Democratisation under duress: Mozambique’s belligerent peace now

The author Anícia Lalá is a doctoral research candidate in Peace Studies at the University of Bradford.

“The Peace we live makes us an example for Africa and the World.  The principle that the only alternative to peace is peace itself is assumed by all and each of us, in words and acts” H.E. Armando Emílio Guebuza

The elusiveness of these almost iconic words proffered by Mozambique’s Head of State, Armando Guebuza, on his address to the Mozambican Parliament in 2007, has been nothing but highlighted during his ruling period.  The spiraling of tensions began around March 2012, with an unswerving show of force between the Frelimo Government (GoM) and the main opposition party with parliamentary representation, Renamo, resulting in subsequent criminal violence acts and open military hostilities in the Gorongosa district, since April 2013.  Ever since, and in particular after the GoM military action against the premises of the leader of Renamo, Afonso Dhlakama, in Satungira in August 2013, insecurity settled in the surrounding areas.  There have been civilian and military casualties, and Renamo’s armed men with blockage of the main national road disrupted economic activities.

Failure to achieve political solutions for the differences at stake showed that ironically neither Guebuza nor Dhlakama, who both played crucial roles in the accomplishment of Mozambique’s General Peace Agreement (GPA) in 1992, lived-up to their reiterated promises of peace beyond volatile public speeches and deceitful negotiations.  At first sight such a state of affairs reflects the controlling power and bellicose characteristics of both leaders; yet there is more to learn from placing these events in the context of the contested processes of democratisation, economic liberalisation, and the onset of exploration of profitable natural resources in Mozambique.

Current military instability, even if circumscribed to delimited territorial areas, broke Mozambique’s spell of peace and growth success to the world outside, indicating a fall into the conflict, security and development traps that affect most African post-conflict and/or post-authoritarian developing countries.  However, the more attentive know Mozambique has been experiencing a rotten peace, characterised by flaws common to other post-conflict liberal peace environments, including persistent poverty, rampant corruption, growing inequality, unlawful capital accumulation by the elite, belligerent politics, expansion of national organised and transnational crime, and a weak justice system.

The setback would not have come with the accompanied level of dismay, had this not been the African country where, after independence, the Frelimo ruling party genuinely upheld a nation-state building project (not without flaws), now fully replaced by its converse and unscrupulous project of wealth accumulation by the elite.

In addition, the shock stems from the dramatic change to Mozambique’s status as an icon of conflict resolution of the 90s, where the successful implementation of the peace process was overrated despite important flaws concerning disarmament, demilitarisation and transitional justice processes.  Granted that the implementation of peace processes has limits as to what can be achieved in restricted periods of time, it was assumed that the mechanisms of the newly created democratic institutions would take care of flaws such as reconciliation and trust building between former warring political elites, which in turn would allow the resolution of the remaining and future problems.  Indeed, despite the absence of elite reconciliation during the first post-conflict decade, negotiated solutions for disputes were arrived at through institutional mechanisms and/or informal political dialogue.

Back then greater balance existed between Frelimo and Renamo representation in politics, however, as time evolved Renamo and other opposition parties increasingly lost space.  In tandem, Mozambique’s democratic mechanisms such as the parliament and electoral institutions started to experience the limits of their poor design for a nascent democracy, and the manipulation of their weaknesses by growing and unchecked power-politics dynamics.  In addition, the solutions arrived at through informal political dialogue began to fall short because of their ad-hoc and localised problem-solving nature and their over-reliance on the pre-conditions of political will and leadership flexibility to compromise.

The frailty of both formal and informal arrangements has been underscored since the coming into power of Frelimo’s stalwart Armando Guebuza as the President of the country, whose resounding re-election in 2009 evidenced the growing closing of Mozambique’s democratic space.  The lack of political will towards meaningful dialogue with an increasingly weak opposition built-up and was boosted by hardliners within the Frelimo party, reflecting also a period of restrained internal party debate and self-criticism.  This translated into the GoM’s diminished openness to accommodate the needs and demands not only of Renamo, but also of the wider political opposition and society.  It has also developed resistance to incorporate advice especially as regards transparency in the management of state affairs and resources, growing inequality and improved democratic governance.

