by Hussein Solomon
The conflict between Mozambique’s FRELIMO (Front for the Liberation of Mozambique) and RENAMO (National Mozambican Resistance) ended two decades ago. Its legacy, however, continue to haunt the country with more than 100,000 dead and more than a million refugees. That war ended in 1992 with the signing of a peace agreement which allowed the RENAMO leader, Afonso Dhlakama, to participate in the first multi-party elections in 1994.
The possibility of civil war, however, has resurfaced in recent years. Part of the reason for this simmering conflict lay in the sense of marginalization that RENAMO and its constituency feels. Whilst Mozambique is one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies, much of the economic development is occurring in the south as opposed to the central and northern regions in which RENAMO is active. To exacerbate matters this regional split also reinforces other cleavages – specifically that of ethnicity. Whilst Shangaans largely reside in the south, ethnic Ndau inhabit the central and northern regions of the country. The recent discoveries of energy resources is also set to exacerbate the competition for a larger slice of the economic pie whilst the growing corruption within the ruling FRELIMO party in power since 1975 is also set to cause further antagonism against the party and its resultant patronage networks.
|Afonso Dhlakama (Photo: Adrien Barbier)|
There is also a sense of political marginalization acutely felt by Dhlakama who is being slowly pushed off the national stage by a younger generation of politicians – both FRELIMO and RENAMO. Dhlakama is an old-style African politician with a strong belief in the “Big Man” syndrome. He refuses to tolerate any challenge to his leadership. When RENAMO member Devisso Mango proved popular as mayoral candidate for Baira, Dhlakama tried to stop his election. Mango, exploited his popularity with a younger electorate, and then won as an independent under the banner of the Democratic Movement of Mozambique. Small wonder, then, that one of Dhlakama’s demands from FRELIMO is that he gets to appoint provincial governors in the central and northern regions.
All the blame is not to be laid at Dhlakama’s door, however. FRELIMO in power for more than 40 years is displaying ever greater arrogance, showing scant respect for the political opposition (not just RENAMO) or broader civil society. Far from attempting to affect a political compromise, for instance, greater autonomy of provinces, FRELIMO is attempting to consolidate power further. Unfortunately, for FRELIMO, its tough political stance does not match its military’s capabilities. FRELIMO’s aversion to political compromise is taking place at a time when the Mozambican armed forces is very weak. Under these circumstances, political tensions are mounting and spilling over into armed conflict.
On 12 and 25 September 2015, Dhlakama’s convoy was shot at twice. On 20 January 2016, RENAMO’s Secretary-General Manuel Bissopo was injured and his bodyguard killed in a drive-by shooting. After the two assassination attempts on his life, Dhlakama’s statements have become increasingly bellicose. For its part FRELIMO points out that Dhlakama’s speeches of capturing control over the six central and northern provinces – Manica, Sofala, Tete, Zambezia, Nampula and Niassa – threatens the territorial integrity and security of the state. FRELIMO also blames RENAMO gunmen for killing two people including a traditional chief in Sofala earlier this year as part of a concerted attempt to remove authorities loyal to Maputo in these provinces. With FRELIMO’s deployment of more soldiers into the central and northern provinces and clashes erupting between the belligerents, thousands of luckless residents have fled into neighouring Malawi.
Despite these ominous signs of impending conflict, there is little action from the regional body – the Southern African Development Community (SADC). But then again, should we be surprised? There was no action taken by SADC in Zimbabwe despite the economic and political meltdown in that country. Neither is there action on the part of SADC in Swaziland where a profligate King Mswati III continues to behave like a medieval feudal monarch whilst driving his country into economic ruin.