Mozambique: Doubts linger about peace

2014-08-29 12:46

Maputo - A peace deal signed by the Mozambican government and the armed political party Renamo is allowing people who had fled fighting to return home. The upcoming elections could determine whether the peace will be permanent.

Mozambicans who had fled fighting between the armed political party Renamo and the government are returning home after a peace deal was signed.

People carrying goods on their heads or shoulders can be seen trekking along the main south-north highway, on which Renamo carried out ambushes.

"It was uncomfortable to live in fear. At dusk, you did not know whether you'd see the sun rise the next day," one woman told the independent broadcaster STV.

The trekkers come from towns such as Muxungue, located near the highway, where Renamo killed four police officers in 2013 and where government forces allegedly torched houses.

Some convoys of vehicles are still escorted by security forces.

The 15 October elections

"Just a few days have gone by and we don't know how effective the peace deal is," says Angelica Maquisso, a university student in Maputo.

Analysts say the key could lie in the 15 October elections, the campaigning for which begins on Sunday.

Renamo is deemed to have virtually no chance of beating Frelimo, the former independence movement that has ruled Mozambique since independence from Portugal in 1975.

But if it gets a substantial share of seats in parliament, that will empower it to pressure the government to interpret the peace deal to its advantage, says Dimpho Motsamai, a Mozambique analyst at South Africa's Institute for Security Studies.

If Renamo - which currently has 51 seats in the 250-member parliament -does badly in the elections, that could prompt it to prelaunch the military conflict that has plagued the southern African country for two years, Motsamai said.

16-year civil war

If any party alleges fraud - despite Mozambique's generally good record in staging transparent elections - that might open a space for Renamo to respond violently, Mozambican analyst Fernando Lima concurred.

Supported by white minority regimes in the then Rhodesia (today Zimbabwe) and South Africa, Renamo waged a 16-year civil war against Frelimo, whose initially Marxist regime was supported by the Soviet Union and Cuba.

The war killed 1 million and displaced millions more.

A 1992 peace deal, which turned Renamo into the country's main opposition party, put Mozambique on the path of recovery.

But in 2012, Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama launched a low-level insurgency, accusing Frelimo of excluding the opposition from power structures and from participation in the economy.

The insurgency has included attacks against police stations, military barracks, railway lines and above all, ambushes on the north-south highway. The exact number of fatalities is not known.

Details of the peace deal

Renamo's guerrilla warfare has not prevented it from exercising its role in parliament. Renamo has long accused the government of corruption and economic mismanagement.

The peace deal signed on Sunday foresees an amnesty for Renamo members charged with crimes, its disarmament, the reintegration of its fighters - whose number is estimated at a few hundred - into the army and police force, and a more equitable distribution of wealth.

Yet details of how the peace deal will be applied are still in the dark.

Some of Renamo's demands, such as joint command of the army, are clearly impossible for the government, says Aditi Lalbahadur, a researcher with the South African Institute of International Affairs.

The signing of the peace deal did not persuade Dhlakama to leave hishideout in the central Gorongosa mountains.

"The declaration of a cessation of hostilities is a very strong signal, but it would have added value if it were signed by the top leadership from both sides," that is, President Armando Guebuza and Dhlakama, says Mozambican political analyst Calton Cadeato.

Massive economic crisis

The elections will pit Dhlakama against former defence minister Felipe Nyusi. Guebuza may no longer run for president after completing two terms.

A definitive end to the violence would help to ensure the growth rate of more than 8 per cent that the World Bank and the African Development Bank forecast for one of Africa's most dynamic economies in 2014-15.

Peace would boost investor confidence in the country of 24 million residents, whose foreign direct investment already surpassed $5bn in 2013, drawn by offshore gas finds that are fuelling an exploration boom. Mozambique also has some of the world's largest untapped coal reserves.

The country has become a magnet for the former colonial power Portugal, which is grappling with a massive economic crisis and whose citizens have headed for Mozambique in their thousands to look for work.

The big challenge, says Lalbahadur, is preventing those in power from pocketing a disproportionate share of the wealth, which so far has failed to trickle down to the poor majority.