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General elections will be held in Mozambique on 15 October. Incumbent president Armando Guebuza is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term. RENAMO is key player in these polls and the politics of Mozambique generally, although its nfluence has waned in recent years and its real agenda remains confusing

The government of Mozambique and the former rebel organisation RENAMO finally signed a ceasefire agreement on 24 August 2014. This agreement which was subsequently ratified by the Mozambican President Armando Guebuza and RENAMO’s president Afonso Dhlakama and passed into law by the country’s national assembly on 8 September 2014 is likely to put an end to the political and military instability which started in 2012. In 2012, after 20 years of peace and stability in the country, some RENAMO operatives reverted to the armed struggle to, amongst other issues, force Mozambique’s government to change the electoral legislation and to (re-) integrate part of its troops into the national army and the police. This article sheds light into the dynamics of permanence and change within RENAMO, in order to identify common and divergent trends in RENAMO’s political evolution. It argues that since its formation in 1976 to date RENAMO has operated in three distinct forms: as a merely guerrilla movement (1976 - 1992), as a political party (1994 - 2012) and more recently as a hybrid of both political party and guerrilla force (2012 to date). The analysis provides inputs into current debates on the political future of RENAMO and the democratic settlement in Mozambique.


In June 1975, after 10 years of armed struggle against the Portuguese colonial ruling, Mozambique finally proclaimed its independence. The struggle over independence was conducted by the guerrilla movement Frente de Libertação de Moçambique (FRELIMO). However, in 1976 the Rhodesian Central Intelligence Office (CIO) created the Mozambican National Resistance (MNR), later called RENAMO, to fight the FRELIMO government and the Zimbabwean nationalist guerrillas operating from Mozambique in 1977. After the Zimbabwean independence in 1980 RENAMO’s basis of support had to move to the apartheid state of South Africa where it started getting military, political, financial and sociological support (Vines 2013). After the demise of the apartheid regime and the end of the cold war, in October 1992 a General Peace Agreement (GPA) was signed between the government of Mozambique and RENAMO. Amongst others, the GPA comprised the transformation of RENAMO from a guerrilla movement into a political party. From 1994 to date (2014), RENAMO has contested four general (parliamentary and presidential) and three local elections (two municipal and one provincial election). Meanwhile, since 2012 some RENAMO operatives led by its president Afonso Dhlakama have been constantly calling off the GPA and conducting guerrilla attacks against Mozambique’s army and civilians, while others continue to normally develop the party political activities countrywide including in the national parliament, where RENAMO has been represented since the first multiparty elections in 1994.

In this context, I argue here that RENAMO’s trajectory has witnessed three distinct phases in the Mozambican political landscape. From 1976 to 1992 RENAMO has operated a merely a guerrilla movement without any visible power or political ambitions. From 1994 to 2012 it was transformed into and operated as a political party with functioning political structures and power ambitions. Finally, most recently, from 2012 onwards, it has behaved as a hybrid of a guerrilla movement and political party with both functioning military and political structures.


There is abundant literature about the origin of RENAMO as a guerrilla movement created by the Rhodesian CIO in the 1970’s (Pinto 2008; Robinson 2009; Funada-Classen 2012; Vines 2013; and others). The Rhodesian CIO was deeply and actively involved in the creation of RENAMO. Because the white Rhodesians feared the impact of FRELIMO government on its own existence, they gathered anti-FRELIMO network members to overthrow the FRELIMO government. This network gathered in Rhodesia in 1976/77 to form MNR/RENAMO (Funada – Classen 2012). RENAMO also benefited from the significant disgruntlement amongst large swaths of the rural population (mainly from the northern and central) Mozambique who felt marginalised by FRELIMO’s socialist policies and by the manner in which these policies were being implemented (Pinto 2008).

At its inception, the primary objective of RENAMO creators and supporters was to overthrow FRELIMO’s government because of its open support to the Zimbabwean independence struggle through the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA) which had training camps and offices in independent Mozambique. In March 1976, the Mozambican government imposed total sanctions against Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). These sanctions, based on a United Nations resolution, are estimated to have cost Mozambique $2 million per year from the loss of employment and railroad and ports usage fees (Funada – Classen 2012). RENAMO was first led by Orlando Cristina, a former Portuguese agent of the Portuguese secret police (PIDE). After Cristina, RENAMO was then led by André Matsangaissa (former FRELIMO commander) and after his death in 1979 by Afonso Dhlakama. Dhlakama remains RENAMO leader to date. After the independence of Zimbabwe in 1980, RENAMO enjoyed considerable support from the South African apartheid regime and, to some extent, from the Banda regime in Malawi and others (Robinson 2006).

