the bases of former Renamo rebels.

While this ‘game’ goes on in Mozambique, the election clock ticks and opposing parties are drawing closer to the ballot box. Beyond all these troubling factors, it is crucial that Mozambique maintains political stability and and conducts successful, orderly and timeous elections in October to cement much-needed investor confidence.

Written by Nelson Alusala, Consultant, Transnational Threats and International Crime Division, ISS Pretoria

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