Is RENAMO eating its own vomit?

On Monday this week RENAMO announced that it was pulling out of Mozambique’s 1992 peace accord, which ended a brutal 16 year civil war that killed a million people.  The decision came after the Mozambican army attacked RENAMO’s military base in Santungira in Central Sofala province and sent Alfonso Dhlakama, the leader of RENAMO, fleeing into the Gorongosa mountains.

Ozias Tungwarara's picture

Regional manager with the Africa Regional Office

October 25th, 2013

On Monday this week RENAMO announced that it was pulling out of Mozambique’s 1992 peace accord, which ended a brutal 16 year civil war that killed a million people.  The decision came after the Mozambican army attacked RENAMO’s military base in Santungira in Central Sofala province and sent Alfonso Dhlakama, the leader of RENAMO, fleeing into the Gorongosa mountains.

A question on most Mozambican and southern Africans’ minds is whether the collapse of the peace agreement poses a grave threat to peace and security in Mozambique and the region, or if the agreement was, in fact, no longer worth the piece of paper it was written on.

In April I blogged about the resumption of RENAMO violence, expressing concern about the dominance of a single political party, FRELIMO, which poses a serious threat to democracy and accountable governance.  My concern was based on the findings of a 2009 OSISA/AfriMAP report on democracy and political participation in Mozambique. The APRM report of the same year noted allegations of discriminatory administrative practices by FRELIMO, which make it costly for individuals to identify openly with any party other than the ruling party. I concluded that the uneven political playing field could foster violence.

In response to my concern, a colleague reminded me of a West African proverb that says “Eating one’s vomit is no way to achieve healthy living” and asked if, in fact, Dlhakama was not eating his own vomit. His observations resonate with Joseph Hanlon’s views about the recent developments.  Hanlon, an expert on Mozambique, thinks that because of his dictatorial leadership style and poor negotiation skills – thus missing a golden opportunity to be a relevant part of Mozambique’s democratic transition. Over the years, he marginalised competent people in RENAMO who are now part of the opposition Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM). He concludes that RENAMO has boxed itself into a corner.

Meanwhile, the consensus so far is that RENAMO has no capacity to wage and sustain a new civil war. Hanlon goes further to say that South Africa has higher levels of violence than Mozambique so sporadic attacks by RENAMO are unlikely to dampen investors’ appetite for Mozambique’s coal and gas. This could be true, but it could also be true that the rebellion will spiral out of control as we have seen in many parts of the continent.

 A number of factors could contribute to a rag tag band of militias wreaking havoc, as we have seen in the DRC, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and other places. These factors include  a vast territory whose terrain is conducive to guerrilla warfare; porous borders; proliferation of small arms; unequal distribution of benefits of national natural resource wealth; and a weak national army.

During a conversation with an academic from Eduardo Mondlane University recently, she said that despite FRELIMO’s apparent willingness to negotiate, the strategy is to kill Dhlakama in the same way Angola eliminated UNITA’s Savimbi.  Whether removing Dhlakama from the equation will resolve the RENAMO issue is not certain.  He could also remain as elusive as Josph Kony of the Lord’s Resistance Army.

There is no doubt that RENAMO and Dhlakama are no political saints, given their past bed-fellowship with Smith’s racist Rhodesia and Apartheid South Africa. However, the fact remains that FRELIMO and RENAMO signed a peace pact in 1992 that brought the country back from the abyss. The peace dividend has been a key factor in Mozambique’s economic and social progress.  Mozambique’s economy is expected to grow by 7% this year.

While RENAMO’s spectacular electoral failures cannot be solely attributed to an uneven political playing field, FRELIMO should undertake reforms that promote inclusion in political processes. SADC and the AU have a responsibility to continue urging Mozambique to address the gaps in governance that the APRM and other analyses have identified in order to mitigate potential violence by a moribund RENAMO.

This is especially important as Mozambique holds legislative and presidential elections next year.  

About the author(s)

Ozias Tungwarara is the regional manager with the Africa Regional Office of the Open Society Foundations (OSF) network based in Johannesburg.

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