RENAMO’s guerrilla operations started with targeting government infrastructure (road, pipelines, bridges, etc). They progressively expanded to attacking ZANLA bases in Mozambique and their supporters. This strategy aimed at punishing and discouraging FRELIMO’s government from supporting Zimbabwean nationalists. From 1980 onwards the conflict escalated and the focus of RENAMO’s target moved from facilities and ambushes to larger villages (mainly the FRELIMO designed communal villages). This aimed at sabotaging FRELIMO’s rural development policy and to secure food and new recruits (mainly via forced recruitment). This escalation was made possible by the involvement of the apartheid regime after the independence of Zimbabwe in 1980. The South African backing came at a time in which, with the advent of a black government in Zimbabwe, FRELIMO hoped that RENAMO after having lost its external support would become an easy target to defeat. In FRELIMO’s view the conflict did not have internal roots. This argument proved to be wrong as RENAMO continued to enjoy and consolidate both its internal support and the continued support from the apartheid regime.

By the end of the civil war in 1992, the social and economic impact had assumed devastating proportions. Nearly one million direct and indirect casualties had been registered, 13 percent of the country’s total population (of 15 million in 1990) was forced to become war refugees and nearly 4.5 million were internally displaced. The economic infrastructure of the country was also ruined. Schools, hospitals, roads, bridges and communication systems were extensively damaged. Furthermore, Mozambique’s debt had grown from $2.7 billion in 1985 to $4.7 billion in 1991 - and at the same time the country had become one of the most aid dependent in the world. (Juergensen 1998)


In 1990 Mozambique adopted a new constitution, which finally included most of the issues RENAMO allegedly had been fighting for. They comprised: a multiparty democracy system, freedom of organization, free and secret elections, individual basic rights and direct vote of the president (Ostheimer & Lalá 2003). Coupled with the new international political and economic context brought by the end of the cold war and domestic factors, the new constitution paved the way for the end of the war and the signature of the GPA on October 4, 1992.

Amongst others, the GPA had specific provisions on formation of a new army, social and economic re-integration of demobilized troops, and the necessary conditions for the formation of political parties. Under Protocol IV, for instance, on military issues, it was agreed that the country should have a 30 thousand strong army and both the government and RENAMO should contribute 50 percent. The remaining troops from both sides which would not be integrated into the country’s new army would be disarmed, demobilised and socially re-integrated. However it’s said that an arrangement was made which allowed RENAMO to maintain a small military reserve to provide security to its leadership. These guards were estimated to be 150 armed troops until October 2012 and 10 of them served as Dhlakama’’s presidential guard (Vines 2013). RENAMO also maintained some of its military bases in some parts of the country in particular in the provinces of Nampula and Sofala (Guilengue 2013). There have been contradictory versions of the process of disarmament of RENAMO’s remaining troops after the GPA. While Raúl Domingos[1], Chief RENAMO negotiator during the peace talks in 1992, points that the government of Mozambique rejected RENAMO’s offers to demobilise and integrate its remaining troops with the national police force (Muduakane 2014), Vines (2013, p. 381), however, points exactly to the opposite.

Under Protocol III, which concerns itself with the criteria, modalities and recognition of political parties, the GPA introduced clear provisions for the formation and functioning of political parties under the new political dispensation. It introduced aspects such as the nature of the political parties, general principles, rights and obligations. Under line a), number six of the same protocol it reads that “(...) immediately after the signature of the General Peace Agreement, RENAMO shall start functioning as a political party under legal provisions (....)”.

Although RENAMO’s first tangible conscious attempt to develop a political programme can be backdated to 1988, when it held its first substantive congress (which may have given it a political appearance), this process only became effective in 1992 with the GPA and the legal and economic conditions it created for the effective transformation of the movement into a political party. In fact, very little attempts had been made to develop a political agenda during the war. The few political gatherings organised with the civilians (mostly in RENAMO controlled areas) were more of anti- FRELIMO propaganda sessions than discussions on political issues per se (Tavuyanago 2011).

