The emergence of a new agreement designed to end civil conflict in Mozambique – due to be signed in August 2019 by the Mozambique Liberation Front-led government (FRELIMO) and the armed opposition party Mozambican National Resistance (RENAMO) – is an important development. Twice before both parties have reached definitive agreements, in Rome (1992) and Maputo (2014), which have failed to stem the bloodshed. Will this third agreement finally end 42 years of violent competition between these two parties?
The sustainability of this deal is in the hands of Mozambicans and depends on the conduct of credible elections in October 2019. This paper, which draws on the author’s previous published work, charts domestic and international support efforts for ending violent clashes since 1992. After the 1977–92 civil war, Mozambique was heralded as a textbook post-conflict success story and much of the country has since remained at peace. RENAMO’s return to targeted armed conflict in 2013 was a reminder of the fragility of peace and that Mozambican politics needs to be more inclusive.
Violent Islamic extremism has exacerbated the security situation in northern Mozambique since October 2017. The worsening situation demonstrates the urgency of sustainably settling the long FRELIMO–RENAMO conflict through non-violent electoral politics. The country needs peace for development to progress and resolving the emerging violence in northern Mozambique requires national politicians to focus on a common purpose. This new elite bargain can work, but it obligates both parties to take part in peaceful and fair elections and requires significant political will from FRELIMO and RENAMO. This paper examines how this deal was achieved and highlights some of the potential risks in the run-up to the October 2019 elections and beyond.
Mozambique’s history is intertwined with complex regional politics and failures in nation-building on the African continent. For much of the colonial period up to 1942, Mozambique was divided into separate administrative zones, which fragmented the colony and prevented the emergence of a common system of law and administration – divisions between the centre and the peripheries of the country still exist. The location of the capital in the far south of the country, and the proximity of South Africa, have resulted in a concentration of resources and modern economic sectors in that region, while much of the rest of the country continues to be relatively marginalized. The 1977–92 civil war accentuated regional differences, with RENAMO’s activities concentrated in the centre of the country.
The 1992 Rome General Peace Accord (GPA) stood for over 20 years. It was followed by an aid bonanza that rapidly transformed the FRELIMO elite into a patrimonial political class that became increasingly determined to hang on to power at all costs. Recently, gas and coal reserves have heightened the stakes further, dividing the FRELIMO elite over who has access to the spoils and triggering RENAMO’s return to armed violence in 2013 to push for a new elite bargain with the government. Back in 2007, Sumich and Honwana warned of the fragility of the Rome GPA elite bargain in their assessment of FRELIMO and its disinclination to share power. They concluded that:
Since independence power has primarily been located in the Frelimo party, not in supposedly neutral state structures that could be inherited in a reasonably intact manner by another political force. Thus the very success of the party in rebuilding their hegemony and their disinclination to share power with social forces outside of their control could intensify the divisions and inequalities that helped to fuel the civil war in the first place.
Until 2013, Mozambique was regarded as having passed through a successful post-conflict transition. However, in April 2013, limited armed conflict began between RENAMO fighters and Mozambican government forces. A new agreement in September 2014 ended regular armed skirmishes in central Mozambique, but violence once more resumed in 2015 and persisted until late December 2016, focusing primarily on disrupting commercial links and public services. Since that time a truce has prevailed.
Mozambique’s peace processes and the root causes of its conflicts differ significantly from those of other African countries. For example, RENAMO differs from Angola’s UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola), which became a semi-conventional armed force. RENAMO never expected to capture the Mozambican state, but always sought a military or political stalemate through which it could extract elite bargains from FRELIMO.