We cannot afford a war in Mozambique

2013-10-29 00:00

WHEN Mozambique sneezes, we all feel the cold. The countries of southern Africa are so closely interconnected that the outbreak of a new war in Mozambique will almost certainly depress the economies of South Africa, Mozambique, Swaziland and Zimbabwe, especially.

It will send huge numbers of refugees across all borders. The process of regional integration would be set back at a point when it is about to mature. We have to do something now to prevent a full-scale war.

Countries of the region will soon have to decide what they will do in response to the announcement by the former rebel group Renamo of its withdrawal from the 1992 peace accords and its return to guerrilla war a fortnight ago.

For now, countries of the region have only warned Renamo about a resumption of guerrilla war, suggesting that they might stand together with the government of Mozambique under the Frelimo party if war broke out in full.

South Africa has urged Renamo to seek a political settlement to its complaints, suggesting that it might push for the region to force the parties to the negotiation table to avoid a full-scale conflict.

Mozambique had just won independence from Portugal in 1975 when in 1976 conflict between the Frelimo-led government and Renamo began and became a full civil war by 1977. The war was sustained by external actors who supported either side, with the white governments in South Africa and Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) joining the United States in supporting Renamo, while the Soviet Union and newly independent governments in the region supported the government.

In this way, the war became complex, having become a site of a bloody rivalry between two major Western ideologies — communism and liberalism. In 15 years, over one million lives were lost and about five million lives were in disarray.

Mozambicans have still not recovered from the long-term scars of the war in the 20 years since it ended in 1992. This is most apparent in the excessively high incidence of structural poverty and the state of desperation in which the majority of the population lives, especially outside urban areas. The economy has taken a long time to stabilise due to the destruction of the infrastructure, long periods of low investment and economic activity generally, and the collapse of agriculture during and after the war due to the land mines, which took a long time to clear.

The end of the war led to a gradual economic recovery, with donor assistance streaming in steadily for about a decade from 1992, and foreign direct investment growing strongly as political stability returned and multiparty democracy improved.

Sound economic policies, especially under President Joaquim Chissano, helped make the country attractive to investors, thus helping to bring the inflation rate down to single digits in a short period of time and boosting the government’s revenue collection.

The opening of the Mozal Aluminium Smelter, the titanium-extraction plant and textile manufacturing sites, attracted huge foreign direct investment and increased the economy’s export earnings.

South Africa was the biggest beneficiary of this economic upswing, with the Maputo Development Corridor and the Temane-Secunda gas pipeline enabling the country to become a major conduit of Mozambique’s international trade. Large numbers of South African businesses moved into Mozambique, taking up opportunities in mining, transport, construction, manufacturing, tourism and retail businesses. The signing of a bilateral agreement between Maputo and Tshwane on the promotion and reciprocal protection of investments in May 1997 further boosted trade and investment.

Today, trade relations amount to over R16 billion on an annual basis, with South Africa exporting mineral fuels, machines, electrical and electronic equipment, iron and steel vehicles, sugars and plastics.

There has also been growth in people movement between the two countries, including migrant labour, tourists and businesspeople.

Mozal links the energy grids of Mozambique, South Africa, and Swaziland. Industrial zones created in Mozambique are important for other regional economies.

The Maputo port is a major conduit of external trade for inland countries. The Temane-Secunda gas pipeline is an important part of South Africa and Swaziland’s economy. Mozambique is a crucial part of SADC’s expanding market. Its troubles will cost jobs and livelihoods throughout the region.

South Africa and other neighbours of Mozambique have got to move quickly to diffuse the situation, rather than wait until a full-scale war breaks out and our economies start feeling the shock.

They could take the matter up with the SADC organ on politics, defence and security co-operation to get Mozambique on the security agenda of SADC, and through SADC suggest a facilitation of talks. Tanzania would be best placed to mediate.

There have to be second-track attempts to get Renamo to rethink its decision and give it alternatives for it to achieve its aims.

The possibility of a war-crimes charge should be raised as a stick to make negotiations more attractive for the former rebels.

• Siphamandla Zondi is the executive director of the Institute for Global Dialogue.

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