To aid RENAMO’s transformation from a guerrilla movement into a political party financial support came from various sources. Immediately after the GPA, $16 million from a UN proxy fund were made available for RENAMO. At this time one of the challenges RENAMO was facing had to do with poor political experience and lack of ideology - in opposition to being only an opposition to FRELIMO (Carter Centre 2005). In addition, in the turn up of the 1994 general elections, another $ 17 million from a UN Trust Fund was provided to RENAMO. Since the first elections to date, $ 100 thousand has been allocated, annually, from the public budget to RENAMO and other political parties with parliamentary seats. The financial support coupled with some technical support and Dhlakama’s leadership have unable RENAMO to advance from a merely guerrilla movement into a political party to the extent that it became the largest opposition party in Africa until 2002 (Vines 2013).


In 1994, two years after the signing of the peace agreement, the first national multiparty elections were held. Despite having lost the elections to FRELIMO and its presidential candidate Joaquim Chissano, RENAMO captured the majority of votes in five important provinces of the country (Nampula, Zambézia, Tete, Manica and Sofala) and won 112 seats in the national parliament of 250 seats. In the following national elections in 1999, again won by FRELIMO and its presidential candidate Chissano, RENAMO almost retained its previous number of votes. Cahen (2013) is of the opinion that while the official results gave victory to FRELIMO and Chissano, it’s highly probable that RENAMO may have lost this election while Dhlakama himself won as RENAMO’s presidential candidate.

In the 2004 general elections Armando Guebuza replaced Joaquim Chissano as FRELIMO’s presidential candidate. In this election RENAMO obtained its most dramatic defeat since the beginning of the multiparty democratic system in Mozambique. This was followed by important changes in FRELIMO’s attitude towards RENAMO. Guebuza’s subsequent attitude was consistent with an intention of reducing the scope of political opposition to FRELIMO in Mozambique, specially of its major challenger RENAMO. Guebuza immediately revitalised FRELIMO’s apparatus and the party local structures. The traditional type of political dialogue the government of Mozambique had been conducting with RENAMO since the GPA was immediately discontinued. This reflects an apparent move to seeking for an ultra-hegemony of FRELIMO in the country’s political landscape (Chichava 2010). However, despite not producing significant outcomes for RENAMO, these dialogues used to give it a certain legitimacy and relevance within the Mozambican political landscape. As T.V. Mário puts it, “the relevance of these dialogues lies less in their content than in its function of preserving the spirit of peace of the GPA” (T. Mário, personal communication, 2012). Although its relevance as a landmark shift in the relationship between FRELIMO government and RENAMO cannot be ignored, this new context did not per se result in RENAMO‘s immediate return to the old guerrilla strategy. The actual impact combined with RENAMO internal dynamics only materialised eight years later, in 2012.

Meanwhile, any attempt to understand the reasons behind RENAMO’s return to the bush should take into consideration both internal and external dynamics. By internal dynamics I refer to issues strictly confined to RENAMO’s structure and management pre- and post- GPA. By external dynamics I refer to the country’s overall political environment imposed and managed by FRELIMO’s government which is a reflection of the party-state behaviour that dominated the period between 1975 and 1992. While the internal dynamics include the maintenance of a military reserve within RENAMO’s structures and Dhlakama’s autocratic leadership prohibiting effective transformation into a bona fide political party, the external dynamics, however, include the hostile political environment imposed by the ruling FRELIMO to opposition in Mozambique, mainly through the so-called FRELIMIZATION of the state apparatus, media and the economy.

In the most recent parliamentary and presidential elections of 2009 a new actor came to the picture – the Democratic Movement of Mozambique (MDM). MDM started as a movement of ex-RENAMO members and supporters funded in March 2009. Its leader Daviz Simango was dismissed from RENAMO when he decided to run for the City of Beira as an independent in 2008 municipal elections, after Dhlakama dropped him in favour of Manuel Pereira[2]. It is argued that the actual reason for Simango’s dismissal was his rapidly growing popularity which threatened to reopen the latent discussion of succession which Dhlakama never wanted to hear about. Previously the same fate had befallen Raúl Domingos who then formed the Partido para Paz, Democracia e Desenvolvimento (PDD)[3]. Giovanni (2003) details the events which anticipated and followed Domingo’s dismissal from RENAMO:

‘Raul Domingos, the head of Renamo’s bancada [parliamentary group">, emerged as an influential and visible figure between 1994 and 2000. The (limited) autonomy of the party’s legislative wing, however, was undermined when, on the basis of some dubious accusations about secret deals and private interests that Domingos was pursuing with the government, Dhlakama decided to expel him from the party in late 2000. It is widely believed that Domingos was perceived by Dhlakama as a threat in view of the party Congress and of an internal election for the party leadership. Less than two years on, the marginalisation of prominent figures developed into a pattern, reaching a point where total confusion seemed to dominate party affairs in mid-2002’.

