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Circumstances at play in the current political and military crisis raise important questions about the efficacy of the peace building strategy adopted and implemented since 1992. They also raise questions about the responsibilities of both ruling Frelimo and opposition Renamo to maintain peace and stability. What went wrong with Mozambique’s peace building approach?


Mozambique is experiencing the most challenging threat to its 23-year-old peace accords between the government of Frente de Libertação de Moçambique (Frelimo) and Resistência Nacional de Moçambique (Renamo), the former rebel movement and now the country’s most important opposition party. An expansion of the guerrilla movement into new territories (e.g. Tete province), the departure from the dialogue-based strategy to resolve the ongoing conflict and the call by Renamo for a concrete agenda before another round of talks on peace and stability with President Filipe Nyusi, are loudly sounding alarm bells. There’s also the government’s unilateral disbanding of the Team of Foreign Military Observers of the Ceasefire Agreement (EMOCHIM), the attempt to apply a “divide and rule” strategy to disarm Renamo, the two attacks on Dhlakama’s convoy (on the 12 and 25 September 2015), “allegedly” by the Frelimo government and more recently the forced disarmament of Dhlakama’s body guards.

It is my argument that the setback in Mozambique’s peace and stability process reflects what I call “political involution”. By this I refer to the intended and unintended actions by political organisations and institutions (ruling and opposition parties) that have led to the gradual corrosion or complete destruction of a democratic political environment. In this analysis I look at challenges surrounding building a political and institutional framework for peace and democracy, as well as the behaviour of political actors towards institutions and each other. Thus I blame this involution on an incomplete implementation of the 1992 peace agreement between the two former antagonists. A factor exacerbated by Frelimo’s continuous desire to maintain its grip on power over political and economic aspects of society and Renamo resuscitating and expanding its popular support through a successful show of force prior to the 2014 general elections.

Although having encountered serious challenges from its inception in 1992, it would be correct to assume that peace and stability in Mozambique have been advancing, judging by the silence of the guns and by the creation and recreation of democratic institutions (e.g. periodic elections, etc.). However, since 2012 to date, the country has been firmly heading in the opposite direction, at least if judged by the return of the guns.

Relative stability paved the way for the most recent general elections in 2014 which were facilitated by a cease-fire agreement signed by former President Armando Guebuza and Renamo’s leader Afonso Dhlakama on 24 August 2014. It is apparent that the newly elected president, Filipe Nyusi, lacks a firm strategy to address the country’s biggest political and military crisis since 1992. Although insisting on continuing the dialogue with Renamo, Nyusi’s strategy for dialogue is an empty shell, as he has continuously avoided placing solid issues on the agenda for the proposed dialogues.

In 2012 Renamo reverted to armed struggle to, amongst others, force the ruling party to change the electoral legislation and accommodate some of its remaining and, according to Renamo, “unfairly demobilized”, troops into the national army and police forces. The electoral legislation was duly amended to accommodate most of Renamo’s demands. However, the talks on the incorporation of Renamo’s forces and particularly on its format have stalled completely. While Renamo insists that re(integration) must allow its forces to occupy positions within all ranks (including high ranking ones) of the army and the national police force, the government wants Renamo to first provide it with a breakdown of its military personnel before discussion can recommence.

However, Renamo’s most ambitious demand is its claim for territorial autonomy which results from its contestation of the recent national elections. After applying numerous changes to its initial proposal, Renamo now demands that the provinces in which it obtained a majority of votes in the 2014 general election (Sofala, Manica, Tete, Nampula and Zambézia) be turned into autonomous territories under its rule. This demand, promptly rejected by Frelimo parliamentary majority on 30 April 2015, is based on Renamo’s claim that the electoral process, which gave victory to the current president and the ruling party, was all but free, fair and transparent. For Renamo, the solution of autonomous provinces would be the only way to resolve this electoral quarrel.


Following the refusal by Frelimo to accommodate the proposal, Renamo threatened to revert to its 2012-2014 tried and tested strategy of force. Renamo insisted its demands be met and on 2 September 2015 summarily announced the official establishment of a military headquarters in Morrumbala District (Zambézia Province). The command centre will provide police and military training to a Renamo-led army and police force in charge of securing the autonomous territories unless the government relents and offers up the right to Renamo to peacefully govern the territories.

The move was preceded by its unilateral abandonment of the regular so called “political dialogue” that, after 114 consecutive rounds, hadn’t produced tangible solutions to military issues. Dhlakama then declined Nyusi’s invitation to a third meeting since 2014 aimed at discussing peace and stability in Mozambique. Renamo insists that any further talks be subject to progress on the implementation of the ceasefire agreement signed between the former President Guebuza and Renamo’s Dhlakama in 2014 that promised reintegration of its remaining troops. For Renamo, the unilateral disbanding of EMOCHIM by Frelimo represents a violation of the agreement per se. One should understand that this unilateral move by Frelimo has certainly changed the established preconditions for ongoing dialogue.

Circumstances at play in the current political and military crisis raise important questions about the efficacy of the peace building strategy adopted and implemented since 1992. It also raises questions about the responsibilities of both Frelimo and Renamo to maintain peace and stability in the country. What went wrong with Mozambique’s peacebuilding approach? What were the prevailing attitudes of the government and the opposition to the peace process since 1992?


Mozambique adopted a liberal peace building approach. Here emphasis is given to electoral politics in the negotiation of political agreements for peace. In 1990, prior to the general peace agreement, the country adopted a multiparty constitution. Since 1994 it ran five general (presidential and parliamentary), two provincial and four municipal elections. Broadly speaking, the ruling party won all the elections. However, the 1999 and 2014 general elections took place under enormous distrust and accusations of fraud by the opposition parties, Renamo being the most vocal.

