Africa: Politics and Societies South of the Sahara

Moçambique: Calling the Man with the Suitcase

Posted in African Politics, Mozambique by ruben eberlein on November 1, 2013

mozambique-flagThe anti-communist party Renamo in Moçambique recently terminated the peace accord with the governing party Frelimo. Observers doubt, however, that they are able to translate their war threats into action. Read an English version of my text for the latest Jungle World.

Outside southern Africa, they were almost forgotten: the former anti-communist fighters of the Resistência Nacional Moçambicana (Renamo). The governing party Frente de Libertação de Moçambique (Frelimo) is omnipresent politically and monopolises state power and the economy in Moçambique. Their officials will certainly not miss out financially when the extraction of natural gas, discovered in 2011 off the coast of the country, will commence. But now, the competing Renamo tries to gain influence. One goal it has reached already: The worldwide media focus at the moment at the country which is severly underreported during other times.

At the beginning of last week, Renamo unilaterally determinated the peace accord of 1992, and leading actors of the organisation threatened the use of military force against the state. This announcement was preceeded by limited skirmishes between the army and smaller groups of former guerilla fighters of Renamo, the bloodless clearing of one of its camps (600 km north of the capital Maputo) where the leader of Renamo, Alfonso Dhlakama, had withdrawn, and an attack on a police station.

The peace accord of 1992 did end the civil war in Moçambique which lasted from 1976 until the early 1990s. The enemies agreed upon the disarmament and integration of former fighters, the incorporation of a part of them into the army of the country as well as the reorganisation of Renamo as a political rather than military organisation.

The civil war had been a typical proxy conflict in the age of the Cold War. Approximately one million people lost their lifes in course of the 16 years of confrontation. Shortly after independence from Portugal in 1975, Renamo was founded as a stooge for the South Rhodesian secret service which was interested to confront bases from the Zimbabwe African National Union (Zanu). Zanu ran camps and training posts in the west of Moçambique.

After the end of the settler regime in South Rhodesia, today’s Zimbabwe, the security apparatus of South Africa resumed the role of the godfather for Renamo. The US as well supported the guerilla fighters indirectly. Frelimo, founded in the early 1960 in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, for its part looked to the eastern bloc and followed officially Marxism-Leninism.

The turning point of 1989 changed all this. Frelimo had problems to confront the Apartheid regime in South Africa for quite some time; transport routes and goods of the arch-enemy were too important for Moçambique. When Frelimo in 1989 declared its renunciation from Marxism-Leninism as a state doctrine, the reasons for Renamo and their supporters to fight deliquesced. Furthermore, the worldwide change had reached South Africa itself.

The modification of the guerilla organisation Renamo into a political party during the past twenty years has not been successful. Still, quasi-military hierarchies are a hallmark of Renamo, and its leader Dhlakama does not tolerate competition, media in southern Africa report. Success in elections, as well, lags behind the expectations of the party leadership and its followers: While in 1994 Renamo was able to reach 112 seats in parliament (Frelimo 129), it had to settle with only 51 seats in 2009. At the polls for the presidency as well, the share of Renamo steadily shrank during the two last decades. These developments are not exactly promising in view of the local elections due on 20 November this year as well as the elections for parliament and the presidency next year.

‘The winner takes it all’ – this is the motto of politics in Moçambique. Frelimo proved very apt by way of a mix of patronage and a good organisation even in the countryside to present itself as without alternative – in a state in which clientelistic relationships can be essential for survival. Renamo, however, is not able to offer an actual alternative but would rather love to join in the sharing of economic sinecures. The income disparities in Moçambique considerably increased since the end of the war. 55 per cent of the people live below the povery line, and the country holds place number 185 of 187 at the development index of the United Nations. There exists, however, a small group of super-rich closely connected to the political leadership of the country that is able to monopolise the economic gains accruing from the export of coal, development aid and the upcoming gas export.

Most observers, however, doubt that the white-knuckled incidents of the past weeks presage a return to war. Joseph Hanlon, Seniour lecturer at the British Open University, comments in an article for Voice of America: „(N)either side could wage a war … Renamo is composed of aging guerrillas who are now in their 50s and 60s and Mozambique opted after the civil war to have a very small military, so it does not have strong military capacity either.“ The reports from Moçambique as of now furthermore suggest that the supposedly 1000 fighters of Renamo are old veterans and that no new recruitment is taking place.

Still, Renamo received already a warning from neighbouring Zimbabwe. The vice minister of defence of the country, Christopher Mutsvangwa, in an interview with the BBC left no doubt that Zimbabwe will not tolerate a destabilisation of Moçambique. In case of emergency, the regional body Southern African Development Cooperation (SADC) would send troops, Mutsvangwa said.

The motives of Renamo for seaching the confrontation with Frelimo at this point in time are obvious. At every occasion, their deputies deploy that they are excluded from political and, all the more important, economic power in Moçambique. In light of dwindling support in the elections, the party cannot hope to profit from the seven per cent growth that the country experiences. Hanlon offers a quite pragmatic solution for the threats of Renamo. The party should be bought in as it has been the case in the negotiations for the peace accord of 1992. ‘A face-saving buyoff is the way out of it. It will happen, but not in the immediate future. … It would be sinecures on government boards, but it would also be cash in suitcases. That’s how the war was settled 21 years ago. It was cash in suitcases’, according to Hanlon.

The problems prepared by Renamo, however, would only be adjourned would this come true. It would be made clear to the population of Moçambique that only violent threats can induce the ruling oligarchy to share the societal wealth. In the meantime, a generation has grown up that knows the civil war and its horror only from school books and narrations. Some day, picking up a weapon could appear more promising to this generation than the daily fight for the privilege to be exploited.
The original German text appeared in the latest issue of Jungle World (html here). You can download the original page of the weekly paper as a pdf here.

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