Like Domingos and Simango, other skilful people who threatened Dhlakama’s autocracy were either expelled from RENAMO or marginalised. As a result of this the party democratic operations became weak (Tavuyanago 2011).

The 2009 general elections were once again won by the ruling FRELIMO. RENAMO, however, saw its parliamentary seats reduced to nearly half of those of the previous elections (49 seats). Parallel to these elections, four municipal elections have been held since 1998. RENAMOs attitude towards these elections has been characterized by boycotting (1998 and 2013) and participating (2003 and 2008).


In a move which could be interpreted as a means to pressurise the Mozambican government to return to the same type of political dialogue they had been having prior to 2004 elections, Dhlakama retreated to the northern city of Nampula in January 2010. It was in Nampula where Dhlakama and Guebuza met twice (December 2011 and in April 2012) after repeated requests from Dhlakama. In both meetings they agreed to hold regular discussions about the political and economic issues of the country. However, no further meetings were held. Not having produced the desired impact, in terms of changing FRELIMO’s attitude towards RENAMO and himself, in October 2012 Dhlakama retreated to the Sofala Province (Gorongosa) with some of his supporters, from where he since then conducted guerrilla attacks. This retreat and the subsequent calling off of the 1992 GPA marked the hybridization of RENAMO.

Accurate figures are hard to come by but the conflict has so far resulted in a significant number of casualties and in several abnormalities in road circulation between southern and northern Mozambique. Attempts by the Mozambican government to resolve the conflict military have all failed. Meanwhile, after 74 rounds of political dialogues to resolve the military instability, facilitated by national mediators, on 24 August 2014 the taskforce composed by government and RENAMO personnel finally agreed on all the issues which divided them including the ceasefire.

However, this context did not affect RENAMO’s political structures and functioning. The party maintains its political functions working very actively countrywide. The 49 members of parliament resulting from the last elections are actively and normally participating in all sessions of the national parliament. The same applies to the local and provincial members of parliament. It’s National Council (the party highest organ), for example, gathered on June 23 to appoint Dhlakama (even absent) as its presidential candidate. Most recently, the party has submitted Dhlakama and RENAMO’s application for the October 2014 general elections to the National Electoral Commission (CNE) which together with FRELIMO and MDM candidate Filipe Nyusi and Daviz Simango, respectively, has been approved. The three and their respective parties have been confirmed as presidential and legislative candidates, respectively, and are now campaigning for the 15 October general elections.


Contrary to the opinions advocating the existence of two or more distinct RENAMOs (one in the bush and the other in Maputo), the analysis above indicates that RENAMO has never split into two or disintegrated. The parties which have their origin in RENAMO have resulted from either dismissals (like the cases of Raúl Domingos from PDD and Daviz Simango from MDM) or the people who voluntarily left RENAMO (e.g. Lutero Simango from Partido de Convenção Nacional – PCN - who later joined MDM and Manuel de Araújo, MDM). Moreover, RENAMO still by far maintains its status of the largest opposition party in Mozambique. The current attitude and behaviour of both its military and political wing is part of one and the same strategy. While on one side, by military means, the guerrilla pushes for military and political issues from the bush (e.g. their re-integration into the national army and police and amendments to the electoral legislation), the political wing, on the other, by political means pushes for the very same agenda in parliamentary sessions and in the so-called political dialogue with the government, in Maputo.

However, it’s possible to identify three phases in the history of RENAMO beginning in 1976. In each of these phases RENAMO has reflected different characteristics. Although more empirical evidence might be necessary to prove this argument, these characteristics seem to be consistent with the country’s political orientation or environment. RENAMO was born in a context of the cold war and of a Marxist Leninist state ideology in which it operated as a military guerrilla movement. With the advent of a multi-party democratic system, RENAMO was then transformed into a political party and operated as political party with power ambitions. Finally, when the political environment signalled a return to a sort of authoritarian rule somehow reminding Mozambicans of the communist era, RENAMO partially reverted to its old guerrilla strategy to fight an overconfident FRELIMO-Government narrowing the democratic space.