Alongside these developments, Renamo’s own internal party’s democratic shortcomings magnified with the mounting loss of formal institutional representation and a dearth of economic resources, leading it to engage in cavalier approaches like the carrying-out of criminally violent acts as a means to regain political relevance and force the Frelimo GoM to negotiate.

Renamo has a historical record of having been ‘bought’ into signing the GPA[1], given that it received significant financial resources to transform itself from a guerrilla movement into a political party, something that it achieved with critical shortcomings[2] [3].

Along this line of thinking prominent authors on Mozambique such as Hanlon[4] and Cardoso[5] placed Renamo’s financial expectation of receiving shares and profits from the natural resource exploration as the main driving factor for carrying out the armed actions.

Whilst this is certainly one of the main motivations as admitted by Renamo, that line of analysis warrants more balance with the fact that Renamo was not alone in receiving significant financial inducements for the achievement of peace.  The Frelimo GoM was equally compensated with massive inflows of donor aid over the years, and rewarded with their overlook of rampant corruption and illicit accumulation of capital by Frelimo party members and their networks as Hanlon’s earlier work denounced[6].

Hence, a ‘greed-based’ examination requires strong emphasis on both sides equally wanting to access and control the state for accumulation purposes.  Founding an analysis of the recent situation mostly on scrutiny of Renamo’s development as a political party, and emphasising ‘greed’ as Renamo’s main motivation leads to a benign neglect of the Frelimo GoM behavior.  In turn, this is conducive to inducing the reader into concluding that Renamo is a rogue party to be erradicated, if need be through the use of military force; a position that undermines the consolidation of democracy in Mozambique.

The kind of multi-factor analysis that avoids such polarised readings is missing from Vines’[7] article and is unbalanced in Hanlon’s recent commentary, although the latter refers the need to analyse the recent skirmishes in light of a broader post-war history context[8].  In the case of Vines, it appears that his article was written with a different objective than to mainly explain the current situation, and simply added analysis of recent developments at the end.  In the case of Hanlon, hopefully the uneveness in the weight awarded to the different analytical factors was a function of other criteria, and not because of his belief in the apropriateness of the actions of the current Frelimo elite in power, which he labelled ‘developmentalist’. That was in contrast to the previous Frelimo wing in power that he considered ‘predatory’[9].  However, even this scrutiny can be considered reductinionist since the ‘predatory’ elite could also be viewed as reformist, peace-oriented and pro-democratic, in comparison with the ‘developmentalist’ which could be tagged as conservative, belligerent and pro-authoritarian.  More importantly, these dichotomies overshadow complex internal Frelimo party dynamics, including the undeclared alliances made by the different wings, and their mutual responsibility derived from covering-up for each other when ultimate goals are at stake, thus far preventing the party from splintering in acute crisis moments.

In these circumstances, it is crucial to balance analysis by robustly scrutinising the relevance of the points raised by Renamo, and which constitute also a matter of concern for the wider Mozambican society that is overlooked in most analyses. These concern not only the lack of redistribution of the country’s revenues in a meaningful manner, but also a contested electoral system, and a general unbalanced political-economic and patronage system, excessively favourable to the maintenance of Frelimo in power.  In addition, apprehension with escalating Frelimo’s partisanship of the state civil service is real, representing a regression when compared with the orientation during the post-peace agreement decade.  Finally, the partisanship of the defence and security forces, which has been always claimed by Renamo and used by this party to justify its own unlawful retention of armed men is gaining new negative contours.  These are overly identified and recurrent problems that acquired additional tract in the last decade.  If left unaddressed, or in continuing masquerade they are likely to combine with unfortunate happenstance to disrupt Mozambique’s democratisation to the point of no return, until major upheaval takes place to dislodge the general growing environment of intolerance and authoritarianism.

