On 15 October 2019, Mozambicans vote for the sixth time in national multi-party elections. According to the National Election Commission, 39 parties and three coalitions will contest the upcoming legislative and presidential elections. However, in reality, this electoral contest is between FRELIMO and RENAMO and the main competition will be for the provincial governorships and parliamentary seats in the National Assembly, rather than for the presidency.
Thirty-nine parties and three coalitions will contest the upcoming legislative and presidential elections.
The municipal election results of 2018 illustrated how RENAMO had significant support in Maputo province and made dramatic gains in Zambézia and Nampula provinces. This is not lost on FRELIMO and, despite RENAMO’s internal crisis, the government is expecting a hard-fought election. Corrupt elections could threaten the sustainability of the emerging elite bargain due to be signed in August. The conduct of credible elections requires the political will of RENAMO and FRELIMO leaders to moderate their hard-liners and prepare for compromise. The results that emerge are unlikely to be fully democratic, but hopefully they will be partly democratic and improve political accountability and pluralism. International partners, including through their good offices of election monitoring, can assist this process. The newly created post of Personal Envoy for Mozambique by the UN Secretary-General is an important development.
Reaching a lasting elite bargain between RENAMO and FRELIMO is a long-term project. Looking back, many factors contributed to the end of the Mozambican civil war in 1992: the end of the Cold War and Apartheid in South Africa; political changes among Mozambique’s neighbours; and a damaging military stalemate between FRELIMO and RENAMO. As occurred during the civil war, post-conflict politics was framed by regionalism and inequality – with FRELIMO increasingly trying to assert its hegemony across Mozambique.
Since Mozambique’s first ever multiparty elections in 1994, FRELIMO has pursued a strategy of co-option and division of RENAMO through elite bargains. After the shock of the 1999 presidential election result, President Guebuza determined to end these cycles of often opaque elite bargains (payments and offering token concessions in particular) and neutralize RENAMO permanently. He underestimated RENAMO’s support and ability to disrupt, but also the weakness of the Mozambican state to effectively respond.
Some 27 years after the Mozambican conflict ended, many RENAMO combatants have successfully reintegrated, but a hardened core of ex-militia remain mainly in central Mozambique and have re-mobilized for armed conflict since 2013. The ‘pay and scatter’ DDR strategy and other efforts to dismantle RENAMO’s command and control structures ensured that the party could not reignite total civil war. Overall, Mozambique remains an example of mostly successful demobilization, but poor reintegration. Mozambican domestic politics is partly to blame for this, but so, too, is past international complacency that Mozambique’s peace was secure.
The situation today in Mozambique also highlights the degree to which these bargaining processes are long-term and there is still a need to look at strategies to accommodate clusters of combatants that remain cohesive, particularly in central Mozambique. It remains to be seen if this August agreement will be backed up with development promises in central Mozambique, which are needed to guarantee a better retirement for RENAMO’s gunmen and a non-violent, poverty-free future for their children.
It remains to be seen if this August agreement will be backed up with development promises in central Mozambique, which are needed to guarantee a better retirement for RENAMO’s gunmen and a non-violent, poverty-free future for their children.
RENAMO faces many challenges. Mediators and advisers to the peace talks complain that RENAMO flip flops in its demands – a reflection of differing interests and unrealistic expectations. Afonso Dhlakama’s long-term vision was to replicate FRELIMO by setting up a neo-patrimonial system. His gamble of targeted armed violence since 2013 was aimed at shoring up support in central Mozambique and was rewarded for challenging FRELIMO by increased votes, thereby gaining seats in the 2014 elections.
FRELIMO’s post-conflict strategy under Chissano was to weaken RENAMO’s support base in central Mozambique through compromise and patronage. This was abruptly ended by President Guebuza’s attempt to impose total FRELIMO domination across Mozambique in 1999, once RENAMO’s levels of electoral support were clear. Guebuza’s strategy spectacularly backfired, humiliating Dhlakama and radicalizing RENAMO’s ex-combatants, resulting in their push for resumed targeted armed violence. Isolated, and backed into a corner, Dhlakama felt he had nothing to lose by authorizing targeted violence. This violence was rewarded in the 2014 elections, especially by voters in central Mozambique. The election results also strengthened Dhlakama’s leadership position in RENAMO and again postponed long-needed party reform.
By 2015, Dhlakama also miscalculated, believing his threat of further violence would win more concessions. Instead it increased splits in FRELIMO over its RENAMO strategy and weakened President Nyusi’s attempts to reach a lasting accommodation. The result was at least one assassination attempt on Dhlakama and increased violence by both sides, despite a haphazard good offices effort by various international mediators at the Hotel Avenida. Common frustration of this process encouraged President Nyusi and Afonso Dhlakama to cut intermediaries and start bilateral talks. Helped with logistics and focus by a new Contact Group, led by Swiss Ambassador Manzoni, this process has made progress in fits-and-starts.
The October elections will be the first immediate test of the August agreement. If RENAMO wins at least three provincial governorships, will it be enough to seal a new sustainable elite bargain? RENAMO’s armed men are looking for a lasting accommodation and FRELIMO’s elite also want political stability to attract international investment. The benefits of the elite bargain for RENAMO include elected governorships, payment for disarmament and employment, and development opportunities. If this deal sticks on the third attempt, the domestic focus should then move onto poverty reduction, combatting inequality, education and solving the new security crisis with Islamic militants in Cabo Delgado province.