RENAMO’s relevance as an internal “actor of change” capable of forcing FRELIMO government to rethink, redirect or change its politics and practices cannot be ignored. Since its inception, RENAMO seems to always have been regarded as a relevant actor in the context of the Mozambique politics specially for being capable of dealing with FRELIMO not willing to open spaces enough for a real multiparty democracy. If during the guerrilla phase the actual tactics of the organization were questioned because of its practice of terror, the relevance of its existence was never questioned, to the extent that RENAMO’s transition to a political party relied very much on the linkages and sympathy it gained amongst the rural population and some urban intellectuals during and after guerrilla times. For those Mozambicans inside or outside the country who contested FRELIMO’s communist approach RENAMO was an important tool to raise their voices and force changes in Mozambique.

While functioning as a political party RENAMO not only presented itself to the Mozambicans as an alternative to FRELIMO and up until 2012 forced the country’s political landscape to become bipolar, but its existence also gave legitimacy to the country’s democracy. RENAMO’s status as the largest opposition party in Mozambique only started to seriously be threatened with the advent of the MDM in 2009 further exacerbated during 2013 municipal elections which RENAMO boycotted. The presence of RENAMO in the Mozambican parliament since 1994 has produced significant results for the country’s democracy. The party is said to have pushed for the introduction of significant bills. 53% of the county’s bills (more than half) passed by the parliament, by 1990 are said to have been originated in the assembly (see Tavuyanago 2011).

More recently, while operating as a hybrid of a political party and a guerrilla movement, RENAMO has been able to force FRELIMO’s government to introduce major changes into the electoral legislation which might reduce FRELIMO’s control over the electoral process and results in Mozambique. The hybrid RENAMO has been able to force FRELIMO to amend the country’s electoral legislation concerning the composition of the CNE and Electoral Administration Technical Secretariat (STAE), which for many favoured FRELIMO heavily because of its politicisation. In February 2014 the Mozambican national parliament passed the final reading of the bill on the CNE and on the electoral registration. These two bills were submitted by RENAMO in light of the agreements achieved in the dialogue on the county’s current political instability which started in 2012. The CNE increases from the previous 13 to 17 members. Seven will come from the civil society organizations, five from FRELIMO, four from RENAMO and 1 from Movimento Democrático de Moçambique (MDM). The STAE at the national level is now composed of 18 members appointed by the political parties represented in the national parliament (FRELIMO nine members, RENAMO eight and MDM one). Apart from the electoral legislation the hybrid RENAMO has recently secured amnesty for crimes against state security committed by its elements in the context of the current political and military instability. The hybrid RENAMO has also secured a commitment from the government of Mozambique to (re)integrate its remaining troops into the national army and police.


[1] RENAMO’s leader who was in charge of the guerrilla finances and worked as Chief of Defence and Security (1982-1986). Commander of the Southern 10 Zone (1986-1988); Secretary for Foreign Affairs (1989 1994). Head of RENAMO’s of Parliament for Renamo (1994-2001). Now leader of Partido para Paz, Democracia e Desenvolvimento (PDD) (Robinson 2006).
[2] RENAMO’s political delegate for the province of Sofala and Member of the national Parliament.
[3] In 2004 presidential elections PDD got 2, 7% of the total votes.


1. Cahen, M. (2013). Em moçambique só há partidos de direita: uma entrevista com michel cahen. Plural, v 20.1, pp. 155-174.
2. Chichava, S. (2010). Movimento democrático de moçambique: uma nova força política na democracia moçambicana?, Cadernos IESE, n.2, August.
3. Funada-Classen, S. (2012) The origins of war in mozambique: A history of unity and division (Masako Osada, Trans.). South Africa: African Minds.
4. Giovanni, M. (2003). Emerging Pluralistic Politics in Mozambique: The FRELIMO-RENAMO party system, Working Paper No. 23, March, pp. 1-28
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8. Ostheimer & Lalá (2003, December). How to remove the stains on mozambique’s democratic track record: Challenges for the democratisation process between 1990 and 2003. Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, pp. v – 72
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11. Robinson, D. (11 November 2009). Renamo, malawi and the struggle to succeed banda: assessing theories of Malawian intervention in the Mozambican civil war. Eras edition,
11. Tavuyanago, B. (2011, December). RENAMO: from a military confrontation to a peaceful democratic engagement, 1976 – 2009. African journal of political science and international relations, pp. 42-51
12. The Carter Centre. Observação das eleições de moçambique 2004. Available at
13. Vines, A. (7 November 2013). Renamo's Rise and Decline: The politics of reintegration in mozambique. International Peacekeeping, pp. 375-393.

* Fredson Guilengue works with the Rosa Luxemberg Foundation in Southern Africa.



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