Despite the seriousness of these issues, the criminal attacks used by Renamo to ‘bend’ the Frelimo GoM into negotiating are illegitimate and unacceptable in the context of the build-up of a peaceful democracy.  Yet, in the same vein, the military response engaged in by the Frelimo GoM demonstrated a nearly equivalent level of irresponsibility, displaying an oblivious lack of concern for the loss of human life, people’s livelihoods and the negative economic impact.  It was expected that a mature Frelimo GoM, with no lack of access to different types of historical examination and economic, political and security situational analysis, as well as multiple scenario building, would have acted differently.  Post-conflict Renamo has never been a total spoiler of peace requiring a coercive military strategy response, thus engagement in meaningful dialogue from an earlier stage was likely to have prevented the escalation of events.  On a subsequent moment, and even if from a realist perspective a limited show of force by the GoM had been justified to level the playing-field of negotiations, it would have occurred from a more legitimate stance in the eyes of Mozambicans, if previously genuine dialogue had been given a chance.

The factual occurences and scenarios of development of the conflict were convincingly argued by Cardoso[10], but an analysis of Frelimo’s aims were lacking.  It is therefore justifiable to question why Renamo’s first criminal attacks to civilian vehicles[11] and the retaining, re-gathering and training of armed men[12] [13] were not dealt with through legal justice means and criminal investigation.

Two plausible explanations can be advanced.  The first is that given the defficient condition of the judiciary and the existence of laws amenable to overmanipulation by astute lawyers, the Frelimo GoM fearing poor results in terms of Renamo accountability for these acts circumvented this course of action (which could nonetheless have been initiated by the General Attorney’s Office).  Hence, the Frelimo GoM might have preferred Renamo to bear political and military responsibility instead of criminal, therefore aiming to inflict on it a heavier reputational dammage.

The second explanation revolves around the Frelimo GoM choosing not to play a zero-sum game by refraining from using Constitutional provisions that criminalise the use of illegal armed action by political parties to outlaw Renamo.  On the one hand, it is probable that it believed this would raise the stakes by risking heavier societal and donor pressure upon itself.  On the other hand, it knew it served Frelimo’s purpose to promote a fragmented opposition rather than annihilate Renamo, risking the gravitation of its votes onto the promising Movimento Democrático de Moçambique (MDM) party.

It also needs to be factored that the timing of military action whilst impelled by the sequence of events between Renamo action and GoM counteraction, was not totally estranged from wider political developments, including the fact that local municipal elections were to take place in November 2013.  The patrolling with military armored vehicles of cities like Quelimane and Beira where the MDM had previously won ruling mandates created an intimidatory environment.  This was further highlighted by arbitrary arrests of MDM representatives alocated to voting stations[14] and violent police clashes with opposition party supporters resulting in severe injuries[15] and deaths[16] , which casted a dark shadow over free and fair elections in these places.

Hence, the climate of armed conflict was complemented by an overall rise in political violence and by a posture of force demonstration and intimidation adopted by the Frelimo GoM.  In addition, there were alleged pronunciations by senior Frelimo leaders inciting to violence and praising return to a one-party state in electoral rallies[17] [18].  These unfortunate developments together with the electoral irregularities and fraud that occurred in certain areas, revealed a growing level of political insecurity by Frelimo[19].

Frelimo’s electoral results have suggested throughout time that the party’s majority is difficult to break, even with growing urban opposition results, hence the use of intimidation tactics seemed dispensable and counterproductive.  In fact, the unintended consequence of the GoM militarised posture combined with Renamo’s withdrawal from the municipal elections rendered the MDM a consolidation of political space by wining in three major cities, Beira, Quelimane and Nampula, and gaining considerable seats in municipal assemblies throughout the country.

