14 October 2013
Dr Elisabete Azevedo-Harman
Former Chatham House Expert


A year ago this week, Afonso Dhlakama, leader of Mozambique's opposition group, moved back to his former wartime headquarters in Gorongosa. Dlakhama has been RENAMO’s leader since 1979. He led the party throughout the civil war and signed the peace agreement in 1992. However, since the peace process and the introduction of a multiparty system in Mozambique, he has become increasingly irrelevant, reflected in the fewer number of votes he receives at national elections. 

Although Mozambique is still aid-dependent it has enjoyed impressive post-conflict economic growth, recently because of investments in coal and gas deposits. The country seemed to be on the right track until violence erupted between Renamo and the government in 2012, which has continued this year. What is the reason for this setback? Politics. Renewed violence should not have caught international observers by surprise. Many have overestimated the democratic advances in the country: domestic politics has been deteriorating and the ruling party, opposition parties and international apathy all have contributed to this. 

No man's land 

Attacks in 2013 have been carried out by both sides. The national North-South road, EN-1, and surrounding area have become a 'no man's land', reminiscent of the days of civil war. The violence in the central region has already claimed several civilian deaths this year, as well as those of Renamo’s men and the government's military personnel. 

Although this violence does not threaten overall peace in Mozambique it is having an economic impact. Investors are concerned about the impact of the instability on government decision-making and on coal mining investments. Private finance is crucial for the infrastructure development that Mozambique needs, and instability could discourage potential investors as it adds additional risk. Already, security reasons have forced one of the coal mining companies to stop using trains to transport coal to the harbour. The government has acknowledged that the electrification of the central region has also been halted due to the unstable political situation.


Since the crisis began there have been more than 20 rounds of official talks between the government and Renamo. This process highlights the fragility of Mozambique's state institutions. Up to now the negotiation process has failed to reach an outcome and both sides have recently established an additional team to discuss only military issues. For now there is a stand-off. Renamo has demanded a revision of the electoral law, the full military integration of their forces, and the need for an equitable division of natural resources. The party’s economic demands are not clear but are based on a belief that the country’s new-found wealth should benefit not only Frelimo party members. 

The fact that the 2013 electoral law was approved without the opposition’s consensus cannot be blamed on Frelimo – the party holds two-thirds of parliamentary seats. Of concern is the revocation of an electoral article that stipulates a minimum distance for police presence at polling stations during voting. This may have been an innocuous deletion but in this context it only serves to increase suspicions of Frelimo’s intentions.

Local elections – Renamo's political suicide? 

Mozambique will hold municipal elections in November. Renamo again has signalled that it will not participate and plans to 'stop the elections', which is the first time it has threatened to disrupt elections. Realistically Renamo can create a disturbance at polling stations but it does not have the power to stop the elections. The elections will go ahead and Frelimo and the third parliamentary party, MDM, will be the main contenders. MDM will have a chance to consolidate its strength in two cities, Beira and Quelimane. If it manages to hold power in these and add even one more municipality it will add to the growing perception that it is the successor to Renamo. This does not mean that Renamo will be politically irrelevant but it will need to resort to the ballot box instead of ghettoized politics that are backed by force.

Finding a solution, or kicking the can down the road

Renamo may be awakening to the fact that their show of force cannot be sustained. It does not enjoy the same external support as it did during the civil war and its strategy only exacerbates the growing fatigue of the party inside and outside Mozambique. No one wants to see the country return to violence and there is little sense of any long-term Renamo vision. Afonso Dhlakama believes that government fraud defeated his presidential victory in 1999, but he has run his party for 33 years and over the last decade the party’s internal democracy has been opaque even though the party claims to have introduced democracy to the country. With electoral support for Renamo in steady decline, a resort to violence seems like a desperate strategy of the party and its leader to remain relevant. 

Renamo is not the sole cause of this crisis. Frelimo needs to acknowledge some of the complaints raised by Renamo. There is growing discontent with the hegemony of the party and suspicions of lucrative ties between party members and spheres within the economy. In spite of growing electoral support for the party, Frelimo should note that the increase in abstentions could be a sign of discontent. 

The behaviour of Frelimo and Renamo is mainly supported by the institutional political framework. The presidential system falls short of adequate checks and balances. Within the political design of the country, decentralization has been timidly implemented. Provincial legislative power has been established but the executive remains appointed by the government. Real political decentralization could help give a sense of inclusiveness and empowerment to political regions and opposition parties. These solutions require recognizing the cause of the problem.