In fact, during the country’s peacebuilding and national reconciliation processes, the question of “trust” in political actors and/or the electoral institutions has never been adequately addressed. While several formal changes to the electoral institutions have been made (e.g. electoral legislation), the ruling party still exercises de facto control of the electoral actors and organisations including the judiciary. Even with tangible evidence of electoral malpractice and/or fraud in 1999 and 2014, Mozambique’s electoral organisations and the judiciary have never sided with the opposition.

It is apparent that the same level of suspicion that prevailed during the civil war still permeates government and Renamo today. During the 1992 peace negotiations Renamo successfully imposed the right to keep some of its military forces for the supposed protection of its leadership until it could trust the national police. However, twenty years later, Renamo still maintains some of its former forces and, in light of recent developments, even plans to expand its military capacity. Prolonging a precarious status quo has been tolerated by both parties as this convoluted arrangement suited Renamo (it could maintain some troops as a threat of violence to use as a bargaining chip to further its own interests), while Frelimo was content with Renamo’s innocuous provided it never materialized.

It’s evident that the old distrust is again playing a significant role in blocking progress on the issue of demobilisation and re(integration) of Renamo’s troops into the national army and police force. Renamo fears that providing its “enemy” with accurate numbers and the location of its military force might expose it to government military attacks and defeat. Frelimo, on the other hand, also fears a takeover when its “enemy’s” foot soldiers are deployed at all levels of its army and police force.


Frelimo’s omnipresence in all spheres of Mozambique’s political and socioeconomic development means it bears ultimate responsibility for every negative event as well. This is aptly portrayed by a popular Frelimo slogan “A Frelimo é que fez, a Frelimo é que faz” (It’s Frelimo that did it, its Frelimo that does it). Frelimo’s ownership of developments in Mozambique, as perceived by the general public, is not only confined to the country’s patriotic history (e.g. we are the only liberators), but also to aspects such as: electoral fraud, corruption, poverty, bad governance, crime, etc. While Frelimo’s objective is to selectively take ownership of only positive past and present achievements, public perception is very different.

Frelimo’s patriotic and heroic history doesn’t allow it to expose to the Mozambicans the historical development in which it makes compromises with third parties, in particular the West and Renamo. As a result, Mozambique’s general peace agreement and its resulting political (and economic) development have never been subject to serious and continuous public debate. Behind this resides an apparent total lack of interest or public recognition by Frelimo to acknowledge the roles played by others (e.g. Renamo) in transforming the country’s political and economic institutions. Ordinary Mozambicans, including some intellectuals, are therefore oblivious of concessions made by the government to Renamo in number of aspects. This has resulted in poor public knowledge about the relationship between the content of the 1992 peace agreement and the resulting political and economic reforms (a multiparty political system; freedom of speech; private ownerships of newspapers, private sector etc.).

A general perception that nothing can happen in Mozambique without Frelimo’s consent or will is also ascribed to Frelimo’s omnipresence. This makes it easier for Renamo, for example, to spread the message that the government is constantly violating a peace agreement (the contents of which is unknown) to an audience inculcated to accept Frelimo as having ultimate control. Not knowing how the current political and economic institutions were shaped or inspired by the 1992 peace agreement (or 2014 ceasefire agreement) reached by both parties, people are convinced that either Frelimo failed to make any tangible progress or the process has simply stagnated.


Renamo’s reintroduction of a guerrilla strategy from 2012 to 2014, which forced Frelimo to amend the electoral legislation and resulted in its political survival, turned out to be a valuable strategy and confirmed the advantage of military action. Renamo may thus have concluded that using force is the only sustainable way of obtaining any type of major political concessions from the powerful ruling party. On the other hand, given the 2014 electoral results, Renamo may also have learnt that its electoral performance and political survival hinges on scare tactics and war aversion as people will (rationally) vote for peace. This outcome, coupled with the unfavourable political environment employed by Frelimo towards political opposition in Mozambique, may have further encouraged Renamo in its resolve not to completely demobilise.

Dhlakama and Renamo successfully broadcast the idea that Frelimo wants to physically eliminate it to achieve a one party state. This argument, which started even before the peace accords, found further support during the 2012-2014 military crises and during the two attempts on Dhlakama’s life. In 2013 and this year, for example, Renamo referred to specific attempts aimed at assassination of its leader. In this context, Renamo legitimises its deployment of force under the concept of “self-defence” in its long-standing fight for democracy in Mozambique. In fact, this argument enjoys widespread support. It appears that ordinary Mozambicans believe that its use of force is merely an act of self-preservation and the fact that Renamo possesses armed guerrillas is no threat, as any action would be in response to government incitement. With little pressure from Mozambique’s civil society (including organisations) for Renamo to disarm, it is commonly accepted that its “enemy” is the only audible voice asking it to demobilize.


The return of conflict in 2012 brings to the fore questions regarding the effectiveness of the liberal approach to peacebuilding. Special attention should be given to the lack of ability to deal with distrust between former enemies turned democratic players. There should be serious reflection on what and how much has been done or still needs to be done to build trust in each other and in the country’s institutions and organisations. There is little doubt that the formation of a trust relationship between the two former enemies was never a high priority in the Mozambique’s peace building approach. Unless and until substantial progress is made, Mozambique’s development will remain bogged down by a low intensity form of civil war.

* Fredson Guilengue works with Rosa Luxemburg Southern Africa.



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