11 April 2013
Alex Vines

Dr Alex Vines OBE

Research Director, Area Studies and International Law; Head, Africa Programme


Tensions are escalating in Mozambique where there is a dangerous stand-off between several hundred armed supporters of the main opposition party, Renamo and the Mozambican police. Renamo's leader Afonso Dhlakama has admitted to ordering a recent attack on a police station that killed four officers, and he has warned of further attacks.

The current confrontation grows out of Renamo's rejection of electoral laws approved in parliament. Renamo has consistently demanded the right to have veto power in the National Elections Commission. It also derives from Dhlakama's continued isolation, the success of a splinter party MDM in winning control in local elections of the two key cities Beira and Quelimane, and patronizing by Frelimo officials. Dhlakama's threats that he can return Mozambique to war are hollow but should not be ignored; further bloodshed in central Mozambique could fuel local discontent that could impact Mozambique's development and important municipal elections in November 2013. 

Just over two decades ago, one of Africa's most brutal civil wars ended in Mozambique and today the country is regarded as having passed through a successful post-conflict transition. Despite its handicaps and the country's brutal military past, Mozambique's informal amnesty, traditional healing and forgiveness processes played a significant role in moving the country forward, enabling Renamo to compete against Frelimo at elections peacefully. Yet the recent killings and current armed standoff in central Mozambique threatens this legacy and is ripe for miscalculation by Renamo, the Mozambican police and the party of government, Frelimo.

Afonso Dhlakama, who has led Renamo for over thirty three years, signed the Rome General Peace Accords with then President Chissano for the Mozambican government in 1992, and honoured the accords by disarming. For a while Renamo was the largest opposition party in Africa and in Mozambique's 1999 elections Dhlakama came close to winning the presidential ballot. But support for Renamo has been in gradual decline since 1995, due to Renamo’s precarious financial situation and poor record in service delivery to the communities it represented. Renamo leader Dhlakama's inability to modernize and democratize his party in peacetime has resulted in the party becoming just oppositionist. Dhlakama’s strategy has been to regularly obstruct parliament or pull decisions out of it and seek high-level bilateral negotiation between both leaderships.

Renamo has visibly weakened and has not managed to significantly challenge Frelimo's hegemony after their landslide victory in the 2009 elections. In 2009 Dhlakama moved his home from Maputo to the northern city of Nampula and in October 2012 he returned with supporters to the remote bush of central Mozambique from where he led Renamo during the 1977-92 war. 

When I last met Dhlakama he was welcoming but clearly isolated from the outside world and in need of sound counsel.   Dhlakama found adapting to peace time politics painful. I left his Nampula house worried, but hopeful that the upcoming twenty years of peace celebrations would involve him and that he valued his legacy as a 'Father of Democracy' in Mozambique.

Mozambique's development and foreign direct investment requires a predictable, stable investment environment. Attacks on police stations, traffic on roads and threats to target the rail line that carries world-class coal out from the Moatize region of Tete province have got investors asking questions.  

Trusted voices from the 1991-92 peace process should be encouraged to talk to Dhlakama and President Guebuza. President Guebuza was the chief negotiator in the 1991-92 Rome peace process and understands Dhlakama. The president needs to reign in Frelimo's firebrands and find a formula to allow Dhlakama to save face. As they did twenty years ago in Rome, both politicians need to act in the national interest and seek peaceful compromise through negotiation. 

Alex Vines is author of Renamo: from terrorism to democracy in Mozambique, James Currey, 1996.