Mozambicans fear vote result may destroy shaky peace

2014-10-13 10:00

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Maputo - Mozambicans are about to vote in elections which could hold the key to war or peace following an agreement signed by the government and the armed opposition party Renamo in August.

Mozambique's general elections on Wednesday will not only decide who will rule the country - they could also determine whether a peace agreed between the government and the armed opposition party Renamo nearly two months ago will last.

If Renamo suffers heavy losses and accuses the ruling party Frelimo of fraud, it could relaunch its two-year, low-level guerrilla campaign, which killed an undetermined number of people and displaced hundreds, analysts say.

More than 10 million Mozambicans have been registered to elect a president, parliament and provincial assemblies in the southern African country.

Frelimo candidate Filipe Nyusi is widely expected to win the presidency and to succeed Armando Guebuza, who is blocked from running for the highest office after completing two terms.

1993 peace deal

But Nyusi is facing an unexpectedly strong challenge from Renamo and from the smaller Democratic Movement of Mozambique (MDM), which splintered off Renamo in 2009.

Supported by white minority regimes in what was then Rhodesia (today Zimbabwe) and South Africa, Renamo waged a 16-year civil war against the initially Marxist independence movement Frelimo, which has ruled Mozambique since independence from Portugal in 1975.

The civil war killed 1 million and displaced millions more.

A 1993 peace deal turned Renamo into the country's main opposition party. But in 2012, Renamo's historic leader Afonso Dhlakama accused Frelimo of excluding the opposition from economic power and launched an insurgency.

It included attacks on police stations, military barracks and above all, highway ambushes.

The peace deal signed on 25 August allowed Dhlakama to come out of his hideout in the Gorongosa mountains and to participate in the electoral campaign.

Corruption

In the southern province of Gaza, which was heavily affected by the civil war, many people blame the violence on Renamo, which farmer Paulina Chissico, 56, calls "a group of assassins."

"Renamo is responsible for the death of my wife in 1988 and my two sons, abducted by its guerrillas," said Alberto Cossa, a firewood cutter in his 60s.

But in other areas, Dhlakama has drawn crowds. Their size has surprised observers.

The 61-year-old is seeking the presidency for the fifth time.

His support is largely based on growing discontent with the long rule of Frelimo, which is accused of nepotism, corruption and illicit enrichment, analysts say.

Unemployment stands at about 20%. Some schools have no desks, many hospitals are short of drugs, and public transport is so bad that people routinely travel on the back of pickup trucks.

"People are tired of Frelimo rule," said Miguel Sitoe, who is in his 40s and works for a non-governmental organisation in Maputo campaigning against child abuse. "It is not that the opposition will bring better policies. What people want is to punish Frelimo."

Absence of serious clashes

Nyusi, a 55-year-old engineer who currently holds the defence portfolio, has promised to increase transparency and accountability.

"If there is any diversion, or attempt to divert funds, I shall take measures," he vowed.

Nyusi faces a mounting challenge from MDM leader Daviz Simango, 50. The mayor of the second-largest city, Beira, says he represents a fresh party close to young people which - unlike Frelimo and Renamo - has no military history.

Several people have been injured in clashes between Frelimo and Renamo supporters, but the election campaign has generally been more peaceful than usual.

"The absence of serious clashes between Frelimo and Renamo shows the MDM broke the bipolarisation between the two former enemies and they are concerned with the rising popularity of Simango," political analyst Joao Vaz said.

Frelimo currently holds 191 seats, Renamo - whose legislators have remained active despite the guerrilla warfare - 51 seats and the MDM eight seats in the 250-member parliament.

Real risk

The peace agreement foreseeing the disarmament of Renamo and the integration of its fighters - estimated at a few hundred - into the army and police force is still to be put into effect, meaning that the opposition party retains a weapons arsenal.

If Renamo does not win enough seats to allow it to push its demands in the negotiations, "there is a real risk of it going back to the bush" to resume its armed campaign, said Aditi Lalbahadur, a researcher with the South African Institute of International Affairs.

That could deal a blow to investor confidence in the country, where offshore gas finds are fuelling an exploration boom. Foreign direct investment surpassed 5 billion dollars in 2013.

Mozambique's vast coal reserves are also expected to contribute to its transformation from one of the world's poorest countries to one of Africa's most promising economies.

Mozambique already posted robust growth of 7% in 2013, according to the African Development Bank.

Read more on:    frelimo  |  renamo  |  afonso dhlakama  |  armando guebuza  |  mozambique  |  southern africa  |  mozambique elections 2014

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