The insecurity displayed by Frelimo inevitably leads to questioning the centralised, militarised and closed nature of the current wing in power, and the setbacks suffered during this last GoM mandate suggest that the model of a one-strongman centralised government is outdated and unsuitable for a multicultural Mozambique.

Frelimo’s candidate to run in the upcoming general elections will soon be chosen.  The controversy around this process is finally steering a serious and now vocal internal contestation around the ways in which the country is being managed and party business is allegedly being mishandled[20].  Regardless of eventual internal party adjustments it is not sufficient that the chosen candidate represents a newer generation of leadership.  As has been observable, many people from within younger Frelimo generations tend to be more backward thinking and vacant minds that agree uncritically to higher-level decisions, in comparison to many of those that belong to the older generations.  The upcoming leader needs to be forward-looking, sensible and politically apt to secure political capital inside and outside the party, so as to earn the ability to think and act his own mind.  The challenge is about capacity to deliver on a clear and realistic government project to win people’s hearts and minds, as opposed to relying on political instrumentalisation, economic patronage and intimidation tactics.  It requires strong leadership and vision, as well as humbleness to serve and to bind together the country’s diversity and divergences through means of dialogue and tolerance beyond mere discursive practice.

Mozambicans appear to be learning the importance of the ‘vote for democracy’ and to be drawing conclusions about the type of governance they experience when a party wins with qualified majorities, regardless of the freedom and fairness of the electoral processes.  With the country poised for presidential and legislative elections towards the end of 2014, the spiral of political tension and confrontation is likely to rise in the months preceding elections, so the stakes are high for the Frelimo GoM to control unwarranted intimidating behaviour from state security institutions, and for electoral institutions to ensure, as much as possible, within their mandate, an environment of free and fair elections.

Recent incursions carried-out by Renamo’s armed men into the provinces of Nampula and Inhambane, as well as their reported appearance in the province of Tete seem to have pressed the Frelimo GoM back into the mode of negotiations, at least for the immediate moment.

The expansion of Renamo’s armed men into provinces other than Sofala became a signpost to the Frelimo GoM, as this is how Renamo’s activity began to spread during the ‘civil war’.  Also, Renamo armed men chose to appear in symbolic places like Homoíne in the province of Inhambane, where it launched a massacre during the civil war, as a way of reviving the trauma in people’s minds.  Tete is a strategic province where coal minefields are explored and therefore, taking military risks in this area would be highly damaging to the GoM and to Mozambique’s economy.  Whilst Renamo is not likely to have resources or support for sustained action throughout a long period, a few occasional attacks would be enough to foster strong perceptions of instability.  Furthermore, the current record of armed clashes with the Mozambican armed forces evidences the unpreparedness of the latter to deal with internal guerrilla-type threats.  A plausible question, yet beyond the scope of this analysis, is whether it should have been deployed in the first place, and if so, with which units, and under which type of military orders.

Other possible contributing factors for this change of posture by the GoM are growing criticism from within the Frelimo party, allied to concerns by donors and major investors.  Renamo also deflected from its belligerent attitude and returned to the table of negotiations.  Yet, neither side has officially renounced the use of armed violence, which should be a priority, from the point of view of regularising the lives of the populations and economic activity.  Hopefully this will not fall prey to tactical games by the parties as occurred during the Rome peace negotiations (1990-1992).   It is well over time that the Frelimo GoM realise that its earlier failure to engage in genuine dialogue landed it into now unavoidable negotiations, no matter the designation, and that now it engages with seriousness.  Also, Renamo needs to participate meaningfully as opposed to making unrealistic demands that perpetuate status quo, thereby stalling possibilities for progress, which will ultimately result in alienating its remaining legitimacy.

[5]Mozambique: A New Civil War, Noref Oct2013, p.2

[10] Mozambique: A New Civil War, Noref Oct2013, p.2

[20] “Mozambique News Reports & Clippings” 29/01/2014, See


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